The adoption in 2003 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) represents a significant milestone in mitigating gender inequality and improving the rights of women in Africa. In 2004, the Assembly of Heads of State subsequently adopted the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA), and this commitment was reinforced in 2009 with the adoption of the African Union Gender Policy and the launching of the Fund for African Women. With the AU Gender Policy, member states undertook to achieve full ratification and enforcement of the Maputo Protocol by 2015 and its domestication by 2020. However, it was reported in 2016, that by October 2015 only 37 countries out of the 54 member states of the AU had signed and ratified the Maputo Protocol. The 17 countries that have not yet ratified the Protocol are Algeria, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Niger, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Tunisia.
The NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment provided funding to projects which, inter alia, undertook lobbying and strategizing efforts for the ratification and implementation of the Maputo Protocol; motivated governments to amend legislation to achieve women’s equality; lobbied for the adoption of laws governing domestic violence; promoted the acceleration of gender mainstreaming in institutional and political arenas and improved female representation; counselled for increased involvement of women leaders in governance issues; and strategized for the alignment of national laws with CEDAW, Resolution 1325 and the Maputo Protocol. Due to the intervention of the NSF the following countries ratified the Maputo Protocol: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Zimbabwe and Guinea. Furthermore, efforts to ratify the Protocol were undertaken in Burundi, Sudan, Niger and Ethiopia.
Key lessons learned :
- Continue to pursue the ratification of the Maputo Protocol in countries that have yet to ratify the Protocol
- Forge strategic partnerships
- Involve civil society organisations and local government to protect and advance women’s rights more effectively
Continue to pursue the ratification of the Maputo Protocol in countries that have yet to ratify the Protocol
Even though AU Member States undertook to achieve full ratification and enforcement of the Maputo Protocol by 2015, only 37 countries out of the 54 Member States of the AU had signed and ratified the Maputo Protocol by 2015. The AU views this non-compliance with concern and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa (African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights) actively engages in various advocacy activities to speed up the ratification and domestication of the Protocol across the continent. He has, amongst others, implored all African States that have not yet signed the agreement or ratified the Maputo Protocol to do so with urgency.
The work conducted by the NGO, Equality Now, has made a significant impact on protecting and advancing women’s rights. During the first phase of the project they secured the ratification of the Protocol in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Guinea-Bissau and Zimbabwe, brought Sao Tome and Principe on board as a signatory and promoted a multi-sectoral framework for implementation of the Protocol in the AU member states that had ratified the Protocol. They further compiled a Guide to Using the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa for Legal Action. During the second phase, they lobbied for the ratification of the Protocol in Burundi, Ethiopia, Guinea, and Sudan and provided training based on the Guide to Using the Protocol. Guinea ratified and implemented the Protocol in 2012 and although Burundi, Ethiopia and Sudan did not ratify the Protocol, significant progress was made in identifying impediments, engaging in advocacy and developing strategies to promote its ratification. A clear need arose from these engagements for future projects to continue with the pursuance for ratification and domestication of the Maputo Protocol in countries that have not yet done so.
Forge strategic partnerships
Equality Now reports that they found that it was important to establish strategic partnerships to push the Protocol campaign forward. They, for example, successfully partnered with the UN Women AU/ECA Liaison office in Addis Ababa, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the National APRM office in Uganda and the NEPAD secretariat in Nairobi. By capitalising on existing political will, they further helped to achieve the objectives of the project. For example, the successful defense of the cases against women and girls charged with adultery in Sudan – while not translating into immediate reform of Sudan’s rape and public order laws – has resulted in the government expressing a commitment to align with the African Union and its treaties and conventions.
GenderLinks, in turn, advocates that projects should include partner organisations early in the process. They found that working with partner organisations in Namibia, not only alleviated the workload, but also ensured the successful conclusion of the project. They will, therefore, in future pursue collaboration with the Namibian Ministry of Local Government as the national level authority will facilitate implementation of new projects. Such collaborations are in keeping with the current feminist ideal of intersectionality, which aims to include multiple perspectives and actors in all policy-making decisions. In order to accomplish sustainable change, it is important that all agents – from politicians to grassroots leaders – are an active part of the collaboration itself. Furthermore, collaborations with local government and organisations ensures that there is no misallocation of resources on efforts which are not priorities for the women in a given country.
Involve civil society organisations and local government to protect and advance women’s rights more effectively
An important lesson learned by GenderLinks during their project in Namibia was that, as local government is closest to the people, it is the level where gender-mainstreaming work is most appropriate and relevant. They further noted that it is vital to maintain good working relations with both politicians and officials, as there are certain things that only politicians can instigate, as well as things that only officials can instigate. The CRUDAN (Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria) project successfully engaged with women leaders, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), religious and traditional leaders and politicians in their campaign to improve gender equity and justice, and to reduce discrimination against women in Nigeria.
Working strategically with communities and civil society organisations helped Equality Now sensitise people at grassroots level to the importance of the Maputo Protocol and helped put pressure on governments to consider ratifying the protocol. This, for example, was the case in Burundi, where the mobilization of rural women and local activists to advocate for the ratification of the Protocol led to the government developing action plans. They further recommend that strengthening the collaboration between political leaders and civil society can also be a powerful strategy for ratification and reform of the rape and public order laws in Sudan.