Iran: One Year on, What’s Changed?

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Democracy, Economy & Trade, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, TerraViva United Nations, Youth


Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Sep 19 2023 (IPS) – It’s a year since a photo of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini – bruised and in a coma she would never recover from after being arrested by the morality police for her supposedly improperly worn hijab – went viral, sending people onto the streets.

The protests became the fiercest challenge ever faced by Iran’s theocratic regime. The unprecedented scale of the protests was matched by the unparalleled brutality of the crackdown, which clearly revealed the regime’s fear for its own survival.

Led by women and young people, mobilisations under the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ banner articulated broader demands for social and political change. They spread like wildfire – to streets across Iran, to universities, even to cemeteries where growing numbers of the regime’s victims were being buried. They were echoed and amplified by the Iranian diaspora around the world. The Iranian people made it abundantly clear they wanted the Islamic Republic gone.

A year on, the theocratic regime still stands, but that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. By sheer force, the authorities have regained control – at least for now. But subtle changes in daily life reveal the presence of active undercurrents that could once again spark mass protests. The regime knows this, hence the fear with which it has awaited this date and its redoubled repression as it neared.

A glimpse of change

Last December, as protests raged and the authorities were busy trying to stop them, women could be seen on Iranian streets without their hijabs for the first time in decades. After the protests were quelled, many simply refused to resubmit to the old rules. A tactical shift followed, with mass street mobilisation turning into more elusive civil disobedience.

Women, particularly Gen Z women just like Mahsa, continue to protest on a daily basis, simply by not abiding by hijab rules. Young people express their defiance by dancing or showing affection in public. Cities wake up to acts of civil disobedience emblazoned on their walls. Anti-regime slogans are heard coming from seemingly nowhere. In parts of the country where many people from excluded ethnic minorities live, protest follows Friday prayers. It may take little for the embers of rebellion to reignite.

Preventative repression

Ahead of the anniversary, family members of those killed during the 2022 protests were pressured not to hold memorial services for their loved ones. The lawyer representing Mahsa Amini’s family was charged with ‘propaganda against the state’ due to interviews with foreign media. University professors suspected to be critical of the regime were dismissed, suspended, forced to retire, or didn’t have their contracts renewed. Students were subjected to disciplinary measures in retaliation for their activism.

Artists who expressed support for the protest movement faced reprisals, including arrests and prosecution under ridiculous charges such as ‘releasing an illegal song’. Some were kept in detention on more serious charges and subjected to physical and psychological torture, including solitary confinement and beatings.

Two months ago, the regime put the morality police back on the streets. Initial attempts to arrest women found in violation of hijab regulations, however, were met with resistance, leading to clashes between sympathetic bystanders and police. Women, including celebrities, have been prosecuted for appearing in public without their hijab. Car drivers carrying passengers not wearing hijab have been issued with traffic citations and private businesses have been closed for noncompliance with hijab laws.

The most conservative elements of the regime have doubled down, proposing a new ‘hijab and chastity’ law that seeks to impose harsher penalties, including lashes, heavy fines and prison sentences of up to 10 years for those appearing without the hijab. The bill is now being reviewed by Iran’s Guardian Council, a 12-member, all-male body led by a 97-year-old cleric.

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If not now, then anytime

In the run-up to 16 September, security force street presence consistently increased, with snap checkpoints set up and internet access disrupted. The government clearly feared something big might happen.

As the anniversary passes, the hardline ruling elite remains united and the military and security forces are on its side, while the protest movement has no leadership and has taken a bad hit. Some argue that what made it spread so fast – the role of young people, and young women in particular – also limited its appeal among wider Iranian society, and particularly among low-income people concerned above all with economic strife, rising inflation and increasing poverty.

There are ideological differences among the Iranian diaspora, which formed through successive waves of exiles and includes left and right-wing groups, monarchists and ethnic separatists. While most share the goal of replacing the authoritarian theocracy with a secular democracy, they’re divided over strategy and tactics, and particularly on whether sanctions are the best way to deal with the regime.

