Looking back, looking forward

Linkedon our blogs with Solidarity for African Women’s Rights SOAWR. – Published on Pambazuka News, by Mary Wandia, Nov. 25, 2010.

Despite the advancement of women’s rights legal frameworks and discourse in Africa, there’s been little substantial change in the situation of African women, writes Mary Wandia.

It is five years since the African Union (AU) Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa entered into force on November 25, 2005. To date, over fifty per cent of AU member states (29)[1] have ratified it. That day is significant to women worldwide as it also marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women. The protocol comprehensively enshrines civil and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights; the rights to development and peace and reproductive and sexual rights. It provides a legal framework for addressing gender inequality and the underlying aspects that perpetuate women’s subordination.  

For the first time in international law, it explicitly sets forth the reproductive right of women to safe abortion when pregnancy results from rape or incest or when the continuation of pregnancy endangers the health or life of the mother. In another first, the protocol explicitly calls for the legal prohibition of female genital mutilation. It goes further to outline measures to ensure the protection of the rights of widows, girls, women living with HIV/AIDS, elderly women, women with disabilities, refugee women, displaced women and marginalised and poor women, women in detention and pregnant or nursing women. This paper traces the protocol’s impact on women’s rights and movement building in Africa as well challenges that have hampered the full enjoyment by African women of rights enshrined in the protocol. The paper concludes with strategies to ensure implementation in future.



The last five years have seen the advancement in the women’s rights legal frameworks and discourse in Africa. However, it has not contributed to substantial changes in the situation of the African women. The protocol offers us a tool for transforming the unequal power relations between men and women that lie at the heart of gender inequality and women’s oppression. We need to focus on its implementation. We do not need to draw up new protocols, policies and declarations on women’s rights. What we need is an agenda to demand commitment by African leaders to the existing commitments in the protocol and other AU instruments and declarations that they have endorsed. This is not to benefit women only but all African citizens – men and women.

Gender inequality, which remains pervasive worldwide, tends to lower the productivity of labour and the efficiency of labour allocation in households and the economy, intensifying the unequal distribution of resources. It also contributes to the non-monetary aspects of poverty – lack of security, opportunity and empowerment – that lower the quality of life for both men and women. While women and girls bear the largest and most direct costs of these inequalities, the costs cut broadly across society, ultimately hindering development and poverty reduction, by Gender and Development Group – World Bank, from the report ‘Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals’ (2003).

‘Women’s human rights are essential to democratic, equitable and sustainable development on planet Earth.’ – Ayesha Imam. (full long text).

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