The recently concluded November,2023 Workshop on the Rights of Women in Africa, held in Arusha, Tanzania, marked a significant milestone as it commemorated the 20th Anniversary of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, commonly known as the Maputo Protocol. Organized by The African Institute of International Law, the workshop brought together a diverse array of stakeholders, including 58 civil society organizations, representatives from 24 African States, 18 representatives of academic institutions, and 5 journalists.

Celebrating Achievements and Acknowledging Challenges

The workshop shed light on the pivotal role that women play in the socio-economic development of the African continent. Participants highlighted the remarkable contributions made by women in shaping the continent’s future. It provided a platform to deliberate on the successes, challenges, and strategies for the further implementation of the Maputo Protocol.

Keynote speakers emphasized the need for international cooperation to establish collective mechanisms, recognizing that an empowered woman is the engine of development in every country. Notably, the Tanzanian President and the Speaker of the National Assembly were highlighted as examples, holding the two highest state offices and performing exceptionally well.

While 44 African States have ratified the Maputo Protocol, 11 have not. The workshop drew attention to the challenges faced by women in Africa, including violations of the rights enshrined in the protocol. These challenges persist despite the existence of elaborate legal and institutional frameworks at the United Nations and Africa levels.

Addressing Challenges and Promoting Women’s Rights

The discussions delved into various challenges faced by women, such as inadequate medical services, limited access to water and energy, food insecurity, and disparities in education. Despite being the primary food producers on the continent, women bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, which is affecting Africa more than any other place on earth.

Instances of women in leadership positions are still few, and women and children often become victims of multiple violations during armed conflicts in various African countries. Sexual and gender-based violence, including the use of rape as a weapon of war, were highlighted as significant concerns.

Implementing and Strengthening the Maputo Protocol

While acknowledging the achievements in policy and legal reforms across Africa, the workshop emphasized the need for increased efforts to implement the Maputo Protocol comprehensively. Notable examples include Gambia and Namibia, which have incorporated the Protocol into their constitution and legislation.

Uganda’s commitment to aligning women empowerment initiatives with international laws and regional gender protocols was underscored, with the incorporation of Maputo Protocol principles into their Vision 2040 and various sectoral policies and strategies.

The Ongoing Struggle: Female Genital Mutilation, Conflict, and Socio-Economic Rights

The workshop specifically addressed the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), noting that it is practiced by women with the support of men in 33 African countries. The Maputo Protocol, as the sole legal instrument globally prohibiting FGM, was highlighted as a crucial tool in combating this harmful practice.

Presentations on Articles X and XI of the Protocol underscored the importance of addressing women in conflict and the role of faith-based organizations in protecting women and girls. Trafficking and slavery, covered in Article IV, were also discussed, emphasizing the role of religious denominations in promoting values that safeguard women and girls.

Looking Ahead: Climate Change, Socio-Economic Rights, and Women’s Progress

The workshop emphasized the importance of the socio-economic rights provisions in the Maputo Protocol for the progress of women in Africa. Women face challenges in securing these rights, including gender discrimination, unequal pay, and barriers to leadership roles.

Furthermore, the alarming consequences of climate change were highlighted, emphasizing its disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, particularly women. Climate change, responsible for displacing more people in Africa due to natural disasters than armed conflicts, was recognized as a factor that can exacerbate existing conflicts.

In conclusion, the Workshop on the Rights of Women in Africa provided a platform for reflection on the achievements and challenges related to the Maputo Protocol. The discussions underscored the importance of continued efforts to implement and strengthen the protocol, promoting women’s rights and empowering them in the face of complex socio-economic and environmental challenges.

Br. Elvis Ng’andwe, M.Afr. 

Executive Secretary-AEFJN