Ever since the protests took off last year, thousands of people around the world have shown their support and called on their governments to act. And some have, starting with the USA, which early on imposed sanctions on the morality police and senior police and security officials. New sanctions affecting 29 additional people and entities, including 18 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and security forces, were imposed on the eve of the anniversary of the protests, 15 September, International Day of Democracy. That day, US President Joe Biden made a statement about Mahsa Amini’s inspiration of a ‘historic movement’ for democracy and human dignity.

The continuing outpouring of international solidarity shows that the world still cares and is watching. A new regime isn’t around the corner in Iran, but neither is it game over in the quest for democracy. For those living under a murderous regime, every day of the year is the anniversary of a death, an indignity or a violation of rights. Each day will therefore bring along a new opportunity to resurrect rebellion.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


Lawmakers Call on G20 to Prioritise Spending on Youth, Gender, and Human Security

Asia-Pacific, Conferences, Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, Youth


Asian Parliamentarians believe it’s important to prioritise spending on ageing and youth populations. Credit: APDA

Asian Parliamentarians believe it’s important to prioritise spending on ageing and youth populations. Credit: APDA

NEW DELHI, Sep 5 2023 (IPS) – Legislators from around the world, this week, officially submitted to the Sherpa of the G20 meeting set for September in New Delhi a declaration calling on governments to prioritise spending on ageing, youth, gender, human security, and other burning population issues.

The submission to the G20 Sherpa follows a workshop held on August 22 in New Delhi to discuss the Declaration first presented at the G7 Hiroshima summit in April by the Global Conference of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (GCPPD) under the UNFPA

“We have now submitted the Declaration to Amitabh Kant, Sherpa to the G-20 so that it can be taken up,” Manmohan Sharma, Executive Secretary of the Indian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (IAPPD), told IPS.

Deepender Hooda, Vice Chair of the AFPPD and a member of India’s Parliament, said the workshop in New Delhi was significant not only because India is hosting the G-20 summit but also because India was expected to have overtaken China as the world’s most populous country reaching 1,425,775,850 people in April.

Lawmakers met in New Delhi to discuss the prioritisation of resources to prepare a declaration to the G20. Credit: APDA

Lawmakers met in New Delhi to discuss the prioritisation of resources to prepare a declaration to the G20. Credit: APDA

Keizo Takemi, member of the House of Councillors, Japan, and Chair of the AFPPD, observed that India faced many challenges that are hard to overcome, and these included the large size of its population, limited school attendance, and a high rate of unemployment. “Prioritisation of population issues is the most important,” he emphasised.

Hooda, a leader of the opposition Congress party from the state of Haryana, said he was concerned at the dwindling budgetary outlay in social sectors like health and education over the last few years in India. “Currently, for some reason, inclusive growth in education and health has fallen,” he told delegates.

A presentation to the workshop by Suneeta Mukherjee indicated that India is among the top five nations leading the ‘out-of-school’ category, with 1.4 million children in the 6-11-years-old age category not attending school. Also, out of every 100 students, 29 per cent drop out of school before completing elementary education.

Mukherjee, an Indian career bureaucrat who has served at the UNFPA, said the situation appeared to be worsening at the upper primary level given that the dropout rate at the upper primary level had gone up to 3 per cent in 2021-2022 while it was only 1.9 per cent in 2020-2021. The annual dropout rate of secondary school students was 14.6 in 2020-2021.

Citing recent studies in her presentation, Mukherjee said 36 per cent of Indians between the ages of 15 and 34 believe that unemployment is the biggest problem facing the country. She said one survey showed 40 per cent of graduates identified unemployment as their most pressing concern.

Said P.J. Kurien, chairperson of IAPPD: “It is important that all MPs take up population-related issues. They need to ask what percentage of the budget is devoted to education and health and ensure that every child goes to school with special attention given to girls.”

Echoing Kurien, Sharma said it was up to members of parliament to ensure that no child is left out in his or her constituency. “The solution is in your hands, but the prioritisation is missing.”

