Civil society representatives from over 20 African countries met in Kigali, Rwanda last week to discuss how to better implement a key regional protocol on women’s rights. The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa received it’s fifteenth ratification and therefore came into effect in 2005. This was seen as a major achievement for Africa and the field of women’s rights, and the protocol has continued to gain momentum. Currently, the Protocol has been ratified by 26 African countries. The meeting in Kigali was to discuss how to better incorporate the rights enshrined in the Protocol into domestic law and how to educate women about the Protocol so they can fully enjoy their rights.
There are still 27 states that have yet to ratify the Protocol amid growing calls to improve the rights of women, but at least 20 states have taken the first necessary steps in ratifying the Protocol. While always a significant issue, the current global economic crisis has brought the urgency of women’s rights back to the forefront of things that must be done if Africa is going to meet its development goals. It is therefore appropriate that this meeting took place in Kigali, as Rwanda currently has the world’s highest percentage of women in elected office with 56% of parliamentary seats held by women along with one third of the nation’s cabinet positions.
The role of civil society in advancing the Protocol also highlights how civil society and governments can work together. The purpose of the meeting was not to criticize government action, but to find ways to make it easier for governments to uphold their legal obligations under the Protocol. Litha Musyimi Ogana, the Director of the Women, Gender and Development Directorate at the African Union, pointed this out. “The challenge for most governments is having their existing constitution and laws to be in conformity with the protocol. We believe this meeting will set the stage to reverse this situation,” she told reporters outside the meeting. She also pointed out the important role that civil society played in bring the Protocol into effect, and what a key role they were bound to play in continuing advocacy efforts and ensuring that women would achieve equality under the law.