Petition on the Ratification of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa
I urge all African States to ratify the Protocol immediately; because African women's rights cannot be postponed as any human rights cannot be postponed.
The Solidarity for African Women's Rights (SOAWR) campaign set out to achieve the target of 15 country ratifications to the African Union (AU) Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (The Protocol). This target has now been achieved, with Togo becoming the 15th country to ratify the Protocol on October 26. The other countries that have ratified the Protocol are Cape Verde, The Comoros, Djibouti, The Gambia, Lesotho, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Benin.
For the first time in international law, this groundbreaking Protocol explicitly sets forth the reproductive right of women to medical abortion when pregnancy results from rape or incest or when the continuation of pregnancy endangers the health or life of the mother. In another first, the Protocol explicitly calls for the legal prohibition of female genital mutilation, and prohibits the abuse of women in advertising and pornography. The Protocol sets forth a broad range of economic and social welfare rights for women. The rights of particularly vulnerable groups of women, including widows, elderly women, disabled women and "women in distress," which includes poor women, women from marginalized populations groups, and pregnant or nursing women in detention are specifically recognized.
At an African Union meeting in Maputo in July 2003, the AU adopted the "Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa". The Protocol offers significant potential to guarantee the rights of women. But in order to come into force it needed to be ratified by at least 15 countries. A coalition of 19 women's rights groups from across Africa therefore joined forces under the banner of Solidarity for African Women's Rights (SOAWR) in order to campaign for the speedy ratification of the Protocol. The campaign will now enter its next phase which involves encouraging more countries in Africa to sign and ratify the Protocol, while simultaneously focusing on the implementation of the Protocol's provisions in the legislation of individual African countries.
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To African Union Heads of State
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa
We the undersigned write to you regarding the ratification of the Protocol on the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa by member states of the African Union and urge your Excellencies to ensure the fast tracking of its ratification by your respective governments by the next Heads of States Summit in July 2004.
As you will recall, the Protocol was adopted in July 2003 during the Second Ordinary Session of the Heads of States held in Maputo. Its adoption was celebrated by African women, women's and human rights organizations in Africa and the diaspora as a major step towards finally securing a legal and rights framework for the protection and advancement of the human rights of African women.
However, one month before its first anniversary only 29 of the AU's 53 member states have signed the Protocol and only one (Comoros) has ratified it. This record undermines the stated intention of African governments to protect and promote the rights of all their peoples.
Many women and their families experience social, cultural and economic rights abuses and political discrimination on a daily basis. Physical violence, vulnerability to life-threatening diseases most notably HIV/AIDS, poor educational opportunities and legal barriers around rights to property combine to keep women in Africa as second class citizens as well as inhibiting their ability to contribute fully to the prosperity of the continent.
Our call for the urgent ratification of the Protocol by all countries of the African Union deserves your serious consideration. Ratification will send a clear signal that women and men can and should enjoy equal rights and responsibilities. This enjoyment, in turn, will realise benefits to the whole of the continent.
We in civil society share the dream of the Heads of States that Africa's social, economic and political well-being rests on enabling women's resourcefulness at this time. We trust therefore that you will recognize the urgency of the situation and will facilitate the speedy ratification of the Protocol thereby completing the good work that your Excellencies began in Maputo last year.
African Women's Development & Communication Network (FEMNET)
Credo for Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights, Rotimi Sankore - Coordinator
Equality Now, Faiza Jama Mohamed - Africa Regional Director
Fahamu, Firoze Manji - Director
Oxfam GB, Irungu Houghton - Pan-African Policy Adviser