Delegates outlined at the workshop legislative steps taken by Parliamentarians in their countries in implementing the International Conference on Population Development’s Programme of Action and 2030 Agenda.

Josephine Veronique Lacson-Noel, Member, House of Representatives of the Philippines, said over the last two decades, her country had enacted such legislations as the Magna Carta of Women, Reproductive Health Law, 105-Day Expanded Maternity Leave, Act Prohibiting Child Marriage, Universal Health Care Act, Youth Council Reform and Empowerment Act, and an Act to enable conditional cash transfers.

On the anvil, she said, is the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Bill, a law to recognise, evaluate and redistribute unpaid care and domestic work done by women, and another to accord social protection for older persons and the promotion of active aging.

For 2023, the budget allocation for reproductive health was $14.9 million dollars, and that for training teachers to implement comprehensive sexuality education was $13.8 million, Lacson-Noel said.

Andrea W. Wojnar, UNFPA India representative and country director for Bhutan, said with the right expertise and skills, India’s 1.4 billion people could be turned into 1.4 billion opportunities.

Wojnar said India, with its large youth cohort — its 254 million youth in the 15-24 age bracket — can be a source of innovation and solutions, especially if girls and women are provided educational opportunities and skills to access new technologies and are empowered to fully exercise their reproductive rights and choices.

With close to 50 per cent of its population below the age of 25, India has a time-bound opportunity to benefit from the demographic dividend, according to Wojnar.

“Women and girls should be at the centre of sexual and reproductive policies and programmes. When rights, choices, and equal value of all people are truly respected and held, only then can we unlock a future of infinite possibilities,” Wojnar said in a statement.

“As the national fertility rate falls below 2.1 (the replacement level), India is at a unique historical opportunity, witnessing a great demographic transition as a youthful nation,” Wojnar said, adding that India also has the largest number of outmigrants and is affected by ageing, urbanisation and issues around sustainable development.

Wojnar warned that, overall, the Asia Pacific region was six times more likely to be affected by disaster events than other regions and is highly susceptible to changing weather patterns, calling for special attention by governments.

The Declaration presented to the Sherpa of the G-20 called on governments, among other things, to implement comprehensive legislation and policies that address all forms of gender-based violence and eradicate harmful practices such as child marriage, early and forced.

It also called for investment in sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as comprehensive sexuality education toward making future societies economically dynamic and for building peaceful, inclusive, and sustainable societies. Support for political and economic participation by women and girls could ensure the development of societies that guarantee liberty and individual choice for women and girls, it said.

Governments were asked to promote and assure equitable access to health innovation, finance, technology, and medicines in the global community which can support human security, leaving no one behind.

Acknowledgement of the grave impacts of environment/climate change and global warming was important, as also the need to promote policies that address the needs of geographically vulnerable countries, which is a threat to health and human security, the Declaration said.

Investing in young people by providing decent work opportunities and enabling them to become a driving force for sustainable development was important as also addressing active and healthy ageing to enhance people’s overall quality of life by improving areas such as health and long-term care through resilient universal health coverage, physical security, and income stability.

Governments were also asked to enact national legislation and policies and ensure political will through allocation, oversight, and monitoring of budgetary resources to build universal health coverage, which is vital to enhance the global health framework.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Two Years after the Taliban Took over, More Should Be Done to Rescue Afghanistan

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations


A young girl in school uniform and covered in veil walks alone in the empty corridor of Tajrobawai girls primary and secondary school seen on September 16, 2021 in Herat, Afghanistan. The Taliban has forbidden girls at high school level to attend schools throughout Afghanistan. Credit: Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

KUALA LUMPUR / JOHANNESBURG, Aug 28 2023 (IPS) – His name is Matiullah Wesa, a girls education campaigner who now symbolises the “war” waged by the Taliban against the education and empowerment of women and girls. Exactly two years since the Taliban took over, Afghanistan is on a downward trajectory and unfortunately, global attention that was drawn by families chasing planes to flee a few days after the Taliban assumed control of the government has waned over the last two years.

