Three Years On Since The Launch of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020, Where Are We?

Yet another year has gone by since the Continental Launch of the African Women’s Decade in Nairobi, Kenya by the African Union (AU). The launch of the Decade was an important step forward taken by the AU to re-invigorate commitments for accelerated implementation of agreed global and regional commitments of gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE).

The Decade has arguably given an incredible momentum to the move forward in women’s rights agenda on the continent and a framework for accelerating actions.

Three years on since the launch of the African Women’s Decade, where are we?

In 2013, the continent celebrated the 10th anniversary of The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which was adopted by the African Union on July 11, 2003 in Maputo, Mozambique to supplement the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.


Disarmament Outreach activity

Its adoption remains an important milestone in the progress towards full and effective enjoyment of women’s human rights in Africa. By providing a comprehensive framework for the promotion, protection and respect for the rights of African women, the Protocol is thus, the first international instrument to speak specifically to the rights of women in an African context. It is a groundbreaking legal instrument, reinforcing women’s rights provided in other regional and global human rights instruments.

The Protocol specifically guarantees African women’s rights to: protection from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDs and to adequate, affordable, and accessible health services. It also expresses a State’s duty to protect girls and women from practices and situations that increase their risk of infection, such as child marriage, sexual violence, and FGM. The Protocol further guarantees women’s right to family planning education.

10 years after the adoption of the Protocol, 48 countries out of the 54 African Union members States have signed the African Women’s Protocol and 36 have ratified it as of June 2013, making it one of the highest ratified instruments in Africa. As for its implementation, important strides have been made at national level to ensure legislative recognition of women’s rights.

A report entitledJourney to Equality: 10 Years of the Protocol on the Rightsof Women in Africa” was prepared by the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights in association with Make Every Woman Count and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, and launched in August 2013 in Lilongwe – Malawi.

2013 also was marked by a renewed commitment from the African Union Commission highest ranking decision-makers. As part of the framework of its “Pan – Africanism”, African Renaissance and 2063 Agenda, a two-day women’s conference was organized in May for “women’s voices to be heard loud and clear as we reflect on the past, assess our current state and plan for the future.”

The AU Commission Chairperson, rightly mentioned in her opening remarks at the event that “ We will say there are enough women when we have true gender parity and 50% of women everywhere; unlike now, when we can count them on one hand. We have two Presidents – Liberia and Malawi – and a few more Vice Presidents. We must move towards a situation when we don’t have to count them, because they are enough. We must ensure that by the end of the African Decade of Women in 2020, we see tangible improvements in the situation of women.”

As the World has been reflecting in 2013 on future development goals and whether or not to adopt new Sustainable Development Goals, African activists and women’s organizations have joined the debate to try and make sure that the concerns of African Women are taken into account. The hope is that the ball is not going to be dropped towards 2015 and there will be a specific Sustainable Development Goal on Gender Equality and Women’s Rights and that other Goals will also aim at an inclusive and equitable development.

Some recent data is cause for Continent-wide pride: The Inter – Parliamentary Union’s latest report on women in parliament, showed that by the end of 2012, Sub-Sahara Africa had an average of 20.4 per cent women MPs which is 7 percentage points higher than in 2002 (13.6%). The region had four of the Inter-Parliamentary Unions top 10 ranked parliaments in the world in 2012, including Rwanda in the unchallenged lead. The presence of women in parliament in some African countries has made a difference to the adoption of gender-sensitive policies. Thanks to the advocacy work and lobbying from individual advocates, women’s organizations and other members of civil society, some countries such as Rwanda, Senegal, Algeria, and South Africa have adopted affirmative policies including quotas to increase the number of women in decision-making positions.

As the continent is moving forward with its 2063 vision, women are clearly paving their way to fully participate in the continent’s promising future.

However, ten years on since the adoption of the Maputo Protocol, the voice of the African woman still remains a whisper in the darkness. The struggle to gain a fair share of political power and economic opportunities continues. Today, women’s bodies are still being used as a weapon of war by warlords and women are still being denied access to health care and education.

Although girl’s education has improved undoubtedly in most African countries, the completion rates remain low, and many girls still are unable to go on to secondary or tertiary education. Across the continent, millions of young girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation, a practice that widely continues.

In order to improve women’s lives on the continent, African Governments and their development partners must urgently transform their promises into concrete actions and deliver effectively on gender equality and women’s rights. It has been said time and time again, and maybe if we say it once more it will be heard: Africa could not yesterday, cannot today and won’t be able tomorrow, to afford the cost of denying the enjoyment, fulfilment and exercise of their full potential to half of its population.

While we wait for the dream of gender equality to come true, we will continue to support and hold accountable all those who have committed themselves to the 10 points of the African Women’s Decade (African Union, Member States, Development Partners) and with this report we are inviting you to join us in this critical struggle.


By Rainatou Sow, Executive Director of Make Every Woman Count


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