The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) in 2009 embarked on the Freedom of Information (FOI) and Women’s Rights in Africa project which is one of the focus issues under the Communication Programme. The aim of the project is to strengthen women’s participation in the processes of formulating, enactment and implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation in Africa.
In the first phase of the project, FEMNET collected case studies from five African countries namely: Cameroon, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Zambia. The case studies were compiled into a book which has and continues to be distributed to African women organizations to use as a resource book in their organizing around the fundamental right to freedom of expression and freedom of information.
Freedom of Information once enacted promotes empowerment, good governance and sustainable development. Its benefits include:
- Promoting transparency – FOI enables citizens to see how government, those in public office, are working;
- Promotes accountability – once citizens know what their government is doing they are in a position to hold those in office accountable for their decisions and actions. The same applies for designated oversight bodies such as parliamentary committees: they need information to be able to fulfill their mandate;
- Reduces corruption – secrecy and lack of information create a breeding ground for corruption and abuses of power. By promoting transparency and accountability FOI curbs such abuses;
- Improves service delivery and government functioning – by making those in office accountable for their actions and by giving citizens a voice, FOI helps ensure the former work for the benefit of the latter. It thus promotes better planning and service delivery, i.e. improved education, health care.
FOI can also help women as they review important instruments like the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Beijing Platform of Action and the African Union’s (AU) New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) initiative which has since been transformed into a planning agency now referred to as the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA). However, despite the many benefits associated with having FOI legislation in place, many women organisations interviewed in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zambia do not fully engage in lobbying for this law.
Based on the research conducted in five African countries namely; Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zambia, very few women’s rights organisations are engaging in lobbying for the Freedom of Information Bill in their countries. The Freedom of Information and Women’s Rights Resource book produced by FEMNET with support from UNESCO documents the experiences of women’s participation in the processes that have led to the formulation, enactment and/ or implementation of laws or policies that enable citizen to enjoy the freedom of information, particularly information in the custody of the government.
Furthermore, it highlights some best practices that have facilitated positive results and the challenges faced by the champions of the FOI campaigns in the five countries. This resource book has provided FEMNET with useful insights on how we can further engage with African women to enhance their collective participation in lobbying for the enactment and implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) legal and policy frameworks in their respective countries. FEMNET therefore proposed to do follow-up activities which are also part of phase 2 of the Freedom of Information and Women’s Rights Project.
As a follow-up to finding of the research which indicated that women organisation do not see the relevancy of FOI to their work, FEMNET is committed to ensuring that African women’s organisations in Africa include freedom of information as part of their discourse and also use freedom of information to enhance their work. As part of commemorating the Right to Know Day which is today-28th September, FEMNET is hosting a Round table discussion with women organisation in Kenya on the theme: Linking Freedom of Information to Women’s Rights- the case of Kenya
The overall objective of the round table discussion is to strengthen women’s organisations’ participation in lobbying and advocating for FOI laws and policies in Kenya.
The long term objectives
- enhance the collective participation of African women organisations in Kenya in lobbying for the enactment and implementation of FOI laws
- demonstrate the relevance of and use of FOI laws for advocacy with respect to national, regional and international human rights instruments that promote women’s rights.
FEMNET expects a Commitment from women’s organisation to participate in lobbying for the FOI law in Kenya.
The Participants in the FOI discussions are: FIDA-K, AMWIK, Women eNEWS, AWC, Wangu Kanja Foundation, KEWOPA and Woman’s Hope