Any improvements made in advancing human rights, especially the rights of women and access to education have been quickly reversed and replaced with severe restrictions that have almost completely wiped away the rights of women in almost all sectors and spheres of life. In a brazen move that provided a clear indication to the international community that the Taliban had an anti-human rights agenda, human rights defenders and members of their families have been harassed, detained and attacked in their homes while Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission was dissolved and its premises confiscated. In the absence of any internal human rights mechanism, the Taliban are only accountable to themselves and act with utmost impunity.

Matiullah was arrested in March 2023 for his dedication to provide education to girls particularly in rural areas. Through his organisation – PenPath which he founded in 2009, he campaigned for the right to education for girls, working with tribal leaders to provide mobile libraries to ensure girls have access to education. Penpath has successfully reopened 100 schools (including those closed for more than a decade due to war and the Taliban’s restrictions on education) in 16 provinces.

Matiullah Wesa, Afghan educational activist, reads to students in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matiullah Wesa/PenPath

In an interview with CIVICUS, a year before he was arbitrarily arrested, Matiullah pointed out that they had provided education facilities for about 110000 children, about 60% were girls and distributed 1.5 million stationary and collected 34000 books through its book donation campaigns. His continued detention means, at best this much needed support provided to communities has been scaled back substantively and at worse has almost completely stopped. Yet, Matiullah is just one among hundreds who have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Afghans over the years and are unable to do so either because they are in detention, have fled the country to avoid reprisals or have been forced to self censor.

The de facto Taliban regime has over the last two years institutionalised restrictions against women, dismissed women in public service, prevented girls from attending school and university and in December 2022, banned women from working with NGOs and aid agencies. It followed this decision exactly four months later by banning women from working for the UN in Afghanistan – as they had been exempted from the previous ban.

Through the Directorate for Intelligence, the regime monitors and targets women activists on social media and those identified as protest leaders. Others who participate in protests are identified through pictures posted on social media and through interrogations and arrested. On 11 February 2023, women’s rights activist and founder of the social movement – the Takhar Women’s Protest Movement – Parisa Mobarez, was arrested together with her brother in Takhar province and physically assaulted before they were released.

Matiullah Wesa, Afghan educational activist, reads to students in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matiullah Wesa/PenPath

A day after, activist Nargis Sadat was arrested for protesting against the restrictions on women’s right to work and education and released after two months. In response to an announcement by the Taliban regime that it would close beauty salons, women protesters converged at the Shar-e Naw district in Kabul on 19 July, displaying protest signs with calls for ‘bread,’ ‘work’ and ‘justice.’ The women protesters were rounded up as security forces fired shots into the air and physically assaulted some of the women using electric stun guns.

The above restrictions are happening in a context of an ever increasing humanitarian crises exacerbated by growing social and economic challenges. Human rights groups report that the number of people living in poverty has increased to 97%, an increase of about 47% over the last three years and that more than half of the population – about 28 million people urgently need humanitarian assistance. The restrictions placed on women in government ministries and the ban on women from working for NGOs have a devastating impact on the families of these women and communities including women and children who have benefited from services provided. In addition, most women have literally been confined to their homes as they are banned from gyms, swimming pools and public parks.

Afghan women are fighting back

Despite the reprisals from the Taliban and threats of violence and arrests, Afghan women continue to mobilise to keep the face they face on the agenda of the international community. The resilience of these brave Afghan women and their sustained protests continue to shed light on the state of human rights in Afghanistan, especially at a time when the international community seems to have moved on to other crises. As women protesters, journalists and human rights defenders and families face increased attacks, protests have been moved indoors and online. Some of the protesters continue to cover their faces to avoid reprisals while others remain unveiled to encourage others.

Photo courtesy of PenPath

What can be done?

The current situation is especially tricky for many international actors and though the Taliban craves for international recognition to boast its legitimacy, members of the international community including the European Union, United Kingdom and India who engage with the Taliban as well as humanitarian organisations and civil society groups should respect the wishes of Afghans and not provide any form of formal recognition to the de facto regime. They should also support Afghan women rights activists in exile.

