Launch of African Women’s Decade: Women’s rights must top decade’s agenda

Press release
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Discrimination against women remains firmly established in law and in practice in the majority of African countries.

Women are denied equal rights to inheritance, land and custody of children; they have limited access to education, health care and politics; they suffer sexual and domestic violence, are subjected to harmful traditional practices and struggle to obtain access to justice.

The situation is alarming and intolerable. It calls for action.

"African Women’s Decade", launched by the African Union in Nairobi from October 10 to 15, will only truly have an impact if it can translate undertakings repeated over the last 15 years, from Dakar to Beijing, into action.

We would like to rename it the "Decade of Action for Women’s Rights in Africa". "Action" and "rights", key words for a programme leading to concrete change. States’ commitments lack substance until they are implemented through effective laws protecting women’s rights.

Whilst we welcome that such issues are being placed firmly on the political agenda, we underline that the success of this initiative can only be measured in tangible results. Governments — starting with the host government of this initiative — must abolish all discriminatory legislation, ban all forms of violence against women and ensure that the word "equality" becomes a reality.

These demands have been voiced by women across Africa and civil society organisations for years.

The Campaign "Africa for women’s rights", alongside numerous other initiatives, highlights the need for concrete legislative reforms to improve access to justice, education, health care, employment, land and inheritance.

Law reforms are needed to allow women to participate fully in public and political life. They are required to ensure the prosecution and sanction of perpetrators of sexual violence.

They are necessary to protect women in periods of conflict, in accordance with UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which this year marks its 10th anniversary. These reforms are vital and urgent.

All the more urgent in view of real risks of regression. The example of Mali, where proposed amendments to the draft Family Code go against the very principle of gender equality, does not give us cause for optimism.

As host of this initiative, the Kenyan government must lead by example, by adopting two key instruments for the protection of women’s rights in Africa: the Maputo Protocol — which was recently approved by the Kenya Parliament — and Optional Protocol to the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The Kenyan government must also take urgent measures to abolish discriminatory family and property laws, and fight domestic violence. It must ensure women’s access to education and health care, promote their political representation, and guarantee their equal rights to land.

This initiative must encourage the active participation of civil society organisations and must make respect for women’s rights the priority.

Governments must have ambitions on a scale commensurate with the expectations of millions of African women. It is time for action.

This Op-ed appeared in the Standard, Nairobi, Kenya. The writers are: Souhayr Belhassen, President of International Federation for Human rights; Soyata Maiga, Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights; Muthoni Wanyeki, Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission; Moussa Diop, Femmes Africa SolidaritÈ; Kafui Adjamagbo-Johnson, Women in Law and Development in Africa.

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