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Africa: Women's Rights Petition

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jun 30, 2004 (040630)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

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

See 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 ( 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


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 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 in Africa

To African Union Heads Of State

Your Excellencies:

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 peoples.

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 last year.

Yours Sincerely

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

Visit 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 women's rights.

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 African Union.

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 meeting.

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 organizations.

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 2004.

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.

Full article:

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."

Full article:

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.

Full article:

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.

Full article:

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.

Full article:

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."

Full article:

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?

Full article:

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

Full article:

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.

Full article:

This special issue has been produced jointly by
Fahamu (,
Equality Now (,
CREDO (, and
Oxfam GB (

See also articles in Pambazuka News 157 (May 20) and 159 (June 3) and

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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