Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Safeguarding Rights: Empowering Youths

As part of the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) coalition’s essay competition ('Why is the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa important to you?'), Eunice Kilonzo discusses the strengths and limitations of the protocol.

The Protocol on the rights of women in Africa is important to me due to two major reasons, and probably even three, that it safeguards. First, I am an African, a woman and thirdly a youth. As an African young woman as well as other youths, we are a special resource that requires special attention not only because of the demographic bonus but also of the inert energy that we possess. We are a formidable creative resource that can be harnessed for Africa’s socioeconomic development. The Protocol is important to me as when the African heads of state will be convening in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea they will be discuss about me, about my fellow youths and about our empowerment. The theme of the summit is ‘Youth empowerment for sustainable development’.
In order to achieve the positive outcomes in the areas of education, employment, health and citizenship, to fight poverty among the youth, a holistic approach to youth development has become an urgent matter that should be focused on. The African Youth Charter and its rapid entry into force, the celebration of the Year of African Youth in 2008 and the annual celebration of the African Youth Day every 1st November, the declaration of a Decade (2009-2018) for Youth development, and its approved 10 year-plan of action, are convincing evidences that confirm the continental impetus to the African youth development.
Over time, the youths have been reminded that they are the leaders of tomorrow. However the proverbial tomorrow never comes. As a youth I believe our/my tomorrow has come, our tomorrow in now. Thus by understanding and knowing what the Protocol entails then we will be taking the first steps towards understanding how to achieve sustainable development. Statistically, about 62% of Africa’s overall population fall below the age of 35 and more than 35% are between 15 and 35 years old. Six thousand (6,000) young people are infected with HIV/AIDS everyday all over the world; most of them girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.
On 26 October 2005, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa received its 15th ratification, meaning the Protocol entered into force on 25 November 2005. This date was also significant as it also coincided with the start of the international 16 days of activism on ending violence against women. This marked a milestone in the protection and promotion of women’s rights in Africa, creating new rights for women in terms of international standards.
The Protocol is very crucial for the protection and promotion of women’s rights. For instance in its first Article it calls for equality for all by eliminating discrimination against women. The Protocol urges States Parties to commit themselves to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of women and men through public education, information, education and communication strategies, with a view to achieving the elimination of harmful cultural and traditional practices and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes, or on stereotyped roles for women and men. This Protocol in my opinion is the architecture essential for change. This in a nutshell means that it advocates for the changing of negative power relations, gender inequality and the disempowerment and impoverishment of women in Africa.
In addition, the Protocol in Article 5 calls for the legal prohibition of female genital mutilation. It also asks for the provision of necessary support to victims of harmful practices through health services, legal and judicial support, emotional and psychological counselling as well as vocational training to make them self-supporting. The Protocol further prohibits the abuse of women through all other forms of harmful practices which negatively affect the human rights of women and which are contrary to recognized international standards.  Thus it sets forth a broad range the social welfare rights for women. The rights of particularly vulnerable groups of women, including widows, elderly women, disabled women and “women in distress,” which includes poor women, women from marginalized populations groups, and pregnant or nursing women in detention are specifically recognized. This Article thus protects me and other women from any harmful practices.
Article 6 of the Protocol states that: women and men enjoy equal rights and are regarded as equal partners in marriage. This particular Article is important to me because it clearly spells out that no marriage shall take place without the free and full consent of both parties; thus forced marriages will be a thing for the past especially in some communities in my country. Another great provision is that the minimum age of marriage for women shall be 18 years; thus child brides are no more. Another clause of interest to me is that upon marriage, I shall have the right to maintain my maiden name jointly or separately with my husband's surname. Thus I will not have to go through a long process of paper work to register a new acquired name. In addition, during the marriage, I shall have the right to acquire my own property and to administer and manage it freely.

Article 11 deals with the Protection of Women in Armed Conflicts. It calls for States Parties undertake to respect and ensure respect for the rules of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflict situations, which affect the population, particularly women. A third clause of the Articles denotes that States Parties undertake to protect asylum seeking women, refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons, against all forms of violence, rape and other forms of sexual exploitation, and to ensure that such acts are considered war crimes, genocide and/or crimes against humanity and that their perpetrators are brought to justice before a competent criminal jurisdiction. Also the States Parties shall take all necessary measures to ensure that no child, especially girls under 18 years of age, take a direct part in hostilities and that no child is recruited as a soldier.

