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New law brings hope to abused Tunisia women

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After years of “manipulation” by her husband, mother of two Sameh is filing for divorce, thanks to a new Tunisian law broadening the definition of violence against women.

The law, passed in July, entered into force on February 1, finally providing Sameh with the tool she needs to divorce her husband who she says has been psychologically and financially abusing her.

For the past 15 years, Sameh, a teacher and 45-year-old mother of two teenage girls, has been forced to hand over her entire salary to her husband.

She said it took her that long to realize that he had been “manipulating” her, but when she woke up to the reality she decided to act.

But since then, her husband has started provoking her, she said during a meeting at a help centre for women victims of violence set up by the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (AFTD).

“He wants to drive me crazy,” said Sameh, who declined to give her full name.

Her husband would whisper insults into her ear to try to make her snap in front of their teenage daughters.

Her eldest daughter has sensed the tensions and lately began to hurt herself by lacerating her skin.

“I am psychologically exhausted,” said Sameh, adding that she has been taking anti-depressants.

Sameh said she had tried to file for divorce two years ago but her husband refused, and she was afraid of being separated from her daughters and of ending up penniless out on the street.

“It’s very difficult to prove psychological abuse and even then, there was a risk it would not be accepted,” as a cause for divorce by the authorities, she said.

But the new law has changed all that for Sameh, and other victims of domestic abuse.

“When I heard about this law I said to myself, ‘This will bring me justice’,” she said, adding she would file for divorce on moral and financial grounds.

The law considerably widens the definition of unacceptable violence against women.

It recognizes physical, moral and sexual abuse as well as abuse in the form of financial exploitation.

“It is real progress… that could change lives,” said Ahlef Belhadj of the AFTD association.

She said the July law was the result of 25 years of campaigning by Tunisian human rights activists.

Tunisia is seen as a pioneer of women’s rights in the Arab world.

The North African country, birthplace of the Arab Spring protests that ousted several autocratic rulers, adopted a new constitution in 2014 which guarantees equality between men and women.

Article 21 of the constitution states: “All citizens, male and female, have equal rights and duties, and are equal before the law without any discrimination.”

A Personal Status Code adopted in 1956 abolished polygamy, by which a Muslim man can have up to four wives, and repudiation, or the man’s right to terminate a marriage unilaterally.

Nevertheless, in Tunisia one woman out of two has been the victim of abuse, according to official estimates.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Belhadj.

The new law is seen by many as a landmark step to protect women’s rights because it criminalizes sexual harassment in public places and the employment of children as domestic workers.

It also slaps fine on employers who pay women less than their male counterparts.

However, Belhadj said there is still a lot left to be done and that more funding needs to be allocated to carry it through.

“It’s not enough to pass laws, we must make sure of the conditions of their implementation.”

Human Rights Watch said the law stipulates the creation of shelters for women victims of violence but does not provide for a mechanism to fund them.

Meanwhile, Tunisia’s interior ministry has set up two units tasked with investigating violence against women.

Radhia Jerbi, president of the National Union of Tunisian Women, said the next steps were to spread the word about the new law across the country and to persuade sceptics.

“The problem is our mentality,” she said.

24 Hours Across Africa

Ghana draws African-American tourists with ‘Year of Return

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US preacher Roxanne Caleb blinked away the tears as she emerged from a pitch-dark dungeon where African slaves were once held before being shipped across the Atlantic to America.

“I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m heartbroken,” she told AFP as she toured the Cape Coast slave fort on Ghana’s ocean shore.

“My mind still can’t wrap around the fact that a human being can treat another worse than a rat.”

Caleb is among the African-American visitors flocking to Ghana as it marks the “Year of Return” to remember the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing in Virginia.

The West African nation is banking on the commemorations to give a major boost to the number of tourist arrivals as it encourages the descendants of slaves to “come home”.

Cape Coast Castle, 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the capital Accra, is a major magnet for those visiting

The white-washed fort lined with cannons was one of dozens of prisons studding the Atlantic coast where slaves were held before their journey to the New World.

A string of prominent African-Americans have headed to the site this year to mark the anniversary since the first slave landing in 1619.

Among them was a delegation of Congressional Black Caucus led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that toured last month.

– ‘Can’t forget history’ –

For those visiting it is an emotional rite of passage.

“This has been understanding my history and my roots where I came from,” Caleb said.

“I am very thankful I came here as part of the Year of Return.”

Sampson Nii Addy, a corrections officer with the Montgomery police department in Alabama, said he and his family had found the tour an “education”.

“I think every black person needs to come around to learn history; how people were treated,” the 52-year-old told AFP.

“We can’t forget history but we can always learn something from it.”

Ghana, one of the continent’s most stable democracies, has long pitched itself as a destination for African-Americans to explore their heritage and even settle permanently.

In 2009 President Barack Obama visited with his family and paid homage at the Cape Coast Castle.

The “Year of Return” has added fresh impetus and the country is hoping it will increase visitor numbers from 350,000 in 2018 to 500,000 this year, including 45,000 African-Americans.

Kojo Keelson has spent nine years guiding tour groups around the Cape Coast Castle and says 2019 has seen a surge in interest as Ghana looks to rake in tourism revenue of $925 million (830 million euros).

“It’s like a pilgrimage. This year we’ve a lot more African-Americans coming through than the previous year,” he told AFP.

“I’m urging all of them to come home and experience and reconnect to the motherland.”

– ‘Love to come again’ –

Akwasi Awua Ababio, the official coordinating “Year of Return” events, pointed to high hotel occupancy rates as he said “enthusiasm is very high and we’ve got huge numbers coming from the US and Caribbean”.

He insisted that beyond the major economic boost, Ghana was also looking to use the new connections it is forging to convince the descendants of slaves to resettle for good and help the country develop.

“Human resource is always an asset and we need to see how we can welcome them home to utilise their expertise and networks,” the director for diaspora affairs at the presidency said.

The African American Association of Ghana brings together those who have moved to West Africa and offers help to integrate them into their new surroundings.

President Gail Nikoi praised the “Year of Return” initiative by Ghanaian leader Nana Akufo-Addo and said the country was “setting the stage for future engagements and involvement of African-Americans and other Africans from the diaspora in the development of this country.”

But she said the authorities could still be doing more to help attract arrivals and convince them to stay.

“Dialogue and engagement is the first step,” she said.

While most of those visiting Cape Coast were not thinking about settling back permanently — they said the trip had opened their eyes to both their own history and what Ghana has to offer.

“It has broadened my horizons about how we came to be here and what our ancestors went through,” said William Shaw, 57, from Montgomery.

“I would love to come again. There is a lot more to see here in Ghana… at least once in a year I’d advise African-Americans to come back to their native land and learn about their history.”

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24 Hours Across Africa

Nigeria: Woman arrested over Outrageous Viral video of her abusing a child

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Police in Nigeria’s commercial hub of Lagos have arrested a woman filmed abusing a child and then locking him in a caged kennel with dogs.

It is not clear when the footage was shot, but it went viral on Twitter earlier this month.

In the video clip, a woman is seen beating a boy, stripped to his waist, with a belt. She then drags him into an empty kennel and locks it before walking away. Two dogs can be seen in other neighbouring kennels.

The video caused outrage on social media, where shocked users offered rewards to anyone that could track down the woman.

On Thursday, a police spokesperson, Dolapo Badmos, tweeted that the woman in the video had been arrested.

“The suspect is in custody and will be charged to court… The boy, who happens to be an orphan, has been rescued and kept in a shelter provided by Lagos state government,” she said.

Her tweet links to a video filmed by police showing the dog kennels where the boy was locked up:

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