Millions of Afghans will continue to need humanitarian assistance for the foreseeable future and ongoing and future dialogues to negotiate for space and access through humanitarian corridors should be premised on respect for human rights and lifting of current restrictions on women and girls.

At the level of the United Nations, the UN Security Council Resolution on Afghanistan which accused the Taliban of violating human rights and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan are important steps in the right direction but nearly not enough. The Security Council should continue to prioritise Afghanistan and push for accountability mechanisms inside of Afghanistan which would serve as some kind of a deterrent and a check on impunity. Lastly, there is a need for an intra-Afghan dialogue that is inclusive and should be led by a neutral party.

Josef Benedict is a researcher covering the Asia Pacific region for the CIVICUS Monitor. Malaysia. David Kode is the advocacy and campaigns lead for CIVICUS. South Africa

IPS UN Bureau


Senegal: Democracy in the Balance?

Africa, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Labour, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters via Gallo Images

LONDON, Aug 18 2023 (IPS) – Civic space is deteriorating in Senegal ahead of next February’s presidential election. Recent protests have been met with lethal violence and internet and social media restrictions. Senegal’s democracy will soon face a key test, and whether it passes will depend largely on whether civic space is respected.

Political conflict

Recent protests have revolved around the populist opposition politician Ousmane Sonko. Sonko came third in the 2019 presidential election and has grown to be the biggest thorn in President Macky Sall’s side. He’s won support from many young people who see the political elite as corrupt, out of touch and unwilling to tackle major social and economic problems such as the country’s high youth unemployment. He’s also been the subject of a recent criminal conviction that his supporters insist is politically motivated.

On 1 June, Sonko was sentenced to two years in jail for ‘corrupting youth’. This resulted from his arrest on rape charges in March 2021. Although he was cleared of the most serious charges – something women’s rights advocates have expressed concern about – his conviction likely makes him ineligible to stand in the next presidential election.

Sonko’s arrest in March 2021 triggered protests in which 14 people died. His conviction set off a second wave of protests. Sonko was arrested again on 28 July on protest-related charges, including insurrection. A few days later, the government dissolved his party, Pastef. It’s the first such ban since Senegal achieved independence in 1960.

All of this gave fresh impetus to Sonko’s supporters, who accuse the government of instrumentalising the judiciary and criminal justice system to stop a credible political threat.

Repressive reaction

The latest wave of protests saw instances of violence, including stone-throwing, tyre burning and looting. The state responded with lethal force. According to civil society estimates, since March 2021 over 30 people have been killed, more than 600 injured and over 700 detained.

In response to the recent protests, the army was deployed in the capital, Dakar. Live ammunition was used and armed people dressed in civilian clothes, evidently embedded with security forces, violently attacked protesters.

Journalists were harassed and arrested while covering protests. Recent years have seen a rise in verbal and physical attacks on journalists, along with legal action to try to silence them. Several journalists were arrested in relation to their reporting on Sonko’s prosecution. Investigative journalist Pape Alé Niang has been jailed three times in less than one year.

The government also limited internet access and TV coverage. TV station Walf TV was suspended over its protest coverage. On 1 June, social media access was restricted and on 4 June mobile internet was shut down for several days. In August, TikTok access was blocked. Restrictions harmed both freedom of expression and livelihoods, since many small traders rely on mobile data for transactions.

Third-term tussle

A major driver of protests and Sonko’s campaign was speculation that Sall might be tempted to seek a third presidential term. The constitution appeared to be clear on the two-term limit, but Sall’s supporters claimed constitutional amendments in 2016 had reset the count. Thousands mobilised in Dakar on 12 May, organised by a coalition of over 170 civil society groups and opposition parties, to demand that Sall respect the two-term limit.

On 3 July, Sall finally announced that he wasn’t running again. But it hasn’t ended suspicion that the ruling Alliance for the Republic (APR) party will go to any lengths stay in power, including using the state’s levers to weaken the opposition.

