The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Commissioner, Advocate Soyata MAIGA, on behalf of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), expresses her privilege in making this press statement on this special day, the annual International Women’s Day. She is honoured, as her position allows her, to speak on critical issues on the rights of women in Africa that need to be addressed.
The activities of the Special Mechanism on the Rights of Women in Africa may seem like a drop in the ocean in comparison with the amount of work that is required to ensure respect for the rights of women in Africa. However, the Special Rapporteur sincerely believes that the Special Mechanism is making positive contributions to the promotion and protection of the rights of women in Africa, albeit the need to do more.
Each year the United Nations (UN) develops a priority theme to mark International Women’s Day with the aim of drawing attention to the concerned thematic area. The theme for 2014, much similar to the 2010 theme (‘Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all’) is ‘Equality for women is progress for all’. The recurrence of this theme on the right to equality of women suggests the necessity of strengthening action and giving more attention to this area, which as indicated above, is essential to the progress of society as a whole.
This theme encompasses all previous UN themes, including the one of 2013, which was ‘End violence against women’. Indeed, all human rights are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The end of violence against women presupposes respect of women’s right to equality and vice versa. Hence, when considering this year’s priority theme, we should also keep in purview previous themes, which are equally important for the realisation of women’s right to equality.
Guaranteeing the right to equality of a woman is crucial to the empowerment of a woman. Women empowered is a nation empowered. Gender equality is enshrined in the African Union (AU) Constitutive Act as a guiding principle of the Organisation. The Commission, an Organ of the AU is deeply committed to the promotion and protection women’s rights in Africa, which is justified by the establishment of the Special Mechanism that deals with the rights of women in Africa.
In addition to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter), which contains progressive provisions on the right to equality and respect for women’s rights, the Commission is guided by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) which is the cloud that embodies all issues regarding women in the African context. The Commission notes that gender equality is fundamental to progress, but is also aware that major challenges and obstacles persist, and concerted action is necessary to overcome these problems, especially by those in leadership positions and all stakeholders working in the area of gender and development.
Some factors which adversely affect gender equality, as identified in the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa include the high incidence of HIV/AIDS among girls and women, conflict, poverty, harmful traditional practices, high population of refugee women and internally displaced women, violence against women, gender-based violence, women’s exclusion from politics and decision-making, and illiteracy or limited access of girls to education, just to name a few.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, let us remember the women and children who are victims of the conflicts in South Sudan, Central African Republic and other countries, those affected by acts of terrorism in Nigeria, female demonstrators who are victims of violence in Egypt as well as many others on our continent.
The Special Rapporteur finally takes this opportunity to call upon AU Member States to ratify, domesticate and implement the Maputo Protocol, a crucial document to the advancement of women’s rights on the continent, and most importantly, the non-discrimination and equality of women in Africa.
Simply said, putting women on a par with men is synonymous to progress. Let us continue to celebrate the women who have been trailblazers in various works of life on our continent, and who continue to be role models to others.
Happy Women’s Day!