Programme Manager, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Edition: AHRLJ Volume 6 No 1 2006
Pages: 249 - 250
Citation: (2006) 1 AHRLJ249-250
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Hart Publishing (2005) 407 pages
Fareda Banda's book, Women, law and human rights: An African perspective, deals with a contemporary human rights issue — the rights of women in Africa. It consists of eight chapters. Chapter one is introductory and looks at the impact of culture on human rights and feminist debates on the subject. Chapter two gives a general overview of how customary laws developed in Africa since the colonial era. This chapter also looks at the conflict of laws that exists between customary laws and other laws. It considers constitutional protection of women in Africa. The author uses domestic court decisions to illustrate these tensions. Banda highlights the conflicts of laws that exist and how these can be a cause for failure to realise the rights of women.
Chapter three explores the feminist view of human rights and how, until recently, Africa has been excluded from making a contribution to the development of human rights norms. Furthermore, the chapter looks at both the African human rights system and the regional initiatives that have been developed to deal with gender discrimination. The chapter analyses some of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and also discusses the issue of reservations and how this relates to CEDAW. The history and drafting process of the recently adopted Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Women' Protocol) is traced. The author then gives an overview of the Women's Protocol. This chapter addresses a number of issues. The level of detail to which the author has gone in examining the history and drafting process of the Women's Protocol is commendable, especially as not much has been documented on this process.
In chapter four, family law, gender equality and human rights are the focus areas. Feminist perspectives of the family are discussed, with marriage as the main focus. The conflict created by legal pluralism is analysed. Other issues that receive attention in this chapter include bride wealth, children of the marriage, and divorce and its consequences. Even though there are many issues that have been dealt with in this chapter, the author explains them in some depth.
Chapter five combines the issues of violence against women and reproductive rights. It analyses international and national developments in relation to violence against women. It also explains the different forms that violence against women can take. Reproductive health rights for women receive attention and health as a human right is also analysed. A criticism of this chapter could be that it combines two very important issues and it is therefore too loaded and could have been more analytical if it dealt with them separately.
In chapter six, female genital cutting (FGC) is the focus and the author starts by explaining what the practice involves and the difficulties of terminology. The chapter also analyses how the practice affects children's rights and then looks at national legislation dealing with this matter and civil society's contribution in addressing the problem. The subject of FGC has been researched quite extensively, but it would have been a major omission to discuss women's rights in Africa without discussing this subject.
Chapter seven covers culture, development and participation of women in governance. This chapter deals with culture and its impact on human rights. The chapter proceeds to look at women's involvement in development. It goes on to deal with the subject of women and political participation and the work of non-governmental organisations. Perhaps parts of this chapter could have been discussed earlier, especially the subject of culture. This is because the two areas on which Banda has focused throughout the book are culture and feminists' views. It would have been ideal to try and discuss the issue of culture more extensively at an earlier stage of the book, because culture affects all women's rights.
In its conclusion, the book looks at an overview of the development of human rights, weaknesses of African states, culture, the need to democratise the family and expanding the feminist project in Africa.
The publication is timely, especially in view of the recent entry into force of the Women's Protocol. Banda in some instances uses her personal experiences as a woman to illustrate some of the issues affecting women's rights in Africa. The book is well researched and written in plain language. Experts and lay persons in the field of human rights would be able to easily grasp the issues she raises. The book has a very practical approach to issues of women's rights in Africa. Decisions of domestic courts are used to show how courts have addressed the issue of women's rights.
Researching about a continent which is not monolithic is not an easy task, but Banda has been able to draw examples from across the continent and uses them to illustrate her points. In a number of instances, Banda appears to put the emphasis on examples from Zimbabwe at the exclusion of other African countries. Her use of authority is elaborate and hence the book is a good resource for further research. Another positive aspect of the book is that it manages to integrate the Women's Protocol, which entered into force recently.
The book further helps in the clarification of some common terms used when dealing with women's rights. In many instances it brings to the fore the different points of view that exist on terminology.
Banda has been able to address the debates that are raised by feminists from the developed and developing countries. She has also been able to bring to the fore the issue of how culture can affect the realisation of women's rights in virtually every sphere of their lives.
The book can be criticised for dealing with too many issues, in some instances leading to a general overview of the matter rather than thorough analysis. This means that in some aspects it lacks depth.
This is a book that deals with contemporary issues in the field of women's rights and it is recommended reading for anyone who is keen to learn more about or to reflect on women's rights in Africa.