There’s precedent here: ahead of the Sall’s re-election in 2019, two prominent opposition politicians who might have presented a serious challenge were excluded. In both cases, barely weeks before the election the Constitutional Council ruled them ineligible due to prior convictions on corruption charges that were widely believed to have been politically motivated.

That Sonko and Pastef might have stood a chance in 2024 was suggested by the results of votes in 2022. In local elections, the APR lost control of Dakar and Sonko was elected mayor of Ziguinchor city. And then in parliamentary elections, the APR lost 43 of its 125 seats and Pastef finished second, claiming 56 seats, leaving no party with a majority.

Reputation on the line

Senegal long enjoyed an international reputation for being a relatively stable and democratic country in a region that’s experienced numerous democratic setbacks. With West African countries such as Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and now Niger under military control, and others like Togo holding deeply flawed elections, Senegal stood out. It’s held several free elections with changes of power.

The country’s active and youthful civil society and relatively free media have played a huge part in sustaining democracy. When President Abdoulaye Wade sought an unconstitutional third term in 2012, social movements mobilised. The Y’en a marre (‘I’m fed up’) movement got out the youth vote to oust Wade in favour of Sall. Wade himself rode a similar youth wave in 2000. So Sall and his party are surely aware of the power of social movements and the youth vote.

A small step forward was taken recently when parliament voted to allow the two opposition candidates who’d been blocked in 2019 to stand in 2024. But the government needs to do much more to show its commitment to democratic rules.

Upholding protest rights would be a good start. The repeated use of violence and detention of protesters points to a systemic problem. No one has been held to account for killings and other rights violations. It’s high time for accountability.

Media freedoms need to be respected and people detained for exercising their civic freedoms must be released. For Senegal to live up to its reputation, Sall should strive to enter history as the president who kept democracy alive – not the one who buried it.

Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


How Nigeria’s Legal System is Failing to Safeguard Widows’ Rights

Nigerian law protects widows, but the reality they face is quite different.

Nigerian law protects widows, but the reality they face is quite different.

By Promise Eze

In February this year, Chichi Okonkwo not only lost her husband but was stripped of everything they owned together. Her husband was severely injured in a car accident about a month earlier. Despite being rushed to a hospital in Enugu, where they resided, he succumbed to his injuries weeks later. To compound her grief, Okonkwo’s late husband’s male siblings forcibly entered her home in the city a few hours after his passing, confiscating her husband’s land documents, car, money, clothes, and marriage certificate.

In the wake of these heart-wrenching events, Okonkwo was left with nothing but her six children. The eldest is just 18.

“They took everything my husband and I owned and forcibly evicted me and my children from our home,” laments Okonkwo. “They heartlessly claimed that, as a widow, I had no rights to any of my late husband’s possessions.”

Okonkwo’s children are now out of school because she was a housewife who depended on her husband’s income and is now left with nothing. She revealed that her late husband’s siblings, who seized and were aware of his bank PIN, callously left her with a mere 1 000 naira (approximately USD 2) out of the 2 million naira ($2,600) he had in his account.

Okonkwo said her husband’s relatives swore to drag her to court to challenge her rights, but she cannot afford a lawyer due to her financial situation.

In Nigeria, there are around 15 million widows.

Unfortunately, widows in the country often face the denial of their basic human rights due to traditional and cultural practices rooted in patriarchal beliefs.

According to The World Bank, “In much of Africa, marriage is the sole basis for women’s access to social and economic rights, and these are lost upon divorce or widowhood.”

In a country like Nigeria, where men dominate the economic and political systems, women are often expected to be submissive. The challenges women face are particularly amplified when they become widows, creating a doubly marginalized subgroup. Moreover, this vulnerable position sometimes exposes widows to dehumanizing rituals and harmful practices.

These harmful practices include mourning rites that involve widows sleeping with their deceased husbands’ corpses, shaving of widows’ heads, seclusion, wearing black or white clothes, and being forced to sleep and sit on the floor or mat. Additionally, some widows are coerced into marrying other members of the deceased husband’s family.

