SOAWR: Lessons we have learned

Linked on our blogs with Solidarity for African Women’s Rights SOAWR,and with Fahamu.org – networks for social justice. – Published on Pambazuka News, by Faiza Jama Mohamed, Nov. 25, 2010.

Five years after the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa came into force, the campaign to ensure that it is implemented and enforced across the continent continues. Faiza Jama Mohamed looks at SOAWR’s strategy for future advocacy, in light of the experience it has gained.

As Africa marks the fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa on 25 November 2010, several members of the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights SOAWR have reflected on lessons learned from the intensive campaigning actions that SOAWR has been engaging since 2004 across the continent … //

… CONCLUSION:  

The various lessons shared by SOAWR members provide useful insights for future engagements in this campaign as well as for similar campaigns. Ratifications of the protocol that were secured in several countries (e.g. Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Tanzania and Uganda) were indeed realised when activists in the campaign seized opportunities that emerged around the happenings of important events like the hosting of the African Union summits, the launching of the African Women’s Decade and/or the situating of important institutions such as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Other strategies that worked well also included the scorecards that SOAWR publicised at different time and in different countries and which named and shamed countries that were lagging behind in honouring their commitment to the human rights of women. Nevertheless, there still remain 24 countries[6] that have not ratified the protocol and who are therefore denying a significant number of African women from using the protocol’s provisions to safeguard against violations of their human rights.

Countries where conflict/war prevails and those that are post-conflict (e.g. Côte d’Ivoire, Burundi, Somalia) appear to use this as an excuse to disregard the protocol as an important undertaking. Others (e.g. Algeria, Egypt and Sudan) also seem to use religion as an excuse claiming that certain provisions of the protocol are in contradiction with the Islamic law that is applied in these countries.

Yet several other countries (e.g. The Comoros, Djibouti, Gambia and Libya) who also apply Islamic law have ratified the protocol without reservations. One would also find it surprising that some countries (e.g. Botswana, Tunisia) that are enjoying peace and stability and are considered to have progressive equality laws have failed to ratify the protocol. One wonders what excuse such countries have! It all boils down to one basic fact that has been confirmed in the course of the six years of the SOAWR campaign. Governments don’t prioritise the human rights of women unless women take the initiative to demand it.

This requires a lot of hard work and persistence as was evidenced in the cases of Kenya and Uganda. It requires strategic partnerships with various stakeholders, inside and outside government, and interventions at different levels. Sometimes the cause of delay could be due to minor incidents. In one instance for example the clerk who has custody of the government seal could not be located at the right time and hence extra effort was needed to ensure that the government could deposit its instrument on time. In another instance, the government decision to ratify the protocol was lost and could not be located until three to four years later.

Government officials also change over time and new officials need support to take up the process from where it was left over by previous officers. Hence developing good working relationships with key officials in relevant government ministries is critical to the successes we strive to achieve. SOAWR members have served as institutional memory for many governments.

It is because of commitment and dedication to equality and enjoyment of basic human rights by women and girls, same as men and boys, that SOAWR has engaged in this long battle and believes that in the long run its efforts will pay off well. The lessons reflected upon in this article and others that might still come from other members will come handy as SOAWR continues to strategise on best approaches to win over member states in taking a leadership role in promoting and ensuring respect for the human rights of women and girls in Africa. When we cross that bridge SOAWR will rest its case! (full long text).

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