The Protocol endorses in Article 12 that the States Parties shall take specific positive action to promote literacy among women, promote education and training for women at all levels and in all disciplines, particularly in the fields of science and technology. They will also promote the enrolment and retention of girls in schools and other training institutions and the organization of programmes for women who leave school prematurely. This coupled with affirmative action promotes the equal participation of women, including equal representation of women in elected office, and calls for the equal representation of women in the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. Articulating a right to peace, the Protocol recognizes the right of women to participate in the promotion and maintenance of peace. This addresses the problem of negative power relations, as few if any women would be allowed let alone be able to hold any office. Interestingly, the recently passed Kenya constitution ensures that more women take up leadership positions. For instance, Ms. Nancy Barasa has been nominated for the position of Deputy Chief Justice among many other women who are at the helm of authority in my country.

This encourages me, a young woman to aspire for an office in any field without fear of being barred by the virtue of being female. In line with Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the non-discrimination clause, which provides that the rights and freedoms enshrined in the charter will be enjoyed by all irrespective of their sex; Article 3, states that every individual will be equal before the law and be entitled to the equal protection of the law. Other Articles of importance to the woman folk include Article 18(3), which is specifically about the protection of the family and promises to ensure the elimination of discrimination against women and protect their rights.
Youth action is critical to the continents development. The Protocol further ensures that girls and women can make equally valued contributions to development especially in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For instance, the Protocol in Article 14 explicitly sets forth the reproductive right of women to medical abortion when pregnancy results from rape or incest or when the continuation of pregnancy endangers the health or life of the mother. This comes in light of the many illegal abortions; pregnancy and childbirth that cause the deaths of at least 250,000 women each year in Africa. This means that Africa and the world at large lose a great number of its natural resource. It reminds me of the recent shocking findings in Congo. Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been raped at a rate 26 times higher than previously thought. The shockingly high number is equivalent to 1,152 women raped every day, 48 raped every hour, or four women raped every five minutes. The rape itself is traumatizing enough not to mention the child conceived from the heinous act. As innocent as the baby is, it will always be a constant reminder to the woman of an event she would rather forget; not to mention other difficulties compounded as a result of the assault. This goes further to show that sexual violence in the DRC is not only a grievous mass violation of human rights but is a security threat to the entire nation.
The Protocol states that women’s sexual and reproductive health is to be both respected and promoted, which is predicated on women’s right to control their fertility and by the obligation of states to provide adequate, affordable and accessible health services. It also demands that governments establish and strengthen existing pre-natal, delivery and post-natal services for all African women. The Protocol enforces the right to self-protection, and to be informed of one’s health status and that of one’s partner. It also provides for health services to cope with the effects of HIV/AIDS.

As a youth, I feel there is a lack of connection in my country between the ministries of justice, finance, of foreign affairs and the ministries of gender/women. This will mean that even with the Protocol in place, the lack of cohesion will lead to gaps in implementation and monitoring and in turn the success of a good cause geared at development of the continent obsolete. The Protocol addresses this concern by elaborating that the States that are signatory to this Protocol are expected to implement and monitor the actualization of the rights provided in the Protocol and, in particular, provide budgetary and other resources for the full and effective implementation of the rights recognized in the Protocol. They are also expected to report on progress in their periodic reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. I share the sentiments of Ugandan activist Sarah Mukasa who noted, there is often a “disconnection between the pronouncements made at regional level and the action taken nationally and locally…domestication and implementation is riddled with challenges that will have to be overcome if the Protocol is to benefit the women it seeks to protect”. She goes on to identify three major obstacles in most countries namely; weak public appreciation of the centrality of constitutionalism and the rule of law, inadequately resourced national gender machinery and lastly, the precedence of entering reservations on progressive clauses.
In conclusion, I know that the Protocol on the rights of Women in Africa is important to me as it safeguards my welfare holistically as well as that of the future generation of women. It is upon me as a youth to be willing and ready to use my potential for the development of mother Africa. I believe an empowered youth is an agent of change. We are critical for the continents development, it is our responsibility. I want to be empowered and bring the change Africa needs. This is a luta continua. Nkozi Africa!!

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