8 March 2022, Banjul, the Republic of The Gambia
The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Honourable Commissioner Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie, on behalf of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), and on her own behalf, is honoured to wish all African women, and indeed all women across the world a splendid International Women’s Day today, March 8, 2022.
This day is an opportunity for women across the world, and on the continent to take stock of the state of gender-based issues, the achievements, and the opportunities. The theme for this year ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’ speaks to the contribution that women and girls make towards the mitigation of climate change to create a sustainable future for everyone. This is a pertinent issue for women in Africa as research has shown climate change as an exacerbating factor for armed conflict, which continues to plague the continent. Further, women’s full participation and contribution to the climate change adaption can be guaranteed by their adequate access to information and participating in knowledge management through the safe use of Information Communications Technology (ICT). Therefore, this International Women’s Day, is an opportune moment to reflect on the plight of women in armed conflict and the challenges African women face in participating online as hindrances to achieving gender equality.
The African Union (AU) has continuously reinforced its efforts to put an end to violence against women in different spheres. In addition to the unequivocal prohibition of violence against women in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) different initiatives continue to be taken to combat this scourge. Among others Resolution 283 of the Commission on the Situation of Women and children in armed conflict (ACHPR/Res 283 (LV)2014) and the Guidelines on combating sexual violence and its consequences in Africa provide clear measures that need to be implemented in order to put an end to sexual and gender based violence.
Despite these and other measures, violence against women in armed conflict continues. Scores of women are subjected to rape, sexual slavery and mutilation among other violations as a way to punish, intimidate or control them during war. It has deeply horrific consequences on individuals, family units and communities. And yet according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, sexual violence during armed conflict is grossly under-reported. There is stigma associated with sexual crimes against an individual, and in African tradition issues of a sexual nature remain largely taboo. This also means that there is limited accountability for the perpetrators. There are also inadequate laws to deal with the psychological violence that women suffer as a result of violence during armed conflict. This is especially alarming as it has now become apparent that the very present challenges brought on by climate change are contributing to conflict as states fight for the fast-dwindling natural resources. The converse is also true where women displaced by conflict are finding themselves battling food insecurity in new lands affected by climate change or indeed, they find themselves displaced due to climate change.
The role of women in mitigating climate change and effectively taking part in conflict-prevention can only be enhanced by their consistent access to information through ICT. Their access to information also positively impacts the growth of development on the continent and helps to end the cycle of poverty. This is why in the AU’s Agenda 2063 there is emphasis on the availability of adequate ICT infrastructures and internet for Africans as a right. However, the digital space is proving to be unsafe for a lot of women, as the patriarchal hegemony they battle with offline continues online. According to UN Women, a staggering 73% of women who access the internet have suffered some form of violence online. Violence against women is being metered out through email, WhatsApp, Facebook, twitter, tinder and any other social media that is out there. Sharing of intimate pictures for the purposes of shaming or in retaliation for rejection of male advances is common. In some instances, women have lost financially and become victims of offline assault that was initiated online for example through dating sites. All of this has the effect of making women feel unsafe online and discouraging the use of useful ICT platforms by women and girls.
However, all is not lost, and we continue to press on with efforts to ensure that violence against women whether in conflict, in time of peace or online is eradicated. In doing so we need to break the cycle of stigmatisation and culture of silence against sexual and gender-based violence in order to be able to identify the survivors and ensure their adequate care. This is a process that requires constant sensitisation with communities as well as offering more robust protection mechanisms for survivors to encourage opening up. It is important to review legislative frameworks in order to weed out discriminatory laws that exacerbate violence against women in order to afford them better protection. As new technologies arise every day, we need to continuously educate ourselves on the ways in which these can be used by women to empower themselves and at the same time ensure safety measures for women to safely access them. An informed woman is an empowered woman, therefore the implementation of all existing laws on cyber-security and the enactment of more robust ones should remain on the agenda of every African state.
The theme for this year ‘gender equality for today for a sustainable tomorrow’ underlines the importance of ensuring ultimate gender equality in order to allow women to take up their important role in creating a sustainable future. Continuous efforts to give women an opportunity to lend their voice and expertise to mitigating climate change is a step towards the continued livelihood of our planet. These efforts should begin by levelling the playing field for women, ensuring gender equality by eradicating violence against women and creating platforms for them to take up the mantle towards a sustainable future. On this International Women’s Rights Day, the Special Rapporteur honours and applauds every woman who despite obstacles in their way continues to fight the good fight for a better tomorrow!
Honourable Commissioner Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie
Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa of the ACHPR
 OHCHR ‘Conflict related sexual and gender based violence: Mapping report Central Africa Republic’ (2017).
UN Women ‘Safe digital spaces: Protection of women and girls form technological violence’ (2019) Background Paper