Patricia López Calero, a member of the Red Cross cooperating program in Mauritania, Senegal and Mali, gave me the chance to interview her last Wednesday 15th. I was really interested in her work and therefore we spent almost two hours talking. The topic we mostly discussed is the position of women in sub-Saharan countries as well as the possible threat to their rights if the terrorist group Boko Haram came into power.

Her first experience travelling to Africa took place thanks to a scholarship and she was able to visit Mauritania. She affirmed persistently that she was really shocked by the culture and the extremely high poverty level. On one hand, the differences between western culture and traditions and African values made a huge impact on her. On the other hand, she was surprised by the ability of families to live with the minimum resources and their acceptance capacity.

Right after this short introduction, we started discussing the topic itself: the situation of women in Africa and the role of Non Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). According to Patricia, there are a large number of ONG’s that try to solve the gender issues due development projects mainly focused on international cooperation. One of the most important and pursued aims of the NGO’s settled in Africa are the commonly known as “woman issues” which involve aspects such as inequality and maleness. A great percentage of these organizations try to provide women a good and stable livelihood based on the income access. This access will surely empower woman and their families so that finally autonomy and entrepreneurship credits could be reached thanks to an economic independence. Other important points to take into account as ONG’s objectives are the fight against the gender violence, malnutrition, scission and forced early marriage as well as the promotion of children rights, family planning and birth control, education and access to sexual healthcare.

Image Carmen(Women demonstrating for their rights in Congo. 2010.)

Women demonstrating for their rights in Congo. 2010. Secondly, Patricia López mentioned a problem that needs to be as soon as possible considered as such: the terrorist group Boko Haram and specially their expansionist policy. The aim of this terrorist group is to impose a “sharia” in many African countries, starting by Nigeria. She pointed out that in case this group came into power, the female sector would suffer terrible consequences regarding their basic human rights. As a professional in African traditions and the meaning of “Sharia”, Patricia declares that this religious measure would cause an educational catastrophe in the country, as million of girls would be forced to abandon schools. This would cause the rise of the illiteracy rate and, this way, woman basic human rights would be put into question. Education is for this terrorist group a way to stop progress in African countries, and to sum up, a way of controlling citizens and their thoughts. When population do not have the chance to attend school, they would not question reality at all, so it would be easier to impose an unfair system based in a complete involution of society. As an example, she told me a case of a young girl helped by the Red Cross that was raped and therefore sentenced to prison. So, if these types of injustices take place without any kind of imposition of the “sharia” values, what could happen if Boko Haram establishes it after reaching power?

Due to the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping that affected almost 230 girls, the social media (specially twitter) started a viral movement called “Bring Back Our Girls” that mobilized a mass of people and made them realise and be aware of the dangerousness of Boko Haram and their devastating aims. Patricia López coincides that social media movements are part of a first step when denouncing the situation of women in subSaharan countries, but are definitely not enough. A second step is required: the population has also to participate in active demonstrations that demand politicians a real and substantial change.

In order to improve the situation of women affected by the pressure and political inequality, the European Union and the United States play an important role. Development projects are necessary but insufficient as they are experiences that focus on really little areas. National and international policies are measures needed, such as the implementation of the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Woman) so that African women could decide their own future without the participation of the state. These women need to be also the protagonists of a developed political system, far from paternalistic values.

Another important aspect that Patricia pointed out several times during the interview was the measures that could be imposed by developed countries to improve the situation of women in Africa. First of all, what we commonly refer to as “developed countries” need to stop causing or even feeding armed conflicts due to geopolitical interests. Also organizations such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization or the International Monetary Fund should really focus on international integration and cooperation instead of only promoting the developed countries system around the world.

Before finishing the interview, member of the Red Cross cooperating program with Africa Patricia López summarized all her ideals in one short and full-meaning sentence “We don´t have to improve the situation of African women, they have to do it on their own. What we have to do as members of developed regions is to stop preventing the economic development of African countries. We need to realise that they are an independent country with own values and traditions and no one should interfere in the national identity of a region.”

Carmen Santana Garcia, Sub Saharan Africa


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