This past May, I traveled to Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to produce “Mind the Gap: Gender Equality and Trade in Africa” with a Nairobi-based film crew. As I headed off on my first official trip, I read and re-read the chapters that this film was designed to complement — all part of a fantastic new book, “Women and Trade in Africa: Realizing the Potential.” I felt very comfortable with the facts and figures — tourism in Kenya accounts for 12.5 percent of GDP; cotton is the third largest export in Uganda; small business owners are a huge part of Tanzania’s export economy, etc. — but did not fully understand the situation we were trying to explore until I met Mary.
In September 2013, four elderly sisters in Botswana were finally and definitively allowed to remain in the ancestral home where they had spent most of their lives — the result of their own tenacity and determination that a young nephew could not step in and take ownership of a property they had lovingly maintained.
This landmark decision by the highest court in Botswana, the Court of Appeal, followed five years of efforts by women’s networks and legal associations who helped the sisters bring their claim. The judges decided that customary laws favoring the rights of the youngest male heir were simply out of date.
“The Constitutional values of equality before the law and the increased leveling of the power structures with more and more women heading households and participating with men as equals in the public sphere and increasingly in the private sphere demonstrate that there is no rational and justifiable basis for sticking to the narrow norms of days gone by when such norms go against current value systems,” wrote Justice Lesetedi of the Botswana Court of Appeal.
The reform of discriminatory laws can lead to transformative change.
This week I had the pleasure of attending Women Deliver 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — the largest global gathering of the decade to focus on the health and well-being of girls and women. The conference convened several thousand people from 140 countries — including many ministers and parliamentarians — to generate momentum and political commitment for girls’ and women’s rights and reproductive health.
We heard the voices of the wealthy and powerful — like Melinda Gates and Chelsea Clinton — as well as the voices that too often go unheard — including young people, sexual minorities, widows, women with disabilities, and women living with HIV and AIDS. I was really inspired by the passion of all the participants — of whom, by the way, 40% were male, quite a high proportion for gender events — and was reminded that the safe and healthy experience I had having my own kids is so far from the reality of many millions of women around the world.