It underlined the urgent need for the universal application to women of the rights and principles with regard to equality, security, liberty, integrity and dignity of all human beings that form the core of Universal |Declaration of Human Rights. The latter is a central part in the morphology of the United Nations as an institution and was adopted in 1948 as the world was already embroiled in competing visions of human society, between communism and free market capitalism.
This formulation by the UN is really a vexing point of departure, to apply to women the tenets of human rights in the 1948 Declaration, implying that the declaration isn’t encompassing enough. This is also what has bedeviled the proper absorption of the gender issue into social outlook and political culture in Africa and elsewhere, as the dominant outlook sees women as a component of society (which the proponents of the UN formulation see as a patriarchal view of things where men dominate). The issue remains unsolved.
Different from merely contrasting competing formulations either on human rights or women’s rights, the more important preoccupation with the matter, marked around the world – is ending real violence among women and children worldwide. There are two sets of issues in the situation, one that is structural, tied to social systems and figured out in the UN resolution, or in Mwalimu Nyerere’s 1967 essay, ‘Socialism and Rural Development,’ where he pointed out that African society was negatively marked by the inferior status of women. In 1963 Mwalimu was campaigning with vim and vigour among various cattle herding groups to use cattle to pull ploughs and free women from the drudgery of tilling the soil from sunrise to well past midday. He said in a speech then that elders in those areas appeared a bit perplexed.
This is an area where discrimination can properly be said to exist, by a traditional division of labour that shows lack of caring for the labourious tasks allotted for women. There are other areas where the idea of discrimination is used but harder to make much of it, for instance inheriting land, as clan continuity is tied to birth and a woman born into a household can’t raise children to take over precisely that same house or farm. Championing non-discrimination in inheritance without care for clan continuity disables the drive.
Women become more or less emancipated when they have own economic activity where they live and care for kids without excessive dependence on a husband or other consort. Major reforms making the economy private sector based instead of just ‘allowing’ the private sector free more women than UN exhortations. We should pursue women’s emancipation in reality via jobs, industry, which presumes reforms, rather than in activist conferences.