March 8 marks the International Women’s Day, which celebrates the achievements of women in all spheres of life. On this occasion, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) through its Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa (the SRRWA), Commissioner, Advocate Soyata MAIGA, who is the flagship of women’s rights in Africa, is joining women all over the world and particularly in Africa, to commemorate this day.
This year’s theme, “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum,” could not have come at a better time, especially when gender mainstreaming is the hype of the day. A lot of efforts and progress have been registered at the regional and international level towards achieving gender equality, empowering women and elevating them politically, economically, socially, and culturally. Worth mentioning is the GIMAC Pre-Summit Consultative Meetings on Gender Mainstreaming in the African Union (AU) with a consistent campaign to put women on equal footing with men. In the last meeting which held from 22 to 23 January 2013 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the GIMAC recommended amongst other things that, Member States of the AU should “Ensure women’s equal participation in all spheres of decision-making, and the equitable distribution of resources in the post-2015 development framework.”
The above recommendation falls in line with Article 2 (1) (c) of the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Protocol) which obligates States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (States Parties) to integrate gender perspective in their policy decisions, legislation, development plans, programmes, activities and all other spheres of life. Article 13 of the same Protocol specifically outlines the responsibility of States Parties to ensure that women’s economic and social rights are duly respected. The SRRWA therefore endorses the fact that the Protocol is a groundbreaking instrument for the rights of women in Africa.
Despite the enactment of the Protocol and other human rights instruments that promote and protect the rights of women, the gender agenda can only be effectively realized if the Protocol and other related instruments are ratified, domesticated and implemented. This is the core of the SRRWA’s mission, who has a mandate to popularize the Protocol. Over the years, a number of actions and strategies have been utilized by the SRRWA to speed up the ratification of the Protocol, which has yielded positive results. It is important to note that the SRRWA, through its promotion/mechanism missions and other activities, has advocated for the establishment of national plans of actions and strategies that take gender issues fully into account, especially the inclusion of women in decision-making positions.
While these actions have encouraged some States Parties to make gains in their gender agendas, other States Parties still lag behind. In this regard, the SRRWA continues to express concern about the situation of women who are deprived of access to land, deprived of access to productive, social and other services pertinent to their development, and lack of participation in social and political decisions which hamper their empowerment.
The SRRWA also expresses concern on violence against women (VAW) and girls which takes a variety of forms and abuse. With the current uprisings in Africa, the SRRWA is concerned about VAW in conflict zones, where rape is utilized as a tactic of war. Women and girls continue to be victims particularly due to their sex and status in the society which violates their dignity and other fundamental human rights.
This concern about the vulnerable situation of women and the growing victims of VAW is shared by the United Nations (the UN), which explains the latter’s choice of, "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women," as its theme for 2013 International Women’s Day.
Furthermore, the UN Commission on the Status of Women currently holding its 57th Session from 4 to 15 March 2013 in New York, also made a point on the issue, by captioning the theme of its session as “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.” It is hoped that recommendations emanating from this Session will be taken seriously by all concerned States to ensure elimination of all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.
As part of the ongoing efforts to speed up the momentum of this very important agenda aimed at ensuring gender equality and ending VAW, it is imperative for States Parties to recognize the essence of the Protocol and its role in promoting and protecting the rights of women in Africa. In this context, while commending States that have already signed the Protocol, the SRRWA urges those that have not yet done so, to ratify in the near future and avoid as much as possible, not to make reservations on the same.
In the same vein, policies, plans, actions and programmes with the intention of integrating women in all spheres of life should be implemented at the national level to boost the development of women in Africa.
The SRRWA would like to put a print on the celebration of Women’s Day this year with the following words: “An African woman is beautiful and tenacious. Over time, she remains the rock of the earth, and is thus worth celebrating.”
Happy Women’s Day!