The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Special Rapporteur) of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights joins the rest of the world to commemorate International Women’s Day. A day set aside to recognise and celebrate women, as well as take stock of the achievements, challenges and struggles to promote and protect the political, economic, social and cultural rights of women globally.
The theme for this year’s celebrations; “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 World”, is apt and timely as it provides an opportunity to showcase the sterling leadership roles of African women including the concrete actions taken at all levels within their communities to contribute to the management and recovery process of the COVID – 19 pandemic; as well as the challenges and struggles they continues to face in achieving gender equality in all spheres of human endeavour and development.
Whilst we acknowledge that the African continent has registered significant milestones in promoting the rights of women including the realisation of gender equality; by putting in place the necessary legal frameworks and mechanisms which have paved the way for African women to ascend to positions of leadership; however, a lot more still remains to be done in bridging the gender gap as women are still underrepresented in public life and in decision making positions.
The continent has only seen nine female Heads of State since it gains political independence from colonial rule to date; but only one, the President of Ethiopia is in active leadership position. Some of these leaders took over the mantle of leadership at very critical moments and led their countries to a peaceful transfer of power.
Many State Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Charter), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa are yet to fully realise the rights enshrined therein. Therefore, it is important to remind ourselves of this state of affairs and call upon all stakeholders including African Governments, National Human Rights Institutions, civil society organisations and African women, to do more, if we truly want to realise the Africa we want as set out in Agenda 2063.
The call for more women in leadership positions to achieve an equal future in the COVID -19 World is also timely because women and girls bore the greatest brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the high levels of gender based violence, sexual and domestic violence meted against them, loss of sources of income and limited access to health and reproductive health care services, but most of the national responses to the pandemic were not adequately gender responsive. Women were equally in the forefront in the fight against the pandemic serving as volunteers, activists, nurses, midwives, care givers, doctors, community health workers, cleaners, launders and caterers. However, the needs of most of these women, especially the health care workers were not prioritized thereby exposing them to health and other social risks.
As we commemorate the International Day of Women today, the Special Rapporteur would once again like to remind African States of their obligations under the Maputo Protocol and other international human rights instruments; including their obligations to take concrete steps to effectively address the challenges occasioned by the pandemic on women and girls in Africa. To this end, an equal representation of women in decision making is crucial to ensure that women’s rights are truly protected. This is important because the UN Secretary General’s Report confirms that, in many countries where women have been in leadership positions, the response to the COVID- 19 pandemic has been particularly effective.
It is our collective responsibility to ensure that our national laws are strengthened, adequate measures are put in place, and innovative approaches are utilised for women to effectively contribute to the development and greatness of our Continent.
The Special Rapporteur therefore reaffirms the commitment of the Commission through her mandate, to continue to work with all its stakeholders and partners with a view to bridging the gender equality gap including ensuring the equal representation of women in public life and in decision making in Africa.
The Special Rapporteur also reiterates its call to African States that have not yet ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to do so, and to harmonise their national laws accordingly to better protect the rights of women.
Finally, the Special Rapporteur wishes all women, a happy and memorable International Women’s Day Celebrations.