Women in Africa and the Mediterranean, different but equal

Casa Árabe hosts the Women for Africa Foundation within the framework of the "Raisa" programme, where 20 regional women leaders defend equality between men and women
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PHOTO/REUTERS  -   A demonstrator carries a banner during a march for International Women's Day in Algiers, Algeria, 8 March 2020

It is undeniable that historical and cultural factors have relegated women to a secondary role in the most advanced societies, or practically non-existent in less developed ones. This is an unfair role that does not correspond to their capacity and is a burden for society as a whole. In this sense, Africa has been a particularly hard hit continent. A scourge that countless generations have fought against. Now, a new batch of women leaders is trying to conquer effective equality.

This week, Casa Árabe is hosting the meeting 'Different but equal', an event organised by the Women for Africa Foundation as part of the 'Raisa' programme. The initiative, promoted by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (MAEUEC), will bring together 20 female figures from African and Mediterranean countries in Madrid over the next few days to present their points of view in the fight for equality.

On Tuesday, the journalist Pilar Requena was in charge of moderating the meeting in a room packed with successful and recognised women from different sectors such as communication, academia, public administration, the legal sphere and business. The event was full of female leaders who seek to broaden horizons and extend the role of women in these areas.

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Pilar Requena detailed the "Raisa" programme, which has carried out a comparative analysis through in-depth conversations between African and Spanish women about their respective situations in the different professional sectors in which they work. The conclusion, for the journalist, is that "there are many more things that unite us than separate us. We are different, but equal".

"It is much riskier to be an activist anywhere in Africa than in Spain. It has nothing to do with that", said writer María Murnau at the beginning of her speech. For Murnau, the world lives in a patriarchal society where there is little political commitment to change. In Spain, these two major obstacles combine to prevent effective progress in gender equality. The recipe involves educating and empowering girls, "removing the invisible barriers".

The president of 'Women in Africa', Hafsat Abiola-Costello, praised the work of the Spaniard with her feminist Instagram account, which has more than 600,000 followers. The Nigerian quoted a Tunisian woman, a lawyer and active in political life, to exemplify that the Arab Springs were not able to create a legal structure based on equality: "The laws and institutions were structured to lock women up", she said.

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"Patriarchy is a force and to change it we need an opposing force. We need a commitment from the institutions and from society", concluded Abiola-Costello. The human rights defender asserted that we cannot talk about rights for men "and forget about women", and vindicated their role: "We are not going to improve the world if we do it half-heartedly. Activism is a full-time job", she said.

The magistrate Inmaculada Montalbán, a recent addition to the Constitutional Court, said that, as a society, we need "specific laws that are oriented towards equal rights for women and men". Violence against women is, in Montalbán's opinion, "the ultimate expression of inequality". Although for the magistrate it is not enough to have laws, these "must be applied and their consequences analysed". For this reason, Montalbán advocates the creation of an Observatory in charge of this. And also to train judges in order to "avoid stereotypical perceptions".

FIDA CEO Anne W. Ireri expressed the need to maintain "a gender perspective". "We need to know what has led to the current situation so that we don't have laws on paper, but a context or background. What is it that has led us to this? For Ireri, the important thing is education and knowing how to pass it on to the new generations. But this requires funding for specific campaigns. Rajae El Khamsi, professor at the Mohamed V University in Morocco, stressed that "women and men in Africa and the Mediterranean do not have the same opportunities. There is a glass ceiling. In some African countries, women cannot become professors.

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CBC Worldwide CEO Diaka Camara said that the media has a vital role to play in advocating for equality and giving a voice to the voiceless. "Good things are also happening in Africa, and we need people to tell these stories," she said, before adding that all women "are activists because every day we are fighting a battle for something.

The journalist Pilar Requena wanted to end by sending a message to the Afghan women who believed in effective progress towards equality: "I want to send a special message to the Afghan women who have fought and are fighting for women's rights and who have now been condemned to exile or to remain in hiding to avoid being killed by the barbarians for no reason. And those Afghan women who, at the risk of their lives, are standing up to the Taliban.