As the world marked International Day of the Girl Child on October 11th, the issue of women’s and girls’ rights made headlines in several African countries. 

Algeria: Authorities from October 18th officially started enforcing a controversial ban on the wearing of full-face veils by civil servants at work, on the grounds that rules of security require “constant and immediate identification.”

Most Algerian women do not wear the niqab but a perceived visibility of symbols of Islamism in public life has been a cause for concern in Algeria. Between 1991 and 2001 the country was wracked by a conflict between the state and supporters of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS).

Some Algerians see the niqab as an import from more conservative Gulf Arab countries and argue that it is not mandatory for Muslim women to conceal their faces. But others, especially ultra-conservative Salafis, have been vocal in defending the niqab as an Islamic custom.

In September, a ban on the full-face veils took effect in Algerian schools and universities at the start of the new academic year.

Algerian MP Messoud Amraoui dubbed the ban as an “illogical” decision that amounts to “a declared war on Islam.” (BBC Monitoring 19/10)

Liberia: Liberian Vice President Jewel Taylor on October 16th lent her voice to demands for a probe into a United States (US) educational charity after girls were raped at a school supposed to save them from a life of sexual exploitation.

The full scale of the crimes by the charity More Than Me’s co-founder Macintosh Johnson came to light in October in an investigation by the US media site ProPublica.

ProPublica described Johnson as a “charming hustler” who insinuated himself with Katie Meyler, an evangelical Christian who created the charity. She eventually raised more than $8m ($6.9m) in funding, nearly $600,000 of which came from the US government, and gained the support of Liberia’s then president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

“Medical and psychological support must be rendered to [the girls] and their families,” Taylor said. “Second, my office will engage all parties involved to ensure that the current children under the care of the institution are safe and protected.”

After some of the girls came forward, Johnson was suspended by the school and arrested. He was facing trial when he died in 2016 from an illness that ProPublica said was AIDS, stoking fears that he had infected his victims with HIV. (©AFP 16/10 2018)

Libeira girlThe UN’s International Day of the Girl Child supports more opportunity for girls and increases awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide. Image: CC 2006

Morocco: A long-awaited law aimed at protecting thousands of young girls working as housemaids in Morocco took effect October 2nd. The law sets a minimum age of 18 for household work, in a bid to end the exploitation and abuse of young girls working for unscrupulous employers.

Passed in 2016 following years of debate, it imposes financial penalties on employers failing to provide contracts, a minimum wage, a weekly day off and annual holidays.

The government at the time hailed the law as major progress. However, human rights say it does not go far enough, allowing 16-17 year-olds to work as domestic helpers for a further five years until October 2023. (©AFP 2/10 2018)

Senegal: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented evidence of abuse in Senegalese high schools, primarily by teachers who coerced girl students into having sex in exchange for money, good grades, food, new clothes or gadgets such as mobile phones, the watchdog said on October 16th.

“To its credit, Senegal has acknowledged that sexual violence is a serious problem in its schools,” said the report’s author, Elin Martinez. “But many teachers are getting away with sexually exploiting and harassing their students, who tolerate sexual offences to advance in secondary school.”

The practice is not just a violation of professional and ethical standards, but also a crime under Senegalese law when the student is under 16, HRW said.

The scale of the abuse remains unclear, the report said. However, evidence culled from interviews with 160 students and scores of parents, officials, experts and psychologists, suggests the overall problem is “serious,” it added. (©AFP 18/10 2018)

political banner

Subscribe to ARB today.