Written by: Admin_SheEvo
It is pretty upsetting how many African women and girls are unaware of the fact that there are international and regional (continental laws) that promote and protect their most fundamental human rights. Apart from the fact that African governments have national laws and policies to fight against issues such as Gender Based Violence, governments also have international and regional obligations to promote and protect these fundamental human rights. This article will provide a brief overview of how the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights protects and promotes the rights of all African Women and Girls.
Firstly, let us contextualize the problem. The most prevalent forms of Violence Against Women and Girls in Africa that have been reported include, among others, Intimate Partner Violence, which usually manifests in physical, sexual or psychological violence by an intimate partner; Female Genital Mutilation, which is a common cultural practice in some parts of Africa; Early Child and Forced Marriage where girls below 18 years are forced into marriage; as well as Sexual Violence in Conflict, which includes rape, sexual assault with violent physical assault, kidnapping, sexual slavery and forced prostitution in conflict situations.
The unceasing presence of Violence Against Women and Girls in Africa is mainly associated with gender power relations reflected and accepted through cultural and social norms. These norms are entrenched in patriarchal systems characterized by male dominance, unequal distribution of resources and power, and social institutions that sustain gender inequality. Additionally, poverty and the lack of income and assets add to women’s vulnerability to violence.
The African Union views Violence Against Women and Girls as one of the critical impediments to women’s realization of their fundamental rights, including the rights to life, human dignity, peace, justice, and socio-economic and political development. To address these challenges, The African Union finalized the adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) in July 2003. Notably, the Maputo Protocol is a women’s rights Treaty adopted to complement the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. It is one of three treaties worldwide that focuses exclusively on women’s rights and directly addresses state responsibility to eliminate violence against women.
The Maputo Protocol covers a wide range of women’s rights related to the specific threats faced by African women and girls. These rights include violence in the family, at work, in their communities and during times of armed conflict. It calls for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence within the rights to life, integrity and security of the person in Article 4, with other provisions reinforcing the obligations of African governments to end Gender-Based Violence and discrimination.
In addition, the Protocol contains progressive wording on sexual and reproductive rights in Article 14. The Protocol also covers the right to a positive cultural context in Article 17, the right to a healthy and sustainable environment in Article 18, and the right to protect the rules of international humanitarian law in armed conflict in Article 11. It is also the first women’s rights Treaty in the world to call for the elimination of female genital mutilation in Article 5 and to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic through women’s experiences in Article 14. Furthermore, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (based in Tanzania) is responsible for interpreting issues related to the application and implementation of the Maputo Protocol, and African countries are required to provide implementation reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
To date, 42 African countries out of 55 have ratified Maputo Protocol. However, regardless of the admirable ratification status of the Maputo Protocol, as well as the progressiveness of the Treaty, African Women and Girls still need to overcome severe human rights challenges.
Here are a few examples in this regard. These examples specifically relate to the events during the first few months of the COVID-19 Pandemic in early to mid-2020.
Official reports also showed that within the first week of the COVID-19 lockdown, South African Police Services received 2,320 gender-based violence complaints, a 37% increase from the weekly average of South African GBV cases reported for 2019.
Liberia recorded a 50% increase in gender-based violence in the first half of 2020. Between January and June, there were more than 600 reported rape cases.
In Algeria, femicide increased during the COVID-19 lockdown, with a murder occurring every three to four days.
In Tunisia, violence against women and girls had increased 9-fold during COVID-19. From March to June 2020, the helpline from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs received a number of 11,361 calls. 87% of them reported physical violence against women and girls.
The COVID-19 lockdown resulted in the closing of schools. This resulted in gender inequalities where the poorest girls faced a greater risk of early and forced marriage, sexual abuse and unintended pregnancy. In Kenya, for instance, data showed that in the far northern town of Lodwar, teenage pregnancies nearly tripled to 625 in June-August 2020, compared with 226 in the same period in 2019. In Malawi, it was reported that at least 5,000 cases of teenage pregnancies in the Phalombe district in the South of Malawi, and more than 500 girls had been married off following the Pandemic. In Uganda, at least 4,300 teenage pregnancies were registered in the first four months of the COVID-19 lockdown by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.
These horrifying statistics show the deep-rooted structural inequities that feed and continue to provide a fertile ground for Violence against Women and Girls. It also implicates the ineffectiveness of the Maputo Protocol. Although the Maputo Protocol cannot solve all these issues all at once, it is still seen as an instrument of hope and inspiration for African women and a way governments can be held accountable. The Protocol is just the beginning. More can be done!
If you have a story to share regarding the policies and laws regulating Violence against Women and Girls in your country, please feel free to share that with us