In my capacity as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), I would like, on behalf of the Commission, to once again wish a happy celebration to African women and to all women around the world who join them in commemorating this annual event.
This year, the theme chosen by the Pan-African Women’s Organization (PAWO) is “Role of women and young girls in the areas of education, science and new technologies for an African Renaissance”.
Africa is facing an increasing number of socioeconomic, security, cultural and political challenges. What matters most are our willingness and consciousness, as well as the resources we use to address these challenges through forward-looking approaches and perspectives, and the contribution of women and men to the development of our countries and our continent.
It is important to note that African women and young girls will be able to effectively play their role and achieve their full potential in the above mentioned areas only when States Parties to the Maputo Protocol would have honoured their obligations under the Maputo Protocol, including: eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, guarantee equal opportunity and access in the sphere of education and training, promote the enrollment and retention of girls in schools and technical and vocational training institutions, promote the education of women, integrate gender sensitization and human rights education at all levels of education curricula, and promote education and training for women at all levels and in all disciplines, particularly in the fields of science and technology.
While recognizing the efforts made by States Parties in taking into account the needs of women and young girls in the areas of education, budget, legislation, plans, policies and programmes, several gender-related challenges still remain which prevent women and girls from achieving their full potential, and require the contribution of all stakeholders, both at the national, regional and international levels. These challenges include: sexual violence and harassment in schools, high prevalence rate in many countries, early marriage and maternal mortality, limited access of women and girls to family planning, poverty in communities and among women, lack of school infrastructure and boarding schools, and the limited budget allocated for the education and training sector.
In many countries, despite the existence of laws and ratification of the relevant regional and international legal instruments, traditional and cultural norms continue to determine the future of women and girls, both in communities and households. Young girls experience harmful practices and are forced to also handle, at a tender age, domestic responsibilities which prevent them from enjoying their fundamental rights, including the right to education, health, and protection against all forms of abuse and exploitation, including sexual abuse.
These challenges are particularly of great concern in countries experiencing conflict, fundamentalism and terrorism where girls’ education and training can expose them to the serious and massive violations of their rights, as was illustrated by the recent abduction of young school girls in Chibok, Nigeria, and sexual violence against women and girls in the DRC, in Mali, in the Central African Republic, in Libya and in Egypt.
As such, increasingly the role of women and young girls in education largely depends on the establishment of peace and security in Africa, as well as States’ compliance with their human rights commitments.
While commending the United Nations, the African Union and Regional Economic Communities for their continuous efforts in preserving peace and protecting women’s rights, I would like to call on women’s networks, associations and NGOs, under the distinguished leadership of PAWO, to mobilize towards strengthening advocacy for women’s empowerment and for women’s quality contribution to the development of their communities, countries and the African continent.
In conclusion, I would like to use this opportunity to call on States that have not yet done so to ratify the Maputo Protocol and other relevant AU instruments and create the appropriate conditions for their domestication and effective implementation, including by allocating adequate financial resources.
Banjul, 31 July 2014