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Africa: Women's Rights Petition
Jun 30, 2004 (040630)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
The Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa was adopted at the
African Union summit held in Maputo in July 2003. However, only
29 of the AU's 53 member states have signed the protocol and only
one (Comoros) has ratified it. This international agreement has the
potential to provide a framework for comprehensive reform of
national legislation, but it will remain a dead letter unless it is
ratified. African groups have launched a petition to African
leaders as part of a continent-wide campaign to mobilize support
for the protocol.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the petition text and a link to
an on-line signature form for the petition, hosted by Pambazuka
News, as well as a lead editorial from a special issue of Pambazuka
News (June 24, 2004) on the protocol. It also contains links to
other articles provided by Pambazuka News and its organizational
partners in the petition campaign. Many additional related sources
can be found at
http://www.africaaction.org/docs03/wom0307.htm for a report on
adoption of the protocol at the African Union summit last year.
Among the groups actively monitoring women's rights at regional and
national level is the West African branch of Women in Law and
Development in Africa (WILDAF/FeDDAF - West Africa). Their website
(http://www.wildaf-ao.org) has a regular bulletin in both French
and English from this regional network, including Benin, Burkina
Faso, Ghana, Guinea (Conakry), Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo. A
list of publications in French and English, including a recent
report on implementation of women's rights in several West African
countries, is available at http://www.wildaf-ao.org/eng/ress_i.htm
Many thanks to more than 30 subscribers who sent in voluntary
subscription payments in June to support AfricaFocus Bulletin. If
you have not yet made such a payment and would like to do so,
please visit http://www.africafocus.org/support.php for details.
Note to readers: AfricaFocus Bulletin will be taking a publication
break during the first two weeks of July. Publication will resume
the third week of July.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Petition on the Ratification of the Protocol on the Rights of Women
To African Union Heads Of State
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the
Rights of Women in Africa
We the undersigned write to you regarding the ratification of the
Protocol on the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the
Rights of Women in Africa by member states of the African Union and
urge your Excellencies to ensure the fast tracking of its
ratification by your respective governments by the next Heads of
States Summit in July 2004.
As you will recall, the Protocol was adopted in July 2003 during
the Second Ordinary Session of the Heads of States held in Maputo.
Its adoption was celebrated by African women, women's and human
rights organizations in Africa and the diaspora as a major step
towards finally securing a legal and rights framework for the
protection and advancement of the human rights of African women.
However, one month before its first anniversary only 29 of the AU's
53 member states have signed the Protocol and only one (Comoros)
has ratified it. This record undermines the stated intention of
African governments to protect and promote the rights of all their
Many women and their families experience social, cultural and
economic rights abuses and political discrimination on a daily
basis. Physical violence, vulnerability to life-threatening
diseases most notably HIV/AIDS, poor educational opportunities and
legal barriers around rights to property combine to keep women in
Africa as second class citizens as well as inhibiting their ability
to contribute fully to the prosperity of the continent.
Our call for the urgent ratification of the Protocol by all
countries of the African Union deserves your serious consideration.
Ratification will send a clear signal that women and men can and
should enjoy equal rights and responsibilities. This enjoyment, in
turn, will realise benefits to the whole of the continent.
We in civil society share the dream of the Heads of States that
Africa's social, economic and political well-being rests on
enabling women's resourcefulness at this time. We trust therefore
that you will recognize the urgency of the situation and will
facilitate the speedy ratification of the Protocol thereby
completing the good work that your Excellencies began in Maputo
African Women's Development & Communication Network (FEMNET)
Credo for Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights, Rotimi
Sankore - Coordinator
Equality Now, Faiza Jama Mohamed - Africa Regional Director
Fahamu, Firoze Manji - Director
Oxfam GB, Irungu Houghton - Pan-African Policy Adviser
and more than 200 others
to sign the petition urging African states to ratify the Protocol
on the Rights of Women in Africa. Once you have signed online
remember to confirm your signature through an email that will be
sent to you.
Pambazuka News 162, 24 June, 2004
Unfinished Business - African Leaders must Act Now to Ratify the
Protocol on the Rights of Women
Faiza Jama Mohamed
It took almost a decade (eight years to be precise) for African
leaders to finally agree on a text and adopt the Protocol on the
Rights of Women in Africa at the Second Ordinary Summit of the
African Union held in Maputo in July 2003. The Protocol is a
legal framework for African women to use in the exercise of their
rights. It is comprehensive in that it addresses various concerns
of women of different ages and various conditions based on the
realities at the ground. For that reason it is welcomed and
celebrated by all African women.
