Today is International Women’s Day, and the African Union has released a new report on Women’s Rights in Africa, to assess the status of women in African countries. The report is presented in partnership with United Nations Human Rights (Office of the High Commissioner) and UN Women, as a contribution to the AU’s Africa Year of Human rights with a particular focus on the rights of Women.

What is the Maputo Protocol?

In 2003 the African Union adopted the Maputo Protocol which expands legal protection for women’s human rights in Africa. So far the protocol has been ratified by 37 African states, and signed by 15 more. The protocol “requires states to take positive action to address inequalities between men and women and ensure women are able to exercise and enjoy their rights.” The full title is The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, but here it’s referred to as the Maputo Protocol.

Credit: Marcus Bleasdale

Why is it important?

The protocol obligates African states to ensure the following absolutely essential rights for women:

  • the right to dignity
  • the right to life, integrity and security of the person
  • protection from harmful practices
  • rights in marriage, which include entitlement to property and the custody and guardianship of children
  • protection from child, early and forced marriages
  • the right of access to justice and equal protection of the law
  • the right to participate in political and decision-making processes
    the right to peace
  • the rights to adequate housing, food security, education, and equality in access to employment
  • reproductive and health rights, including control of
    one’s fertility
  • and the right to be protected against HIV infection

What progress has been made? 

To date, only four countries have submitted reports on their progress, but 46 countries have reported to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. The Women’s Rights in Africa Report, aims to fill some of the gaps in knowledge.

As a result of the Maputo Protocol and other international agreements, there are now provisions on the rights listed above in constitutions, polices and in legislations across Africa.

And in some areas, Africa is far ahead of other countries. The report states that in terms of political participation, female participation in African legislatures outpaces many developed countries. Rwanda (at 63.8%) is ranked number one in the world, with Senegal and South Africa in the top 10. Fifteen African countries rank ahead of France and the United Kingdom, 24 rank ahead of the United States, and 42 rank ahead of Japan.

Another area of progress in some states is greater economic inclusion. In Ethiopia over 11.11 million women now have land holding certificates: over 60% of rural Ethiopian women own land. Rwanda adopted a law guaranteeing women equal rights with men on land access, ownership and utilization in 2013, and Burkina Faso has started providing women farmers with free seeds and subsidised fertilizers.

What are the key issues outstanding? 

The main purpose of the report is to situate the Maputo Protocol in key issues that are affecting the realisation of women’s rights. The report describes the gaps and challenges that remain as “daunting”.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights. In 2013, African women and girls accounted for 62% (179 000) of all global deaths from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. In sub-Saharan Africa women comprises the highest percentage of new HIV infections.

Sexual and gender based violence.

GBV in Africa Womens Day

Harmful practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation. Globally, an estimated 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, mainly in Africa and 125 million African women and girls alive today were married before the age of 18.

Limited economic, cultural and social rights, particularly discriminatory land ownership and inheritance rights. Although women in Africa perform the majority of agricultural activities, they have difficulty securing ownership rights to land, as well as to credit facilities and the market.

Laws that discriminate against women, for example adultery laws that are only applied to women or penalise women more heavily than men.

Domestic Violence in Africa

Conflict and instability in some countries, which increases levels of sexual, physical and psychological violence towards women.

The report also highlighted the particular stigma and violence faced by women with albinism in Africa, and the condition of women in Africa’s prisons, which were designed for men.

What’s causing the delay in these areas?

The report notes that there are big gaps between what is in the Protocol, how countries apply it, and how women are able to realise their rights in practice. The disconnect is attributed to “the patriarchal socio-cultural, economic, political and environmental context; rigid gender roles justified on the grounds of tradition, customs and religion; uneven educational attainment for women and girls; poverty; and political unrests and conflicts, which continue to be commonplace in many countries.”

Womens day Africa Report

Credit: The African Union Foundation

What can be done? 

The report recommends that all states ratify the Maputo Protocol without reservations, that states use existing reports and templates to get on track with reporting, and that states establish an ‘intersectoral mechanism’ to work across ministries and departments to enforce the Protocol. In particular, governments could:

Strengthen support for institutions in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women by integrating  a gender perspective in all Ministries and National Human Rights Institutions.

Adopt and enforce targets to end all forms of discrimination and violence against all women and girls.

Repeal any law which discriminates against women and hinders gender equality in all spheres of life, and repeal or eliminate laws, policies and practices that criminalise, obstruct or undermine access to sexual and reproductive health facilities, services, goods and information. At the very least, bring laws into compliance with the Protocol

Adopt targets to ensure women full and productive employment, and decent work and to recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work, and give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources.

Expand sex disaggregated data collection to capture amongst others, multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination for advocacy and gender- responsive programming.

Strengthen domestic criminal accountability, responsiveness to victims and judicial capacity.

Affirm the primacy of international and regional human rights law and constitutional laws over religious, customary and indigenous laws as a means to ensuring women’s emancipation and autonomy.

Establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and raise public awareness on all forms of discrimination against women.

Create a dialogue between different stakeholders and engagement with the human rights mechanisms.

The full report can be accessed here.