20 Years of the Maputo Protocol: Towards a Feminist Africa

20 Years of the Maputo Protocol: Towards a Feminist Africa

This year marks 20 years since the adoption of The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, popularly known as the Maputo Protocol.
20 Years of the Maputo Protocol: Towards a Feminist Africa

The Maputo Protocol is arguably the most progressive legally binding instrument on women’s and human rights globally. Under the Maputo Protocol, African states acknowledge the crucial role of women and girls in dismantling systems of oppression and achieving equality, peace, freedom, dignity and justice for all. South Africa is one of the 44 countries who have signed and committed to the standards of the protocol. While our Constitution is hailed as the most progressive in the world, signing the Maputo Protocol provides an accountability measure of inequality across the borders of all states.

The Soul City Institute for Social Justice notes with concern that South Africa has not been able to live up to the provisions of the Maputo Protocol. Where one would expect a decrease in the rates of violence and discrimination against women and girls, research shows that the country grows more unequal and unsafe by the day. Child marriage is one of the main challenges that women and girls in Africa are facing. Thus, the Maputo Protocol calls for states to outlaw the practice. However, in South Africa it is still legal for one to marry before the age of 18, which results in as many as 600 girls under the age of 18 getting married each year.

We do not doubt that this is connected to a deeper issue of the over-sexualisation of girl children under patriarchy. While the practice of ukuthwala is mostly prevalent in the rural areas, the high rates of teenage pregnancy are as much an indicator of rape culture and grooming in South Africa and the broader continent.

Furthermore, the Maputo Protocol calls for states to promote women’s rights to control their bodies, the right to integrity, peace and the elimination of harmful practices. Research shows that at least 500 lesbian women in South Africa are victims of ‘corrective rape’ each year. This and many other horrific statistics show how high our rates of gender-based violence are.

Since its adoption in 2003, the Maputo Protocol has contributed to shifting the trajectory on the promotion and protection of woman’s rights. The broad protections provided by the Maputo Protocol recognise the interconnectedness of the vulnerabilities of marginalised people in the African continent.  As an intersectional organisation we believe that by considering issues related to health, safety, autonomy, disability, housing, inheritance, education, mental and financial well-being, the Maputo Protocol aligns with the feminist approach to human rights.

Seeing South Africa on the list of countries that have signed the Maputo Protocol means that we can hold the state accountable to “provide for appropriate remedies to any woman whose rights or freedoms, as herein recognised, have been violated;”. Moreover, we believe that heeding the call to decriminalise sex work will “enforce legislative and other measures to guarantee women equal opportunities in work and career advancement,” as the state agreed to do 20 years ago in Mozambique.

We welcome President Ramaphosa’s decision to finally sign the South African Sign Language Bill, making SASL the country’s 12th official language. This is a big step in promoting the rights of deaf persons and aligns with the protocol’s provision to protect women and girls with disabilities.

The Maputo Protocol is a vital legal instrument for promoting and protecting human rights in Africa. Its comprehensive provisions address crucial issues and its ratification and implementation by all African Union member states are necessary for its full potential to be realized. We call on all African states, businesses, civil society and individuals to adopt and implement the approach of the Maputo Protocol towards a feminist Africa.

As we commemorate 2 decades of the Maputo Protocol, it is essential that we unpack its significance in the lives of African women and girls. Stay tuned for our limited podcast series, connecting with like-minded African feminist leaders and organisations. Together, let us urge African states to ratify and meaningfully implement the Protocol in policymaking actions.

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