The Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) Coalition is a regional network comprised of 39
national, regional and international civil society organisations based in 18 countries, working towards the promotion and protection of women’s human rights in Africa. Since its inauguration in 2004, SOAWR’s main area of focus has been to compel African states to urgently sign, ratify, domesticate and implement the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Protocol’).
The Protocol has thus far been ratified by thirty one of the 54 African Union member states, the latest of which are Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, which ratified the Protocol in February and June 2011 respectively.
This means that twenty-three countries are still yet to ratify the Protocol. They are: Botswana, Egypt,
Eritrea, South Sudan and Tunisia, who have not signed it; and Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Madagascar, Mauritius, Niger, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Swaziland who have signed but not ratified.
In addition to campaigns for ratification, the SOAWR Coalition has recently scaled up its focus on the next critical levels of domestication and implementation of the Protocol, as a way of translating the ideals enshrined in the Protocol into realities lived and enjoyed by African women.
This has not been without challenges. The Coalition has been faced with emergent challenges such as ratifications with reservations, in the case of Uganda and Kenya both of whom had reservations on subarticles of Article 14 on reproductive health rights, wavering political will to prioritize the implementation of women’s rights, and negative cultural, religious and attitudinal perceptions and practices which continue to undermine the progressive provisions of the Protocol. Coupled with a growing fundamentalist, conservative and militaristic political climate, and often times a prohibitive operating environment for human rights activists, the Coalition has seen a slower rate of ratifications of the Protocol, and in many instances, a stagnation of actions to actualize the gains for women in the region.
The Coalition therefore has committed itself to utilizing the platform of the African Women’s Decade (2010-2020) to intensify efforts to compel African States to deliver on their commitments to women’s human rights beginning with four strategic objectives as laid out in the current strategic plan (July 2010-June 2013):
1. Advocate for the ratification of the Protocol in 6 additional countries (Burundi, Cameroon, Egypt,
Ethiopia, Sudan and Sierra Leone)
2. Provide support for accelerated domestication and implementation of the Protocol through a multisectoral approach in at least 4 of the following countries – Burkina Faso, Gambia, Liberia, Nigeria, Mali, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia – to integrate the Protocol in national laws, policies and budgets;
3. Urge States to take actions to promote, protect and realize women’s bodily integrity and dignity through legal and policy reforms and improving programming in order to address all forms of violence against women and secure the realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
4. Focus on women and decision making, thereby increasing their engagement in national governance and peace and security processes and structures.
To interrogate these and other issues, SOAWR convened an annual review and agenda setting workshop in order to develop a critique of, reflection on and analysis of SOAWR activities for the past year by SOAWR Coalition members, and provide a forum through which Coalition members and organizations working on the Protocol could share experiences and best practices, evaluate the activities, learn from each other and strategize jointly on how to move the campaign forward. In addition to the annual review, Coalition members engaged in advocacy and other interactions with Member States and media during the ordinary sessions of the Executive Council and the Assembly of the Heads of State. The theme of the African Union Summit in January 2012 was “Boosting Intra-African Trade.”