Interview: Ms. Cynthia Kamara-Njoku and Ms. Evelyn Anietie James of the Centre for African Justice.
Talk about us. Ms. Cynthia Kamara-Njoku (Women Empowerment Team Leader) and Ms. Evelyn Anietie James of the Centre for African Justice, Peace and Human Rights in Africa
In our organisation we believe we share a fundamental value with the Centre for African Justice, Peace and Human Rights in Africa: the commitment to empower and provide resources for the sustainable business development of female entrepreneurs. We also recognise the Centre for African Justice, Peace and Human Rights in Africa as a pioneer within the Dutch civil society in matters of justice and peace building. Sadly persecution, injustice, and abuse continue to pose a huge challenge to our civilisation. Governments and civil society globally should always observe and take action to ensure that such phenomena do not harm the life of citizens. All actors and individuals must stay sensitive and participate in the formation of strong institutions and global standards of justice. We believe that the commitment to advocating for peace everywhere is everyone’s responsibility.
That said, Coachability Foundation is honoured to host an interview in our website with spokeswomen of the Centre for African Justice, Peace and Human Rights in Africa: Ms. Cynthia Kamara-Njoku (Women Empowerment Team Leader) and Ms. Evelyn Anietie James (Women Empowerment Project Officer).
Question: One cannot argue with the fact that migration whether positive or negative has significant side effects on women both physically and mentally. According to your experience working with African women who migrated to the Netherlands, which specific life aspects (personal and/or professional) they find challenging here? In other words, in which area is it most difficult for them to adjust?
Answer: Most people living abroad for sustained amount of time, might encounter depression and trauma arising from identity crisis, change of environment, different customs etc. How much more for women who are often overlooked in society? Feel displaced and have no means to project their voice. The insecurities they face, subjugates any hopes they have of achieving positive self-development. The same may apply for future generations, and it is often a matter with which migrants or refugees are faced; be it from war, genital mutilation, drought or other less fortunate circumstances, in which case the choice to move is most often a necessity.
Q: Do these challenges in adjusting hinder their growth?
A: In the Netherlands, our organisation, Centre for African Justice, Peace and Human Rights realized that women of African descent encounter difficulties adjusting to their new environment with its different norms or living in their new environment while attempting not to lose their heritage. Besides cultural bereavement, they face major challenges such as: Barriers to Dutch labour market due to lack of ‘soft skills’ appropriate to Dutch Culture, language, lack of relevant social networks, domestic abuse or a history thereof, being a single parent, dealing with depression, identity crisis, financial crisis, fear of failure, lack of funding for female entrepreneurs and most especially, “Lack of mentorship”.
For many migrant women and of African descent, this is challenging and demotivates them in pursuing a degree or a certain career path and hinders them from achieving their full potential. Therefore, to help support these women, there is a need for mentorship, guidance, and support by successful women of African descent who have experienced such toils and by women active in furthering matters regarding gender and cultural inclusion. Also, there is a need for the government and Non-governmental bodies to constantly support migrant women and the Women empowerment initiatives.
Q: What do you see as the right balance between Dutch government policies, civil society’s support and personal commitment, in order for female African migrants to achieve integration in the host country?
A: What we see are the workshops or Vocational trainings and women empowerment conferences that are held by our organisation & other NGO’s to support and enable migrant women to acquire soft skills for the labour market, boost their self-esteem, coach them and also create opportunities to enable them become exposed to diverse information and tools aimed at helping them achieve their highest potentials. For us to fully achieve this, we need funding or other forms of support; and this is where the government, the civil society and goodwill contributions comes in. Because they tend to support Non-governmental bodies to tackle some issues regarding female migrants.
Furthermore, Gender equality and helping women and girls to become more independent and resilient is already a major priority for the Netherlands. In this framework, the Netherlands supports initiatives in preventing and tackling violence against women and girls. The same vein they support ideas regarding education and women empowerment. However, these supports are not usually catered to female African migrants in the Netherlands. This is why one of our major goals is to create that awareness and seek the support that is needed to aid African female migrants and also female entrepreneurs in the Netherlands.
