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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa on the Occasion of the

  • ACHPR Session

The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Justice Lucy Asuagbor, on behalf of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), and on her own behalf, wishes all women around the world and especially, African Women, an excellent International Women’s Day celebration today. 

The theme chosen for this year’s celebration, “Pledge for Parity”, which is in line with the United Nations (UN) theme “Planet 50-50 by 2030: step it up for gender equality” is consistent with previous UN International Women’s Day themes and also resonates with the African Union’s (AU) declaration of this year as” The Africa year of human rights, with particular focus on the rights of women”.

This year’s theme is also in line with the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by Heads of State and Government and High Representatives who met at the UN Headquarters in New York from 25 to 27 September 2015. Seventeen (17) Goals were adopted under this Agenda, to be realized between now and 2030, effective from January 2016. They seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals, and complete what these did not achieve. Goal five (5) of the Goals specifically promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. It is envisaged that realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution to progress across all the goals and targets for Agenda 2030. Systematic mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Goals is also encouraged.

The recurrence of the “parity” theme and the deliberate decision of the AU to pay special and close attention to the rights of African women this year confirms the necessity of bridging the gender gap; as gender equality encompasses all women’ rights and the realization of it, is tantamount to the achievements of all other rights, entitled to women. It is worth underscoring at this point that, the declaration by the AU stems from the fact that 2016 marks significant milestones in the African Human Rights System, and the general objective of celebrating this year is to raise awareness on human and people’s rights on the continent, in particular, women’s rights, and take stock of progress or efforts made, including major challenges and/or obstacles encountered.

Many countries on the continent have demonstrated commitment to a certain extent, to gender equality and women’s empowerment issues by putting in place various gender equality measures, policy frameworks and institutions to address discrimination and women’s marginalization.  Moreover, women have made significant strides in the political arena over the past few years. A glaring example is the major steps taken by Africa’s continental political body, the AU, by promoting gender parity in its top decision-making positions.

The above notwithstanding, implementing the gender equality agenda in most African countries still remains a challenge. This is mostly due to the fact that various regional and international instruments signed by States Parties are not implemented and do not translate into positive changes in the daily lives of women. Women still remain at the back burner with poor access to land, education and health; they continue to be victims of gender-based violence; in addition to poverty and cultural stereotype practices which impede them from being treated equally as men, thereby eroding some of the development gains they could attain. Furthermore, lack of funding, logistics and inadequate personnel to undertake programmes to forward the equality agenda also poses a challenge. Hence, achieving gender parity by year 2030 as envisaged by the UN, would mean redoubling our efforts and strengthening our actions in the area of women empowerment, development and gender equality.

Indeed, an empowered woman is a nation empowered. However, empowering a woman without guaranteeing the right to equality may be quite challenging, if not impossible. We have opportunities to this effect: One of the guiding principles of the AU Constitutive Act is Gender equality; The establishment of the Special Mechanism that deals with the rights of women in Africa by the Commission also signifies the importance that the Commission attaches to issues that concern and affect women in Africa; Additionally, we have 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; and last, but not least, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) which embodies all issues regarding women in the African context. As a matter of fact, the Maputo Protocol states that every woman has the right “to the recognition and protection of her human and legal rights.” It includes articles on equality in marriage, access to justice and political participation, protection of women in armed conflict and the provision of education, training and health care. It also upholds women’s rights to housing and inheritance, and contains guidelines on ending traditional practices such as female genital mutilation. Despite all these very important instruments available in the African Human Rights System, absence of national laws to domesticate and implement them poses a drawback to the intention contemplated in these instruments, that of, protecting gender equality on the continent and abolishing discrimination.

Based on the above, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa continues to advocate for the ratification, domestication and implementation of the Maputo Protocol by States Parties, as it remains the flagship of women’s rights in Africa. The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa commends all States that have ratified the Maputo Protocol, and calls on those that have not yet done so, to ratify, and give effect to the provisions contained therein as soon as possible. States are also urged to review their processes to articulate a new vision of gender equality that will fundamentally transform gender relations in society and support the implementation of Agenda 2030.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur wishes all women, a pleasant anniversary and urges them to be united in their actions and efforts towards the emergence of women’s leadership in every aspect of life.

Let us pledge for parity!

Happy Women’s Day and long live the African woman in her tireless efforts for the development of the continent!