July 31 of every year is celebrated as Pan African Women’s Day. It is a day set aside to honour and celebrate not only the invaluable contributions of African women in the political emancipation and socio- economic development of the continent, but also the recognition of their remarkable achievements in all aspects of human endeavour.
As Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, I join the continent in celebrating the courage, steadfastness, commitment and dedication of all African Women especially our foremothers whose struggles and contributions paved the way for the emancipation of the African woman, with a view to ensuring her full and effective participation in the political, economic and social development of the continent and beyond. In that regard, the continent has witnessed the development of key legal instruments, policy documents and tools to promote and protect the rights of women in Africa and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has been in the forefront in ensuring the implementation of the provisions of the African Charter, the Maputo Protocol and other AU instruments and policy documents by State Parties as well as pushing the cause of women for the better.
The theme for this year’s celebrations, “African Women in Arts, Culture and Heritage” is also important, as it seeks to highlight the outstanding contributions and accomplishments of African women in this area. Arts, culture and heritage are significant forces for regional integration, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development and has provided employment opportunities for many including women and youths. The contributions of African women in arts, culture and heritage over the years is well recognized and documented. African women have played significant roles in conflict prevention, peace building and preservation in their communities. They have also made significant literary contributions to the continent and have set a mark for themselves globally; they are now taking the lead in creative arts, photography, poetry, cinematography, architecture and entrepreneurship thereby contributing immensely in Africa’s economic growth and development.
However, it is important to mention that despite all these immeasurable contributions of African women, they continue to suffer from gender inequality, discrimination and all forms of gender based violence including Female Genital Mutilation and early and unwanted pregnancies which have been exacerbated during the advent of COVID-19. Women also continue to remain underrepresented in public life and in decision making positions. Regarding economic empowerment, a lot of African women, especially in rural communities continue to struggle with having access to resources and factors of production which negatively impact on their productivity and economic empowerment.
Educated women are an asset to society and the continent in particular. However, terminating the education of school going pregnant girls is a phenomenon in many countries, which puts an end to their educational advancement and frustrates their personal and community aspirations as well as impacts on Africa’s human resource development as a whole. Therefore, in the assessment of the Saleema Initiative, African States are invited to take into account these issues that continue to hurt and violate the human rights of women.
As Special Rapporteur, I wish to call on the State Parties to take legislative and other measure to domesticate and implement the provisions of the African Charter, the Maputo Protocol and other international human rights instruments aimed at protecting the rights of women; to promote the positive use of Arts, culture and heritage in empowering women and to effectively address the challenges occasioned by the COVID -19 pandemic on women and girls in Africa with a view to ensuring their effective contribution to the political, social and economic development of the Africa that we want and yearn for.
I reiterate once again, the commitment of the Commission through the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, to strengthen its collaboration with all its stakeholders and partners in promoting and protecting the rights and freedoms of women in the continent and counts as always, on the invaluable support of State Parties.
I also seize this opportunity to wish all women a happy, memorable and impactful Pan African Women’s Day Celebrations.
Honourable Commissioner Maria Teresa Manuela
Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa
31 July 2021