Women’s rights in Africa : Interview with Soyata Maiga, Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)

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On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa, FIDH Vice President, interviews Soyata Maiga, Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on the Rights of Women in Africa on the achievements and remaining difficulties.

Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa : Madam Commissionner, we celebrate today the 10th anniversary of the Maputo Protocol. What is your analysis of its impacts on the realisation of women’s rights in Africa ?

Soyata Maiga : As a militant activist for the promotion of women’s rights, I have been associated in all phases of the protocol development process from its draft to its adoption in July 2003 in Maputo.

In terms of standards, the protocol is an exemplary and inexhaustible source of inspiration for African legislators. Its full ratification and implementation provides a real tool of lasting change in our societies, by government officials and other actors engaged in governance, democracy and development to employ these standards and respect the obligations.

Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa : 36 out of the 54 members states of the African Union, are now parties to the Protocol. This is a real victory for those who has tirelessly advocated for a move in this direction. But how can we achieve a continent ratification?

Soyata Maiga, Rapporteure spéciale de la Commission africaine des droits de l'Homme et des Peuples (CADHP)

Soyata Maiga, Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on the rights of women in Africa

Soyata Maiga : For continental ratification, we must strengthen current activities at every level: by advocating for the ratification by States who are dragging their feet, providing information to members of Parliament, sending letters, visiting countries, and supporting campaigns organised by women’s rights NGOs. At the African Union level, there is a need to consistently include on the agenda of every Summit an item on the status of ratifications, and to remind Heads of States and Governments their commitments taken in the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, adopted in July 2004.

Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa : Despite the increased number of ratifications of the Protocol and the growing number of initiatives for the dissemination of its provisions, many women are still facing various forms of discrimination and violence. In your opinion, what are the main factors of this lack of implementation?

Soyata Maiga : The main factors? There are many factors that have challenged the implementation of the Protocol, such as the high rates of women living in poverty, illiteracy amongst women, lack of awareness of their rights, persistent socio-cultural and religious burdens that legitimise certain forms of violence, discrimination and marginalisation of women and girls in their families and communities, as well as in the public sphere. In addition it should be noted that other factors include non respect of national laws by government officials, widespread corruption that encourages impunity, dysfunctions within the judiciary, and the absence of, and/or inefficiency of legal and judicial assistance. Many factors keep women, especially women from poor backgrounds, in the vicious circle of violence and insecurity.

Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa : Rape and other forms of sexual violence continue to affect thousands of women, especially in situations of conflict and crisis. However, Articles 11 and 8 of the Protocol are clear : in situations of conflict, States must protect women from sexual crimes and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. States are also committed to ensure women’s access to justice. The Security Council of the United Nations has shown the need to strengthen efforts to end impunity for these crimes by adopting Resolution 2106. Nevertheless, thousands women continue to demand justice for these crimes, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Mali and in Guinea-Conakry. How can we achieve effective implementation of Articles 11 and 8 of the Protocol?

IMG (picture: Erhan Arik)

Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa, FIDH Vice-President

Soyata Maiga : Women continue to be victims of all types of human rights violations – political, economic, social and even cultural – in those States that are in conflict and those that are emerging from conflict. Rapes and other cruel and degrading treatment are numerous, and when it comes to make assessments, or develop reconstruction and reconciliation programmes, women’s needs are usually ignored because of insufficient and inadequate reforms.

International independent commissions of inquiry that carry investigations to report on sexual violence, identify State and non-State actors involved, as well as all victims, need to be established in order to develop synergies with local and national NGOs, and other stakeholders, and to make relevant recommendations on strong and urgent measures to be taken for effective protection of victims’ rights.

International institutions and donors should support the establishment of pools of lawyers through small legal aid fund so as to ensure the seizure of national courts, regional and international bodies by victims. We must not forget that at the national level, some difficulties may arise when it comes to bringing certain categories of perpetrators (military, militia, rebels, etc.). It is also imperative that funds for the compensation and reparation of victims are an integral part of any reconstruction and rehabilitation programme, and that specific budgetary resources are devoted.

Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa : Women have played a major role in the revolutionary movements in North Africa. In Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, women rallied in mass to demand the right to democracy and social justice, and called for the right to dignity. Today they face attempts of exclusion from the public sphere, discrimination and violence from extremists groups or security forces, often acting with impunity. In your opinion, what measures should be taken to ensure that women in North Africa, reap the benefits of their mobilisation?

Soyata Maiga : As in the South, women of North Africa should rely on more significant African women’s movements in order to ensure that the role of women after the revolution will be an integral part of the political transition’s agenda. All external stakeholders who support political transitions should express concerns for this situation, but women must fight for recognition of the place they deserve, first in line.

Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa: What main challenges for the full realisation of women’s rights in Africa do you foresee over the next 10 years?

Soyata Maiga : It will take some time before the effects of legislations on societies are seen in Africa. The next 10 years should be focused on the effective implementation of the Maputo Protocol in all its dimensions: gender parity between men and women, economic programmes for women’s access to productive resources and land resources, social and cultural programmes that increase educational and literacy programmes for girls, as well as advocacy actions on women’s rights for community and religious leaders. State and non-State actors must be held accountable for fulfilling their obligations to women.

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