Lucy Asuagbor, Member of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi during press conference at the 38th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council. 27 June 2018. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

The African Union’ s Maputo Protocol provides member states with a comprehensive policy framework for ensuring women’ s rights across the continent

In 2003, the African Union adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, now known as the Maputo Protocol.

According to the United Nations, this key document has since been integrated into several constitutions and into national laws and policies across the continent.

In her 2017 report on Women’ s  Rights   in   Africa, Lucy Asuagbor – commissioner and special rapporteur on the Rights of Women  in  Africa  for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, acknowledged the  strides  made in pushing women’s rights and the gender agenda on the continent.

Some of the progresses recorded in the report included the adoption by a number of member states of legislative, policy, institutional and other measures for addressing violence against women, access to land and inheritance rights, gender equality and economic empowerment of women and women’s political participation, as well as harmful cultural practices, including female genital mutilation (FMG) and child marriage.

The report also highlighted some of the  gender  equality  initiatives  on the continent, which included increased access to education for girls, an increase in the number of female professionals and women in leadership positions, and the observation that women were now taking on roles, which were traditionally reserved for men.

However, among the challenges, she singled out the urgent need to reduce the high maternal mortality rate, the high rate of sexual violence and human trafficking, the high rate of unsafe abortions, and the high rate of HIV infections among women.

Asuagbor reported that there were now provisions on sexual and gender- based violence, economic, social and cultural rights and the principle of equality and right to non-discrimination in constitutions, policies and in legislations across the continent.

Female participation in African legislatures outpaced many in developed countries. Rwanda (at 63.8%) was 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. However, the remaining challenges and gaps that needed to be overcome for the full realisation of women’s rights was daunting.

In every African country, as was the case globally, women continued to be denied full enjoyment of their rights.

“In Africa, one in three women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lifetime,” Asuagbor said. “In six countries, there is no legal protection for women against domestic violence. In 2013, African women  and girls accounted for 62% (179,000) of all global deaths from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, while in sub-Saharan Africa women comprise the highest percentage of new HIV infections.

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. Protection gaps in the areas of health, marriage, and family relations are particularly striking as is the non-recognition of intersectional forms of discrimination. In many countries, these gaps are also compounded by political instability and conflict.”

Article two of the protocol requires states to take positive action to address inequalities between women and men, and to ensure women are able to exercise and enjoy their rights. Other articles define  states’ obligations to be,  among others: 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.

Thirty-seven countries have ratified the protocol. To date, however, while 46 African countries have reported to the United Nations Committee  on  the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, only four countries have submitted reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights under the Maputo Protocol.

In her recommendations, Asuagbor called for states to ratify the protocol and adopt a comprehensive national human rights action plan to “domesticate” the Maputo Protocol. She recommended the lifting of reservations to the protocol, in particular those that reinforce the notions of inequality of women in the home or deny women autonomy in decision-making about their own bodies.

Asuagbor said states should make use of existing analysis and reports to the international human rights mechanisms (including the UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies, the UPR and special procedures) for reporting under Article 26 of the Maputo Protocol. They should establish a multi-sectoral mechanism with a mandate to track progress on domestication and to call   on different ministries to account in line with the Maputo Protocol or, at the minimum, include tracking and monitoring in the mandate of the existing National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow-Up.

States were also called upon to:

Strengthen support for institutions in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women, including the systematic integration of a gender perspective in all ministries, as well as national human rights institutions.

  • Adopt and enforce targets to end all forms of discrimination and violence against all women and girls, including domestic and sexual violence as well as harmful practices such as child and forced marriage and FGM.
  • Repeal any law which discriminates against women and hinders gender equality in all spheres of life: in the family, in economic and social life, in public and political life, and in the area of health.
  • Repeal or eliminate laws, policies and practices that criminalise, obstruct or undermine access by individuals or a particular group to sexual and reproductive health facilities, services, goods and information. At the very least, they should bring laws into compliance with the protocol.
  • Adopt targets to ensure women full and productive employment, recognise 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, among other things, 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 of 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, including violence against women and girls, and ensure that awareness- raising campaigns address the needs of women with albinism.
  • Work with all partners and women’s groups to create a dialogue between different stakeholders and engagement with human rights mechanisms.
  • Create a space for community-based organisations, including women human rights defenders, to concretely contribute to the promotion of human rights on the continent, and encourage and strengthen networks among these groups to support the process of implementation of the Agenda 2063 and its related document, as well as the outcome document of the African Year of Human Rights.
  • Ground all efforts for the promotion and protection of women’s rights, including the context of Agenda 2030 and Agenda  2063,  in  human  rights norms and standards – particularly the Maputo Protocol and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against  Women,  as  well as the work of Special Procedures, in particular of the working group on discrimination against women in law and in practice and the special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.
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