Lastly, regarding the Dutch policy for female African migrants to achieve integration within the Netherlands, some changes to the civic integration system has been created.
The government wants new arrivals to find work as quickly as possible and learn Dutch at the same time. It proposes 3 new civic integration pathways and they are as follows:
A pathway for language learning and doing paid or unpaid work. This will allow people to learn the Dutch language within a maximum of 3 years and carry out paid or voluntary work at the same time.
A pathway for young people, so they can gain qualifications as quickly as possible.
A special pathway aimed at social self-reliance for people who are unable to follow the other ones (Government of the Netherlands, 2020)
However, in order to make these changes possible, the government is drafting a bill on a new civic integration system. Therefore, these joint efforts will help in properly supporting migrant women with their overall integration processes and achieving a better life that is beneficial to them and to the society.
Q: The Centre encourages young women to become agents of peace in African societies. What are the challenges they communicate back to you when they advocate for that purpose there? Do they experience challenges related to their gender? Is the local environment (of course it depends on the region) still inflexible towards gender inclusion and acceptance of female leadership?
A: Our organisation (CAJPHR) encourages women to be agents of peace not just within African societies but in other parts of the world. We do acknowledge that women encounter challenges relating to gender especially in African countries where we have a patriarchal society. However, no major challenges regarding this issue has been reported back to our organisation. Also, given the fact that it is a new/ on-going project, we don’t have a lot of cases at the moment and we hope that we don’t encounter gender-related cases on matters regarding peace building in Africa.
Furthermore, we discovered that Women continue to be largely excluded from negotiating peace. A report from UN-supported and tracked peace processes shows that, women’s participation in negotiating delegations has not improved in recent years. The Global data trends also show little progress. Between 1992 and 2018, women constituted 13% of negotiators, 3% of mediators and only 4% of signatories in major peace processes tracked by the council on Foreign Relations. Although these results do show the progress of women in the peace process, it is important we look at the major indicator of long-term peace, which is “institutionalising gender-equality by including female participation in the implementation of a peace plan.”
For example, Current cases like South Sudan demonstrates how women from the rural areas are eager to be more involved in the peace process but are side lined by the warring parties. Therefore, identifying these barriers are of paramount importance to increasing the participation of women in peacemaking which will eventually lead to a lasting peace.
The Centre suggests that building women's capacity will encourage female leadership and is seen as a great investment for the international community. We believe that only when inclusive policies are created with women’s full participation/ leadership, shall we achieve a conflict-free society.
Q: When it comes to the issue of empowerment through education - that inarguably is the backbone of every sustainable growth- which challenges do you face on the ground?
A: When it comes to empowerment through Education, our organization encounters mostly funding challenges and acquisition of essential materials to aid the less-privileged women in the rural areas of our target locations.
Q: When delivering books, you prefer to collaborate with official governmental structures or local NGO’s? Why?
A: In order to achieve stability and to ensure a successful execution of the project, we prefer to partner with local NGO’s within our target location or governmental bodies from the Netherlands and in Africa that can support the shipping of the books, computers and other essential equipment to our target audience. Most importantly, we do this with reliable local partners who can report back to us on a monthly basis, as well as identify areas that went well and areas that needs improvement.
Q: Of particular interest is an interview with Chinwe Ezenwa, one of the focal persons of the Centre for African Justice, Peace and Human Rights in Nigeria. It appears on Issue 1 of Capacity Building magazine. There, Mrs. Ezenwa stressed -among others - that a challenge attached to her role is to "getting audience with the right persons that we ought to work with”. Can one consequently assume that the reason behind this obstacle is traced back to gender stereotypes within the legal community in Nigeria? So as one could claim that a male focal person would not necessarily struggle to connect with the right people?
A: According to Ms. Chinwe, her statement was not gender-related but on the grounds that some elites in Nigeria make themselves unavailable. She further explained that one would have to be very patient in order to get audience and this ordeal does not relate with the fact that she’s a woman.
Q: International law is often understood by the public in the context of war crimes or statehood. However, the role of international law in economic development -also a cornerstone of international peace and security- cannot be overlooked. Does the fight for impunity in Africa (in this case by non-profit organisations and civil society actors advocating in favour of International Law) take into consideration corruption while addressing the issue of female inclusion? Is corruption affecting African women disproportionately than men?
