LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Central African Republic lawmakers chose their capital’s mayor, Catherine Samba-Panza, to become the country’s first female president - Africa’s third female head of state in the post-colonial era - and to pull the country out of months of sectarian bloodshed.
The landlocked former French colony descended into chaos when mainly Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, seized power in March 2013. Waves of killing and looting have forced 1 million people - nearly a quarter of the population - to flee.
Samba-Panza, who was born in Chad but moved to Central African Republic (CAR) when she was 18, succeeds former Seleka leader Michel Djotodia, who stepped down as interim president under international pressure over his failure to end the violence.
The appointment of Samba-Panza, who has no links to either camp in the fighting, has raised hopes of an end to the slaughter.
Women are suffering greatly amid the violence, with Human Rights Watch reporting that Seleka rebels have raped women and girls.
Even before the fighting, women in CAR struggled from a lack of maternal healthcare facilities, female genital mutilation (FGM), domestic abuse and accusations of witchcraft. Life expectancy for women is 48 - one of the lowest in the world.
Will the election of a female president bring a new era of improved security, health and education for CAR’s women and girls?
Here is how things currently stand for the struggling country’s 2.3 million women:
- According to the World Bank, before the conflict in 2010 CAR had the third highest maternal mortality rate in the world at 890 deaths for every 100,000 births, with an overall lifetime risk of dying in childbirth of one in 26.
- In 2010, 53.3 percent of all births were attended by skilled personnel and 122 girls in every 1,000 died before the age of five.
- In total 45 percent of girls complete their primary school education compared with 47 percent of boys.
- 44 percent of females above the age of 15 are literate compared with 69 percent of males.
- 38 percent of women between 20 and 24 gave birth before they were 18, the 7th highest rate in the world.
- Only 9 percent of women in CAR use a modern method of contraception and women have on average 4.4 children each.
WOMEN IN POLITICS
- There are no laws that prevent women from participating in politics and public life and in 2011 women held 12.5 percent of seats in parliament.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
- In November 2011, six women were detained in the Bimbo central prison for women on charges of witchcraft. Ngaragba Prison officials have stated that they have also held women on charges of witchcraft in the past.
- Amnesty reports that women have been raped during the conflict and there have been cases where girls have been forced into sexual slavery by armed forces.
- Rape victims have been abandoned by their families, and children who are the product of rape are stigmatised and rejected by society.
Sources: Amnesty International, U.S. State Department Human Rights Reports, U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), Human Rights Watch.