“Fighting for a just society is something that is ought to be championed by us all”
Samuel Norgah is the Director of Plan International African Liaison Office. Here, on the eve of the International Women’s Day (March 8), he reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on how he wants to observe the historic day, on his own career, on why men can certainly be feminists and advocate for the ideals of a true equal and just society and on the issues of F.G.M (Female Genital Mutilation). Excerpts:
The Reporter: You are now at the helm of Plan International at the African Union in Addis Ababa. Share with me the highlights of your career?
Samuel Norgah: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you. As you may know, I am a citizen of Ghana. I have been the Director of Plan International African Liaison Office since January of 2018. Before that, I was the Deputy Country Director of Plan Kenya and I was there for almost seven years. I have also worked as the Head of Regional Strategy, for Eastern and Southern Africa with the organization based in South Africa.
I have been with Plan for a long time. I have always intended to work in development after completing my graduate degree at the University of Oslo and before that at the Kwame Nkrumah University in Ghana. There is always something fulfilling about development and seeing your work in action and especially the impact it has on the ground.
You are a noted advocate of FGM within the continent. Tell me about that?
That is indeed true. I have been talking about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for as long as I can remember. It is an important subject. You know, I was heartened when 28 African nations decided to prohibit it in their nations. I like to note, in my own Ghana is it not just prohibited but criminalized. It really is a harmful practice and it’s even a bit disappointing it is still an issue in 2020. My goal is, as more nations prohibit it in modern laws, it’s important to observe how it’s enacted on the ground and also ensure it’s enacted.
I notice there is a partnership between Plan and the African Child Policy Forum on this particular subject.
That is true. We presented a report late last year (November 2019) that highlighted some great strides and milestones in a number of African nations, including Ethiopia showing progressive laws but sadly, for many, it has helped flourish the practice have been underground, for some, they have begun to travel to neighbouring nations to receive the practice. That is truer in Uganda for instance, where many just cross the border to Kenya and receive it easily, causing long lasting damage to young women who are always at the receiving end of FGM. But something I am happy about is, in many areas and societies; the practice is becoming a taboo and is in the decline. However, more than 200 million people are subjected to it, reminding us our work is not finished and is still needed in many parts of the world.
In the report, its highlighted six violations of children, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council resolution that is still concerning. What are they?
Well, they are the killing and maiming of children, the recruitment of child soldiers, sexual violence and abduction of children, attacks against public institutions such as schools and denying humanitarian assistance. In places such as DRC, Somalia and South Sudan, these are the most pressing issues that we are facing. In all humanitarian crises, girls and women are the most vulnerable victims.
In Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia and DR Congo, children continue to be child soldiers involved in an adult conflict and war. Girls also join for a number of reasons, including being coerced, abducted and often times because of circumstances beyond their means. It is shocking but our report revealed to us, 40 percent of the child solider populations are girls in the world.
What did the report reveal on Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is one of those nations that have criminalized F.G.M under its Criminal code, including criminalizing the abduction of women and children, child marriage. Furthermore, under Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan, it commits itself from reducing F.G.M to 0.5 percent by this year. However, the report revealed the issue still exists because of lack implementation.
Can a man be a true feminist?
Of course they can. You know, beyond our professions and titles, we are all a product of a woman. We have sisters and aunts and friends we care about. Fighting for a just society is something that is ought to be championed by us all. In the world, in Africa in particular, more than half of the population is women. While women account for that reality, they are neglected to achieve their potential – in education, housing and rights. I take that to heart and I strive to help change that narrative.
We are now on the eve of March 8th – Intenational Owmens Day. How are you planning to mark the date?
It’s another opportunity to celebrate the incredible achievements of women and most importantly, the great sacrifices they make for the good of humanity. Some progress has been made over the course of time, in promoting gender equality – some countries across the continent are leading the way in fostering women empowerment and inclusivity in all spheres of lives; kudos to such countries. We however have a very long way to go in order to ensure and guarantee gender equality. 25 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, why should we still be talking about the basics? Social norms, harmful practices and gender ‘blind’ laws continue to drive a wedge between the status of women and men in our societies.
In most societies, power, position and privileges are skewed in favour men, by default and design. We live in a world where gender inequality is seen a norm, rather than an ‘unfortunate and unacceptable’ exception. What will it take to guarantee a just world where women and men, girls and boys, young women and young men are treated equally, justly and accorded the same respect, opportunities and platforms? Change need to happen and it has to start with you and I. We need to push the boundaries and challenge gender stereotypes; we need to challenge and question our own actions and in actions. Those of us in positions of authority and influence have an obligation to lead the way and contribute to changing the narratives about women. As the world celebrates another “International Women’s Day”, let’s all sound and resound even louder that, an equal world is an enabled world.
Happy women’s day to all women, adolescents and girls.