Before it finally came onto the agenda of the heads of states
meeting last year, several obstacles that inhibited completion of
this important document had to be overcome. The first experts
meeting convened by the OAU (now the African Union) in November
2001 brought together officials who in the majority regrettably
had little legal or gender expertise. As a result, the draft
document that came out of that meeting had serious gaps and was
of a lower standard compared to other comparable international
law instruments such as the Convention on Elimination of all
Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and The
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which
most African states, had already ratified.
The experts meeting also failed to reach agreement on some aspects
of the draft. A future date was set to finalize the outstanding
provisions, but this meeting and others called by the OAU/African
Union to achieve this purpose had to be cancelled for lack of a
quorum. Activists around Africa saw two problems: the document
was weak and did not adequately address the specific issues
relating to African women, and it was not moving forward due to
the repeated lack of a quorum, which expressed the low priority
accorded to women, although they comprise over 50% of Africa's
population, by the very governments they have voted into office.
Activists then decided it was time to refocus their efforts.
Various consultations were held around Africa among civil society
organizations. Equality Now, an international human rights
organization, joined the process in July 2002 at a meeting convened
by the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Nairobi.
Equality Now also consulted with the African Women's Development
and Communications Network (FEMNET), the African Center for
Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), Women in Law and
Development in Africa (WiLDAF), and other regional and national
groups that were most actively engaged in working toward the
passage of a strong Protocol for the protection and promotion of
In January 2003, Equality Now convened a strategy meeting of
activists in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, proceeding with the meeting
although the governmental meeting it was scheduled to coincide
with was again cancelled for lack of a quorum. The meeting
discussed, reviewed and strengthened the text of the draft
Protocol through dialogue among women's rights organizations from
across Africa and produced a collective mark-up, which was widely
distributed across the continent for promotion with national
governments. The coalition of activists also lobbied African
governments to send delegates with legal and human rights
expertise from their capitals to the scheduled meeting of the
Equality Now was nominated to take on a coordinating role and to
work closely with the Secretariat of the African Union to
encourage it to facilitate a successful meeting. In response to
the campaign several countries held national consultation
meetings, with the participation of civil society organizations,
to review the mark-up. Several countries also brought members
from civil society as part of their delegation to the experts
All in all, countries were much better prepared when they came for
the experts meeting in March 2003 and many were also open to
improving the existing document. Immediately prior to the Meeting
of Experts and the African Union Ministerial Meeting that took
place in Addis Ababa, Equality Now's Africa Office convened
another meeting of women's rights activists and organizations, in
order to coordinate a strategic plan for advocacy and to ensure
that the substantive provisions of the draft Protocol were
strengthened during the course of the experts' and ministerial
meetings. These advocacy efforts had a dramatic impact on the
draft Protocol, which was significantly improved during the course
of the meeting. Subsequently, On July 11, 2003, the African Union
adopted the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa.
The campaign by activists for The Protocol on the Rights of African
Women represents a successful model of cooperation among national,
regional and international women's NGOs that led to concrete
results, namely the strengthening of the final text of The
Protocol with regard to a number of significant provisions
enumerating fundamental women's rights and its adoption by the
African Union. The African Union's Commissioner Djinnit Said also
saw the campaign around the Protocol as an excellent model for
collaboration between the African Union and civil society
organizations and said as much in a meeting the African Union
hosted earlier in the year to consult with African civil society
One year after its adoption, however, only 30 countries have signed
the Protocol and only one (the Comoros) has ratified it. It needs
15 ratifications to enter into force. Until then these rights
remain hypothetical! All the past efforts by civil society will
have been wasted if the Protocol is not ratified. And the
majority of women in Africa will continue to be deprived of
protection under international law of many of their basic rights.
For this reason, activists have once again pooled their
resources, energy and focus to urge governments to honour their
commitments to uphold women's rights by ratifying the Protocol as
soon as possible, ideally by the heads of state summit in July
Women around Africa are daily monitoring the website of the African
Union taking note of which of their leaders are true to their
commitments. Women's organizations and human rights organizations
in Africa have launched national campaigns to lobby their
respective governments engaging in dialogue with the relevant
ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Gender and in some cases
even the heads of states offices to impress upon them the
importance of ratifying the Protocol without delay.
With a concerted effort, together we can achieve ratification. That
is why activists in Guinea-Conakry are working hard to sensitize
parliamentarians and decision-makers through workshops and
meetings in an effort to win support for the ratification of the
Protocol, groups in Kenya are engaging dialogue with several
ministries (Ministry of Gender, Sports and Culture; Ministry of
Home Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to sensitize
them and discuss the process of ratification and the need to
speed up the ratification process. In Mali women are planning to
hold information and sensitization forums with Parliamentarians
on the Protocol as well as mobilizing women's organizations to
make a declaration urging the government to ratify the Protocol.