Despite laws granting women the right to inherit their husbands’ assets, many widows can still not claim their rightful share of land and property.

Efforts to combat these practices, such as the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) enacted in 2015, have faced challenges in implementation and adoption by all states. According to the law, offenders are subject to a 500,000 naira ($648) fine or two years in prison. But arrests and prosecution of offenders are rare. And gender-based violence has persisted, which includes violence towards widows.

The enforcement of laws against offenders has been hindered by religious and cultural norms that promote silence and suppression of victimization cases. Victims often face threats or pressure from family members, community, or religious leaders whenever they try to report incidents to law enforcement.

Like Okonkwo, Sarah Temidayo’s life took a tragic turn when she lost her husband of four years to lung cancer in 2019. However, her grief was compounded by the actions of her husband’s relatives, who invaded her home in Lagos mere hours after his passing, intent on claiming everything that belonged to him. They even went so far as to take her wedding gown, certificates, and her then-five-year-old daughter’s clothes. Devastated and without recourse, Temitope sought justice through the legal system, but her efforts have yielded no results.

“I did not pick a pin out of my house. I had to start my life all over again,” she says.

Unfortunately, the nightmare did not end there for Temidayo. She was subjected to constant threats from her husband’s mother, who continued to torment her and accuse her of killing her son through witchcraft. These threats escalated to a terrifying climax when assassins attacked her at a bus stop in March 2021. She managed to survive, albeit with six bullets lodged in her leg. Despite reporting the incident to the police, no investigation was conducted, leaving her feeling abandoned by the system meant to protect her.

According to Ifeoma Oguejiofor, a legal practitioner in Southeast Nigeria, widows face challenges in seeking justice due to the understaffed courts, which can cause delays in the resolution of cases. Additionally, the financial burden of hiring a lawyer becomes a significant obstacle for many widows, making it difficult to access proper legal representation to handle their cases.

“There is a significant difference between the laws written in books and the actual pursuit of justice. According to the law, a surviving spouse, whether in a traditional marriage, a long period of cohabitation, or a marriage registered under the act, is entitled to inherit the estate of their deceased spouse. However, achieving justice through the legal system is often a prolonged and costly process, particularly for widows who have already lost a substantial portion of their assets to their husband’s relatives,” she explains.

“It’s high time the government, traditional rulers, and religious clerics enforce laws to protect widows in Nigeria. No woman should be discriminated against because she lost her husband,” says Hope Nwakwesi, the founder of Almanah Hope Foundation, a non-governmental organization focused on supporting Nigerian widows.

Nwakwesi, a widow who lost her police husband in 1994, endured distressing cultural rites, including having her hair shaved and wearing a mourning dress for a year. She faced further hardships as her relatives forcibly took her property, and she was expelled from her workplace and home in the police barracks. Despite seeking help, many, including police officers who offered assistance, demanded sexual favors in return.

Now, Nwakwesi is advocating for a bill in Nigeria’s legislative chamber. The bill aims to eradicate repressive cultural practices against widows and safeguard their fundamental human rights.

“My goal is to get the bill I’m fighting for approved and signed into law by the Senate. The current Violence Against Persons Prohibition Law is too vague and lacks specific clauses for protecting the rights of widows. Once the new bill becomes law, those who discriminate against widows will face arrest and prosecution by law enforcement agencies,” says Nwakwesi.

Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, a civil rights activist and founding director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, noted that “For the government to protect widows effectively, they should review and update existing laws related to widows’ rights to ensure they are comprehensive, enforceable, and in line with international human rights standards.”