A: It is indeed true that when it comes to international law, the public tend to look at its relation to crime and statehood ignoring its relevance in addressing other development and socio-economic issues. One of the biggest challenges in Africa has been corruption, lack of institutional transparency and accountability of duty bearers to the citizenry. Of course, this affects all citizens but women being already in a society that is patriarchal and not given equal access in decision making processes are the most marginalized and bear burnt of these corrupt practices. The advocacy by civil society, our organisation Centre for African Justice is to fight all forms of inequalities including corruption. However, the fight is continuous because to eradicate corruption would mean creating better institutions that allows transparency, equal inclusion for all and duty bearers to be held accountable to their civic responsibilities. This sadly, is a far cry from the current day realities.
Q: When it comes to civil society’s engagement in Africa, what is the relationship between observance of regulations of international law by governments and the actual opportunities for female economic development? Do women still face gender related barriers to launching their business projects by official government authorities?
A: Civil Society engagement in Africa are regulated according to each country’s laws. Their collaboration with government to achieve the goals and projects varies depending on the governments interest in the project. Most organisations involvement of government in the projects often lead to less result-oriented impact of the project on the proposed masses as the government tend to politicize the project rather than ensure adequate implementation of the project. Of course, there are projects that create opportunities for female economic empowerment like the Nigerian government created trader money scheme for small scale businesses which is mostly dominated by women who are in the informal sector. Even though this is a good opportunity created for women, but the bureaucratic bottlenecks and corrupt practices still make these opportunities difficult for accessibility for some women. The criteria of selecting which women are eligible for the scheme become a matter of connection and how you can please the officials and most often result in cases of sexual harassment, rape, extortion and other kinds of abuses against these women. These are some of the barriers, women face in launching their business projects or looking for resources to start up.
Q: Finally, can you share with our audience any policy proposals or general opinions by the Centre for African Justice, Peace and Human Rights in Africa specifically targeting the issue of female under-representation in business? Do you believe that African female entrepreneurs trust their governments to protect their business endeavours?
A: Centre for African Justice have been not only vocal in their support for gender equality, justice and women empowerment but have written several articles and undertaken projects to address the plight of women in Africa. There is need for the government to empower women, create capacity building opportunities for women, acknowledge the contribution of women to nation building especially with the increase of women entrepreneurs in Africa which labour are tagged as belonging to the informal sector yet attributes largely to the wealth of the nation. women especially at the local level face the most exclusion and marginalisation in Africa, their labour is utilized without adequate reward or recognition. These women are denied access to employment opportunities within the formal sector and have had to use their creativity to source for alternative means of survival, creating business ideas but lack access to resources, information and technology to grow their businesses. Many African women entrepreneurs have undergone untold hardship and opposition to keep their businesses afloat. This is why, we will continue to embark on projects to canvass for equal access and opportunities for women as we believe in the African women and their wealth of knowledge and contribution to the development in Africa. The role of women in nation building cannot continue to be silenced and the message is creating more awareness in Africa, calling out the leaders to adhere to its civic responsibilities to the citizenry and be accountable. Women are rising up to advance into business ventures, politics and every sphere of the society. It is true that we are yet to break the cycle in totality as we are yet to produce any female leader at the top echelon of leadership in Africa but as long as we keep advocating and empowering more women, we will break the divide. Female entrepreneurs do not trust their government to protect their business endeavours due to the stark inequalities created in the governance structure against women and the lack of accountability of duty bearers. Until better and stronger institutions are put in place recognising and respecting the rights of all, duty bearers take responsibility and are accountable, then trust can be built.
Thank you Ms. Cynthia Kamara-Njoku (Women Empowerment Team Leader) and Ms. Evelyn Anietie James (Women Empowerment Project Officer) for the opportunity of this exchange. We greatly appreciate your contribution in our mission to keep our audience engaged in matters of interest.
Instagram: @ africanjustice
Written by Eleni Gkiola.
Pic b Annie Spratt
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