In South Africa plans are underway to inform the Office of the
President and the Department of Foreign Affairs and the State Law
advisors as well as the Parliamentary Commissions on Justice,
quality of life and the Status of Women on the Protocol and
discuss the obstacles to the early ratification of the Protocol.
And these are just some of the activities planned around the
continent to press for ratification. It is imperative that
governments heed our urgent call for women to be guaranteed equal
status to men and equal protection of their rights.
The Protocol for the Rights of Women in Africa as it stands now is
a piece of paper without any force. By ratifying it, governments
will be taking the first step towards recognizing the equal worth
of women. Implementation will then be critical. The Protocol
makes many equality advances for women under international law,
including affording special protection for vulnerable groups such
as widows, the disabled and those from marginalised groups. It is
only by protecting and promoting the rights of all its peoples
that Africa will be able to access its full resources and lead
the continent to prosperity. The Beijing +10 review process
offers African governments an opportunity to demonstrate their
determination to lead their peoples' to the path to development.
One concrete benchmark on this path to development is the
seriousness that they give to the Protocol on the Rights of Women
in Africa. If they ratify it now they will have a concrete
achievement to bring to the table later this year when the
continent comes together for the Beijing +10 conference, as a
gesture of recognition for the human rights of women as a
priority agenda of the continent.
We call on African leaders to honor their commitments to women and
ACT NOW to ratify the Protocol!
* Faiza Jama Mohamed works for Equality Now.
Other articles in Pambazuka News 162 for June 24, 2004
2. A plea for ratification
By ratifying The Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa the
preservation of African values is placed with women, "the
custodians of legends and traditions known in our time for their
unending fight for peace, liberty, dignity, justice and
solidarity". Zeinab Kamil Ali believes that this is argument enough
to encourage the Heads of States to emulate the Republic of Comoros
in ratifying the Protocol.
3. The entry into force of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in
Africa: A challenge for Africa and women
The entry into force of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in
Africa will be an important step towards entrenching the human
rights of women. But Kafui Adjamagbo-Johnson says that it is
important to note that it is a long way to the 15 ratifications
necessary for the entry into force of the protocol. "Every human
rights defender, man or woman, should feel concerned and lobby
governmental and parliamentary authorities in order to convince
them to ratify the protocol on women's rights and take steps for
its effective implementation."
4. African states: Equal to the task?
Hannah Forster looks at the background and scope of the Protocol on
the Rights of Women in Africa, highlighting some of the landmark
provisions and what states will commit themselves once they ratify
the Protocol. She concludes by appealing to states to stand up and
perform their duty.
5. Time to take count of Africa's daughters
Good is no good where better can be attained, states Gichinga
Ndirangu. Ratifying the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa
is an important step, but domesticating its provisions into
national law is the next crucial step.
6. Making governments accountable
Political expediency and global image are the reasons why
governments ratify international human rights instruments, says Dr
Sylvia Tamale. But by ratifying governments are pledging to adhere
to all the provisions of any given instrument. In this context, it
is the duty of citizens to make governments accountable.
7. Zimbabwe's Women Acting Against AIDS
It has been both difficult and painful to comprehend the world's
impassivity when millions of women and girls continue to die of
AIDS that has come about as a consequence of gender discrimination,
Writes Isabella Matambanadzo. "The race, sex and class factors that
have for the past two and a half decades allowed African women to
die slowly, one at a time, from the casualty and shame of AIDS
cannot go ignored."
8. "It is not a gift to offer women, it is their right"
Women that are free from violence, educated and who fully
participate in decision making at all levels: these are some of the
results expected by the implementation of the Protocol to the
African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women
in Africa. And, asks Morissanda Kouyate, which country would not
want that for its citizens?
9. Meeting the gender parity target of 2005 As African leaders and
heads of state plan to join hands in the forthcoming AU summit in
Addis next month, three years after appending their signatures to
the Dakar Framework for action (EFA Protocol, 2000), civil
society's perception on progress made on EFA by African countries
has been mixed, argues Andiwo Obondoh
10. The reality and the paperwork
War and violence, destitution, disease, poverty and discrimination
- it is often African women who carry the burden of Africa's
economic, social and political crisis. In July 2003 a piece of
paper with a preamble and 29 articles was passed by the African
Union that was hailed as major progress in the struggle for the
rights of women on the continent. But what exactly is the reality
facing African women? And how does the paperwork begin to address
the realities? Pambazuka News looks at ten areas effecting women's
rights and what the protocol says about them.
This special issue has been produced jointly by
Equality Now (http://www.equalitynow.org),
CREDO (firstname.lastname@example.org), and
Oxfam GB (http://www.oxfam.org.uk).
See also articles in Pambazuka News 157 (May 20) and 159 (June 3)
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