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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"

8 March 2018, Banjul, the Republic of The Gambia

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, March 8, 2018. 

The occasion of International Women’s Day is always a particularly befitting moment for sober reflection on the state of gender equality and women’s rights in the African context. In light of all the recent events and gender based movements occurring across the world, this year’s theme, “PressforProgress”, could not be more significant. On the one hand, we must reflect on the giant strides the women of Africa collectively and individually have made out of the past and into the future, while on the other hand, we must reflect on the fact that there is so much more to be done.

The fact that tremendous progress has been made over the past decade should be acknowledged, particularly considering the African socio-cultural history. The Special Rapporteur would be remise not to acknowledge progress particularly induced by the African Union (AU), whose commitment to gender equality cannot be understated. The AU’s commitment  is rooted in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (the African Charter), and reinforced by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol). We have witnessed the advent of  the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, development of the AU Gender Policy and its Action Plan which paved the way for  implementation of the African Women’s Decade (2010-2020), as well as Agenda 2063 whose 6th aspiration is “An Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of women and youth”. At the level of the Commission, we witnessed the adoption of 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.

There are however indicators that the progress being made in respect of true gender empowerment is too sporadic, and not a genuine indicia of the kind of empowerment envisaged by the Maputo Protocol and all other machineries and mechanisms put in place to achieve this. This notwithstanding, it is worthy to highlight progress registered in certain areas. For instance, there has been a massive upsurge in the education of the female child. Statistics indicate that across the world, gender equality has almost been achieved at the level of primary education. More girls in African countries are finishing high school and enrolling in universities, and more women are laying down roots in career fields that were traditionally considered a stronghold for men just a few years ago. There is greater access to contraception and abortion; women have more presence in professions and politics; and States are adopting various laws and policies that put in place 'affirmative action' or 'equal opportunity' measures for women.

However, while we remain grateful for progress and optimistic for the future, we cannot be ignorant to the obvious shortcomings and areas of weaknesses that still exist. Across the length and breadth of the continent, despite extensive efforts, women and girls are still being subjected to cruel, harmful, and discriminatory practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriages, female infanticide, abductions, and many forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Deeply entrenched traditional attitudes and perceptions as to the role of women in society limit the enterprise and earning potential of women and remain a strong barrier to achieving gender equality.

A recent report from the World Economic Forum indicates that the achievement of gender parity is 200 years away from reality, which effectively means it shall not be attainable within our generation. This is an unacceptable proposition for the millions of African girls and women who are still being denied their basic human rights. This year’s theme speaks right to the heart of this issue, and it is time for all of us to take cognisant about achieving true gender empowerment. Just as economic inequality prevents any form of true social harmony, cohesive socio-economic development in Africa cannot truly be achieved while women and girls remain oppressed and denied basic opportunities and freedoms. The fact is, gender discrimination in all its forms remains a blemish on the face of collective human development.                                                                                                           

It is therefore contextually fitting and certainly instructive that the theme for this year is “Press for Progress”. There is a need for more than just a superficial commitment to the betterment of the plight of women all over the world and especially in Africa. This year, 2018, we begin to approach the end of the African Women’s decade. The drive for progress must indeed be improved in order to achieve the objectives which were envisioned for the decade. The Special Rapporteur, therefore, calls on all Governments who have signed and ratified the Maputo Protocol, to step up their commitment by ensuring that there is total compliance with the goals, objectives and measures laid out in this instrument, while urging States that have not done so, to ratify, domesticate and implement the Protocol. The benefits to all are obvious: it is no longer a novel idea that the betterment of women is key to the growth and development of any society. The very idea of gender equality is both a contributor to and an indicator of development vis à vis the millennium development goals, which is intrinsic. Therefore there cannot be one without the other.

Beyond gauging the progress and short-comings of the worldwide strive for gender equality and women empowerment, the Special Rapporteur, on this International Women’s Day, calls for recognition and celebration of the strong, hardworking women of the world; who despite the odds, stay steadfast and resilient. Each in their own way, fight battles and conquer impediments every single day. The single mothers who struggle to feed their children; those women who endure/have endured gender-based violence and other forms of violence, yet continue to live with the scars and traumas of it; those women and girls who till the lands and scrape for a living; the little girls who walk miles and go through untold difficulties to get an education; the ambitious and brave women who defy the odds and continue to shatter the glass ceiling crack by crack. Each and every one of them is worthy of recognition, acknowledgement, and support, as we all collectively and individually continue to “Press for Progress”!

Honourable Commissioner Lucy Asuagbor

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