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The AU Protocol on women's rights has breathed new life into the feminist movement in Africa and centralised the issue of women’s rights on the continent. But Janah Ncube says African women cannot afford to be complacent if implementation of the protocol is to be achieved in the near future.

The protocol is a vehicle/mechanism that is now creating the appropriate legal environment to enable equity and equality to be realised for the African woman. It is the evidence of our winning the fight for women’s rights in Africa and it shows that it is only a matter of time before we completely win the fight. The Niger set back was overt evidence and testimony to the progressiveness of the protocol as an offensive assault against patriarchy. The fact that they considered and debated the protocol and realised that if they ratify it they would lose patriarchal privileges and desecrate patriarchal structures is affirmation that the women’s movement has developed as a tool, an instrument designed to challenge and pull down the strongholds of patriarchy. What we need to work on now is ensuring that the Protocol is implemented. So we must mobilise our governments, institutions and peoples to ensure that they are implementing it and making demands on the protocol.

Indeed we saw the protocol breathing life back into the African Feminist movement as many began to coalesce around its drafting, its adoption, its ratification. It again triggered conversations on sensitive and taboo issues which for this continent where difficult to converse about. It revitalised the long forgotten issues of women’s basic human rights which have been for a long time not realised and had been left to the dustbin of history. Most importantly, it put women’s human rights back into the centre of the continent’s agenda.

Cynics and critics will argue that the protocol is only a legal instrument but is in its-self not tangible rights. Indeed many countries have laws and policies that grant women’s rights but have not appropriated those rights. Do legal instruments deliver equity or equality? My response to that is that they do set a basis and a standard and their existence is an admittance that there has been a wrong which through the instrument is being made right. And wherever there is rule of law and a just legal system then any woman whose rights are denied and/or violated can make claim and get those rights.

We have to be realistic about the challenges that will face the implementation of the protocol. Challenges of structure, adequate resources to ensure delivery and most importantly political will to see this protocol benefiting African women. We must not be satisfied by the existence of the protocol, we must refuse to be comforted by its ratification. Instead we must be stubborn, have tenacity, be bold, be courageous and keep on with the agenda. The agenda was not the protocol, the agenda is African women enjoying their human rights. The protocol is one of the vehicles that can deliver that.

Until there is not one girl child afraid of her father molesting her, until there is not one woman afraid of her husband’s kicks we can not say we have won the fight. Until our decision makers in all sectors, spheres, levels are gender sensitive and have equal representation of women and men then we can not rest. It may not be a fast process but we can ensure that it is a sure process that will deliver African women not just their rights but their dignity.

Three things we must do; mobilise the African woman; let her be aware of the protocol as an instrument to engage her communities about her rights and let her make demands based on the protocol. We must target the rural woman who is in the majority and also target the urban woman who many times is ignorant of these civic issues. We must build a strong feminist movement across the continent; it has delivered the protocol and without it the protocol will lose its momentum and force.

The women’s movement must confront and engage with the broader politics; time to talk to women alone is over, its preaching to the choir, we must start to ‘evangelise’ preach to those who do not know/understand the issues we articulate about women’s human rights. This of course means confronting one’s own personal beliefs, things at home, in our work places, the institutions we engage with in our daily lives and indeed our governments. These things are very political and so we must be political actors. Our political legitimacy and clout increases when we engage with politics in all issues that affect our lives and communities and not only the ones that concern women’s issues.

* Janah Ncube is Gender Thematic Manager at The Agency for Co-operation & Research in Development. Ms Ncube is also a contributing author to “Grace, Tenacity and Eloquence: The Struggle for Women’s Rights in Africa” published by Fahamu – Networks for Social Justice. Copies of the book can be purchased through the website.

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