This 31st of July 2023 marks the Pan-African Women’s Day, a celebration and an ode to the Foremothers of the Continent as well as the beautiful women of Africa, who work tirelessly to improve their own lives and the lives of others. The day marks 61 years since the formation of the African Union’s first ever women’s collective on the Continent- the Pan-African Women’s Organisation (PAWO), and comes at a time when we are still celebrating 20 years since the adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol).
We the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission); the Women, Gender and Youth Directorate of the African Union Commission, as well the undersigned Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) under the umbrella of the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) Coalition stand together to applaud the brave women who paved the way for the protection of women’s rights through their valiant efforts to end colonialism, apartheid and to amplify the voices of African women. Over the last several decades, we have seen the protection of the rights of women grow from strength to strength through enactment of progressive laws and implementation of policies. For example, while the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) rages on, it is being stamped down by various laws that African States like Burkina Faso, Kenya, The Gambia, have put in place to end the practice. Violence against women and domestic violence laws have also become standard in many African States including Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Nigeria, Kenya and such laws are being enacted to increase the safety and protection of women.
Further, we reflect on the increasing number of women in positions of leadership and governance in the last few decades. Africa has seen women become presidents and Heads of State, (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President Joyce Banda, President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President Sahle-Work Zewde and President Samia Suluhu Hassan), a phenomenon which we can attribute to the trailblazing examples of our foremothers in forming PAWO, and actively supporting the adoption of the Maputo Protocol.
The African Union and the African Commission have been working tirelessly to contribute to these positive winds of change in the continent. Through policies, declarations, and soft laws, the institutions have given Member States and the women of Africa, tools to use in promoting and protecting the rights of women. For instance, the African Women’s Decade on Grassroots Approach to Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (2010-2020) sought to increase commitments and implementation of programmes to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment from a grassroots approach. The African Women’s Decade on Financial and Economic Inclusion seeks to accelerate implementation of the AWD II and to promote actions towards enabling women’s financial and economic inclusion through policies and initiatives at national, regional and continental level. Agenda 2063 puts women and girls at the centre of Africa’s development and is committed to an inclusive approach to the success of the African continent.
Furthermore, through Resolutions, the African Commission has been reminding Member States of their obligations to protect and promote the rights of women in their territories. For instance, in Resolution ACHPR/Res.522 (LXXII) 2022: Resolution on the Protection of Women Against Digital Violence in Africa, the African Commission is cognisant of new and emerging threats that women face through the use of digital technologies and entreats governments to put in place measures to ensure safe navigation of the internet by women and girls. Through Resolutions, the African Commission also continues to draw the attention of Member States to the menace of using women as weapons and spoils of war and conflict. These include inter alia, ACHPR/Res.492 (LXIX) 2021: Resolution on Violence Against Women during Armed Conflict; ACHPR/res.284 (lv) 2014: Resolution on the suppression of sexual violence against women in the DRC; ACHPR/res.283 (lv) 2014: Resolution on the situation of women and children in armed conflict; ACHPR/res.173 (xlv111) 10: Resolution on the crimes committed against women in the DRC; ACHPR/res.111 (xxxxii) 07: Resolution on the right to a remedy and reparation for women and girls’ victims of sexual violence.
Such efforts indicate that the promotion and protection of women’s rights is a continuous process. Inequality and discrimination of women still continue on the Continent, fuelled by deep seated patriarchal norms, as well as weak legislative and remedy frameworks in some of the countries. Even where laws exist, the level of implementation is yet to reach the desired level to adequately protect women. It is therefore crucial that all relevant stakeholders, governments, CSOs and inter-governmental organisations come together in a coordinated fashion to increase the protection of the rights of women.
To Member States:
● We urge the ratification of international and regional human rights instruments, in particular the Maputo Protocol (by the 11 remaining AU Member States);
● We encourage the review, strengthening, and enactment of laws that provide better protection of women’s rights. Laws that are discriminatory should be amended or repealed;
● We encourage the implementation of laws and policies on women’s rights with a robust budget allocation;
● We encourage a multi-sectoral approach to the implementation of the rights as contained in the Maputo Protocol, with a clear mapping of all the relevant actors; and
● We encourage the capacity building of the national judicial mechanisms accompanied by access to justice initiatives to enable access by all women and girls.
● We encourage cooperation with governments to implement policies and programmes that promote and protect women;
● We encourage continued efforts to hold governments accountable for their actions, inactions and to fulfil their obligations; and
● We encourage the production and dissemination of accurate information to women on the continent to empower them to assert their rights.
Together we can realise the dreams of our predecessors and make the aspirations of the Maputo Protocol a reality!
- Hon. Commissioner Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
- Directorate of Women, Gender and Youth Directorate, African Union Commission; and
- The Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) Coalition.
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