“Merely having laws in place is not enough; the government must ensure their effective implementation at all levels of the justice system. This requires training and sensitizing law enforcement officials, judges, and legal practitioners on the rights of widows and the importance of protecting them,” she adds.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Afghan Girls, Women Deprived of Education, Find Hope in Africa

Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder and President of SOLA, speaks at the Women Deliver conference in Rwanda. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/ IPS

Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder and President of SOLA, speaks at the Women Deliver conference in Rwanda. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

By Aimable Twahirwa
KIGALI, Aug 1 2023 (IPS)

When providing education to her small group of Afghan girls, who had been studying at a boarding school back home, became tenuous, Shabana Basij-Rasikh, relocated them to Rwanda.

She had set up a pioneering school under the project SOLA, the Afghan word for peace, and a short form for School of Leadership Afghanistan. But as the Taliban swept to power in August 2021, she closed the doors of the school, destroyed any school records which could help identify the girls, and on August 25, relocated 250 members of the SOLA community, including the student body and graduates from the programme, totally more than 100 girls, to Rwanda.

Basij-Rasikh, co-founder and SOLA’s President said a major challenge had been the lack of resources and capacity to teach Afghan girls after the return of the Taliban deprived right to education of girls in secondary schools and above.

As the Taliban swept back into power in Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, Shabana Basij-Rasikh, the founder of the nation’s only all-girls boarding school, initially ran the school out of a former principal’s living room. But that soon became untenable.

Speaking on the sidelines of The Women Deliver 2023 Conference (WD2023), which took place in Kigali from 17-20 July 2023, Basij-Rasikh, who completed her undergraduate studies in the United States, explained that when Kabul fell under the control of the Taliban, she managed within a short time to evacuate the entire school community to Rwanda.

“Although we managed to move the school to a safe country, it is still embarrassing and shameful for me since Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women and girls’ access to education has been suspended,” she said.

Initially, SOLA started as a scholarship program where Afghan youth would be identified and could access quality education abroad and, later on, go back to their home country as highly-skilled Afghans in whichever profession they chose.

“When the US announced that they were to withdraw their troops in Afghanistan, it created a lot of anxiety among young Afghans who were in the West hoping to return to the country.”

Basij-Rasikh regrets that some of her former students, who were able to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban’s return, are still struggling to continue their education overseas.

“We wish to see many Afghan girls return to schools,” she said, explaining that the migration status of the students in many countries restricted their access to education.

Since the school opened last year’s admissions season, Shabana Basij-Rasikh and her team have been inviting Afghan girls worldwide to apply and join the rest in Rwanda. Last year they enrolled 27 girls in their first intake.

“The major challenge is that there are several hundreds of thousands of girls who want to join our campus, but space is limited, and so places are being granted on merit and need,” Shabana told IPS.

Shabana argues investing in girls’ education is a smart investment; she is convinced that the current situation in Afghanistan must and should not be accepted or supported by any country around the world.

On September 18, 2021, a month after taking over the country, the Taliban ordered the reopening of only boys’ secondary schools. A few months later, in March 2022, according to human rights organizations, the Taliban again pledged to reopen all schools, but they officially closed girls’ secondary schools.

“These girls deserve the opportunity to realize their full potential, and the international community has an important role to play,” Shabana said.

UNESCO’s latest figures show that 2,5 million or 80 percent of school-aged Afghan girls and women are out of school.  The order suspending university education for women, announced in December last year, affects more than 100,000 students attending government and private institutions, according to the UN agency.

On the sidelines of the Women Deliver Conference 2023, Senegalese President Macky Sall pledged that his government would offer 100 scholarships for women who have seen their right to education decimated under Taliban rule in Afghanistan to pursue their university degrees in Senegal.

Rwanda is one of several African countries that agreed to temporarily host evacuated Afghans.

Sall, who was reacting to the concerns raised by Basij-Rasikhat, said his Government was ready to give chance to Afghan girls to pursue their studies.

So far, SOLA school has received 2,000 applications across 20 countries where some Afghans are living.

In 2022, it received 180 applications from Afghans living in 10 countries, but only 27 girls were admitted.

“That explains how families in Afghanistan are ready to support the girls in moving abroad to pursue their education,” Shabana said.

“Boarding schools that allow Afghan girls to study and live together are the best way to promote their education.”

IPS UN Bureau Report


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