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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 "International Women's Day"

The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Honourable Commissioner Lucy Asuagbor, on behalf of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), and on her own behalf, is honoured to once more wish all women around the world and especially, African Women, a splendid International Women’s Day celebration today, 8 March 2019. 

The theme chosen this year is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change,” with the campaign theme: #BalanceforBetter calling on collective action for a more gender balanced world. The theme focuses on innovative ways of advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, especially in areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.

All major global commitments now focus on gender equality based on their thematic and policy concerns, but also in relation to the range of international, regional and national norms, standards and commitments.

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2015 marked a watershed year in the international community’s efforts to advance gender equality. This agenda, with a deadline of 2030, emphasizes gender equality as critical to effective development, and the SDGs put gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls (Goal 5) at the centre of its agenda.

At the level of the African continent, commitment to gender equality is enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) which is strengthened by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol).

The Maputo Protocol provides a comprehensive framework to guide all rights-based action for gender equality and ensure the empowerment of women and girls in Africa. In fact, Article 19 of the Protocol outlines a number of actions which fall under the obligation and responsibility of the State Parties to the Protocol, in the area of women’s right to sustainable development. It states that:

“Women shall have the right to fully enjoy their right to sustainable development. In this connection, the States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to: …ensure participation of women at all levels in the conceptualisation, decision-making, implementation and evaluation of development policies and programmes.”

Other frameworks include the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa and the African Women’s Decade which will end in 2020 with the current AU Gender Policy and its Action Plan (2010-2020) currently undergoing review.

The significance of gender equality and women’s empowerment have been further encompassed in Agenda 2063, Africa’s framework for sustainable development, whose 6thaspiration is “An Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of women and youth”.

The Commission has demonstrated its commitment to the promotion of the rights of women and girls by further developing and adopting soft laws including: Guidelines on State Reporting of the Maputo Protocol; General Comment No.1 on Article 14 (1) (d) and (e); General Comment No. 2 on Article 14 (1) (a), (b), (c) and (f) and Article 14 (2) (a) and (c) of the Maputo Protocol; Joint General Comment on Child  Marriage; Guidelines on Violence Against Women and its Consequences, amongst other soft laws that promote the rights of women and girls.

Despite all the efforts made, the Special Rapporteur notes with concern that progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment have been rather slow, due to continuous violation of women’s political, civil and socio-economic rights. Gender inequality is a result of discrimination against women and girls in terms of access to and control over economic opportunities, social services and decision-making processes.  

First, women continue to face discrimination in the economic sphere evident in the issues of land ownership, access to and control over agricultural inputs such as seeds and new agricultural techniques, and employment opportunities due to segmented labour markets. For example, the World Bank notes that African women make up two-thirds of the agricultural labour force and produce the bulk of Africa’s food, yet they continue to face numerous barriers that impede their productivity. A major reason for women’s limited ownership of asset is due to discriminatory inheritance laws. In many African countries, widows do not have equal inheritance rights which puts their economic security and survival in jeopardy.

Second, women’s unpaid care work and their work in the informal sector continue to be undervalued and unappreciated in monetary terms. This is further exacerbated by the limited access to quality social services and infrastructure, including social protection. Given that vulnerable and marginalized positions are associated with life stages, Governments should adopt a life cycle approach in social protection, including special protections for older women. The provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection services should be promoted.

Third, women continue to be excluded from decision-making processes in the household as well as in public perpetuating their subordinate status. The Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality noted that: “low levels of women’s representation in social, economic and political decision-making structures and feminisation of poverty impact negatively on women’s ability to derive full benefit from the economies of their countries and the democratisation process.”

It is also important to note the devastating effect that corruption has on the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Corruption heightens already existing inequalities and violations of women’s fundamental human rights. It becomes imperative that gender equality and women’s empowerment are mainstreamed in anti-corruption strategies in the continent.

The International Women’s Day 2019 gives us an opportunity to not only reflect on the developments in the past decade, but also on how to harness existing regional and global human rights framework with the SDGs and Agenda 2063. In fact, no society can develop sustainably without transforming the distribution of opportunities, resources and choices. This is premised on the fact that men and women are both engaged in the same process of pursuing wellness and can both contribute according to their capacities for an effective action on all aspects of sustainable development. Addressing gender inequality and ensuring women’s empowerment is key to safeguarding current gains while defining a pathway to achieving the sustainable development agendas. Moreover, the achievement of Agenda 2063 and the SDGs would require investment in skills development, training, education and information on the innovative development trends. This also implies women participation as stated in Article 19 of the Maputo Protocol. We therefore urge Governments to promote and protect women’s rights to participate in all spheres of development, in particular, political and decision-making processes.

The Special Rapporteur would like to take this opportunity to remind African Governments of their obligations towards the full realization of women’s rights and to encourage them to take concrete steps towards the education, training and inclusion of women in technological and innovative processes for sustainable development. African Governments are therefore urged to increase their budgetary resources to national and regional programmes to enhance women and girls’ accessibility to science and technology.

Governments should also develop programmes on new technologies in collaboration with the private sector who can provide analytical, institutional and financial support to mainstream gender in their programmes.

The Commission calls for renewed commitment and solidarity with women, girls and other marginalized groups who face perpetuating systems of inequality, oppression and violence. Thus, the urgent call for action for AU Member States to fast track the implementation of regional and global frameworks, especially the Maputo Protocol. The Special Rapporteur urges States that have not yet ratified the Protocol to concretise their commitment to women’s rights by ratifying as soon as possible, and those that have ratified to implement the Maputo Protocol. It is also incumbent on them to invest in research and data collection for gender statistic which is indispensable for the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of laws, policies and programmes on women’s rights.

On this International Women’s Day, the Special Rapporteur seizes this moment to honour and celebrate women all over the world who have played and continue to play an important role in transforming their communities and countries.

The Special Rapporteur wishes to underscore that indeed the time is now to #BalanceforBetter while taking an intersectional and human rights-based approach to confront the challenges of gender inequality and women’s empowerment to achieve the full realization of their fundamental human rights.

Honourable Commissioner Lucy Asuagbor

Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa of the ACHPR