The coalition expresses profound concern about the delayed realisation of the promise of gender equality made to African women and girls by the AU Member States when they adopted the Maputo Protocol in 2003.

This call emphasises the pressing need for African Union Member States to respond proactively and accelerate the realisation of this promise through universal ratification, domestication and implementation of the Maputo Protocol.

In July 2023, the SOAWR Coalition, in collaboration with the Government of Kenya and the African Union Women Gender & Youth Directorate, celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the adoption of the Maputo Protocol and launched the '20 years of the Maputo Protocol: where are we now?' report.

The coalition noted that African governments need to do more to ensure that the rights enshrined in the Maputo Protocol are fully implemented and positively impact the lived realities of women and girls on the continent.

Equality now says that in a press briefing in Mombasa, Kenya, marking the 16 Days of Activism, the Coalition underscored the importance of ratifying and effectively implementing the Maputo Protocol.

The Protocol is a groundbreaking legal instrument adopted by the African Union on July 11, 2003, and has so far been ratified and deposited by 44 out of 55 African countries.

According to Equality Now, it addresses the unique challenges faced by women and girls in Africa. It provides for a wide array of rights touching on issues such as:
  • marriage
  • sexual reproductive health and rights
  • protection from violence
  • ending harmful practices (including FGM and child marriage)
  • political participation, and
  • economic empowerment.

By establishing legal frameworks and ensuring access to justice, the Maputo Protocol has significantly contributed to enhancing the lives of millions of women, promoting their economic and social empowerment and fostering an environment of equality and justice, says Equality Now.

The Call to Action and Accountability further emphasises the following:
  • immediate ratification of the Maputo Protocol by ten specific states, emphasising the collective commitment made by all Heads of State and Governments of AU member states in 2003 and 2010
  • the enactment to effectively implement legislative measures to eliminate discrimination against women, eradicate harmful cultural practices and address violence against women 
  • measures to ensure equal rights for women in marriage and at various life stages
  • the promotion of women's representation in decision-making processes and ensuring equal opportunities in the workplace
  • the safeguarding of women's right to health and enact legislation against harmful cultural practices, and
  • submitting periodic reports under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, demonstrating their commitment to fully realising the rights of women and girls outlined in the Maputo Protocol.

Nine countries urged to ratify the Maputo Protocol

The coalition calls on nine states to act swiftly to ratify the Maputo Protocol to uphold the rights of women and girls in their countries. It calls upon the following countries that are yet to ratify this progressive instrument:
  • the Republic of Burundi
  • the Republic of Chad
  • the Arab Republic of Egypt
  • the Republic of Eritrea
  • the Republic of Madagascar
  • the Kingdom of Morocco
  • the Republic of Niger
  • the Republic of Somalia, and 
  • the Republic of Sudan.

The coalition further calls upon the Republic of Botswana, which has recently ratified the Maputo Protocol to deposit its instrument of ratification with the African Union.

"Ratifying the Maputo Protocol means that a country adheres to the various provisions provided in the treaty to uphold the rights of women and girls. Further, a legally binding instrument allows a country to be held accountable to these provisions," says Oluwaseyitan Solademi-Ibrahim (Centre For Human Rights, University of Pretoria).

"For countries that have not ratified the Maputo Protocol, it places women and girls at further risk when it comes to certain protections on matters of economic development, leadership, FGM and gender-based violence," Solademi-Ibrahim adds. 

The coalition calls upon African governments to enact robust laws with stringent penalties to explicitly outlaw harmful cultural practices, including:
  • female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • non-consensual marriages, and
  • child marriages.

Equality Now says the 2022 UNICEF Gender Equality Report reveals a grave circumstance; the statistics indicate that over 200 million girls and women have endured female genital mutilation (FGM), while over 4.3 million girls are still at risk in 2023. Unfortunately, there has been limited advancement in high-prevalence countries such as:
  • The Gambia
  • Guinea
  • Mali
  • Somalia, and
  • Sudan.

Inadequate reporting on the state of women's and girl's rights

Despite the Maputo Protocol being the fastest instrument to enter into force, compared to all other human rights treaties, the over 70-member Coalition expressed their disappointment in the state of reporting on the treaty's implementation. They noted that the state of compliance by member states in submitting the periodic reports was arbitrary and tepid, according to Equality Now. 

"Article 62 of the African Charter and Article 26 of the Maputo Protocol obligate member states to regularly report on progress made in implementing the Maputo Protocol once they have ratified it to remain accountable for their promises to the women of Africa. Regrettably, only 19 African member states have submitted their initial report," says Hannah Forster (ACDHRS).

Beyond ratifying, countries urged to take action

"African member states must take immediate and decisive action to align national frameworks with the Maputo Protocol to ensure the realisation of women's fundamental rights as stipulated in the Maputo Protocol," says Equality Now's Africa director Faiza Mohamed. 

"This can be achieved by formulating, adopting and implementing legislation and other measures that guarantee women's rights, reflecting a commitment to advancing women's rights across the continent," adds Mohamed.

Equality Now adds that the Maputo Protocol confers upon women and girls the right to:
  • control their fertility
  • exercise free choice in contraception, and 
  • access medical abortion, particularly in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where the continued pregnancy poses risks to the mental or physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the fetus. 

The World Health Organisation (2020) highlights that Sexual and Reproductive Health remains concerning. A policy brief by Equality Now (2023) on the state of child marriage in Africa noted that the continent accounts for 127 million child marriages across the globe and ranks second after Asia.

Approximately 31% of women aged 20 to 24 in Africa entered marriage before age 18. The World Health Organisation (2020) noted that the top five countries with the highest rates of early marriage were:
  • Niger (76%)
  • Central African Republic (68%)
  • Chad (67%)
  • Mali (54%), and
  • South Sudan (52%). 

Seventeen percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa and 23% of married or in-union women lack access to family planning services, according to Equality Now. The brief showed that in Southern Africa, Mozambique was one of the SADC countries with the highest prevalence.

The number of girls and women of all ages first married or in union before age 18 is 4.4 million, accounting for over one in two girls (53%) married before 18. Other countries with high prevalence include:
  • Tanzania with 5.7 million
  • Madagascar with 2.9 million
  • Angola with 2.5 million, and
  • Malawi with 2.2 million child brides. 

In addition, approximately 5.2% to 17.2% of maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa each year are attributed to abortions, as further reported by the World Health Organisation in 2020.

"Allowing women and girls the right to access reproductive health services would eliminate the risk of early and unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortion and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and reduce the likelihood of school dropouts," says Mohamed.

Enact and enforce legislative measures

The statement further stipulated that in the urgent pursuit of gender equality and the protection of women's rights in African nations, heads of state and policymakers should enact and enforce legislative and regulatory measures.

In addition, these measures would then serve to prohibit and eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls, addressing persistent inequalities within legal frameworks.

"Corrective and positive actions are essential, particularly in areas where discriminatory practices against women persist in law," says Rainatou Sow from Make Every Woman Count (MEWC).

Furthermore, the SOAWR Coalition, aligned with their SOAWR Strategic Plan 2020-2024, made a resolute call for countries to adopt and enforce comprehensive legislative, administrative, social and economic measures to prevent, punish and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls, says Equality Now.

With the deadline to meet the SDGs fast approaching, says the Coalition.

"The time for action is now, with high expectations and unwavering commitment from policymakers to establish a legal and social environment that champions gender equality and safeguards the well-being and dignity of women and girls across the continent," concludes the statement.

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