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African Union Lauches Decade of the African Women!

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For an African Women's Decade in more than Name Only!

By Christian Benoni

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 10 (IPS/TerraViva) The African Union’s declaration that 2010/2020 is the African Women’s decade will mean little if governments fail to ratify and implement the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women.

Delegates at the Beijing +15 meeting in New York say implementation of the protocol, popularly known as the African women’s protocol, holds the key to advancing the rights of women on the continent. So far, only 27 countries, half of the continent’s nations, have ratified the instrument, regarded as progressive in safeguarding women’s rights.

The protocol, which came into force in 2005, requires state parties to eliminate sexual violence, discrimination and other harmful practices against women, and ensure gender equality and reproductive health rights, as well as the right to inherit property. While some countries have ratified the protocol, lack of implementation has seen continued human rights violations against women.

“The rights to cultivate and transfer customary land in Malawi are still granted by traditional chiefs who do not allow women to own land,” says Luciana Kuboma, a smallholder farmer in the southern African country.

“Women are in the process left poor and cannot even access credit at microfinance institutions because they have nothing to present as collateral,” she adds.

In most parts of Africa, women lose land or matrimonial property to in-laws upon the death of their husbands. Many become destitute because they are unable to use the land to feed their children.

Addressing such traditional practices calls not only for implementing the protocol, but urgent budgets to support the implementation.

“We must now move from rhetoric to action. Our governments must put money into awareness-creation programmes, and building partnerships with religious and cultural institutions so as to change their attitudes towards such practices,” says Elizabeth Musoke of Maarifa Community Women’s Group, based in Nairobi.

Training is also crucial for police and magistrates who handle rape and other sexual violence cases. According to Tina Musuya, executive director of the Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention in Uganda, negative attitudes and blame towards survivors of sexual violence discourage them from reporting crimes.

“We have unsupportive law enforcement officers who mock rape, blaming women for having been scantily dressed at the time of the rape occurred. Also, magistrates reduce jail sentences on rape on pretext that if the head of the house is in jail, the family will have no provider,” she notes.

The situation is similar in neighbouring Kenya, where despite the Sexual Offences Act stipulating a minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum of life imprisonment, offenders are sometimes released after a few months, making the law far less effective as a deterrent.

Kenya is among the countries that have signed but not yet ratified the African women’s protocol. The heat is on now for such countries to “put their money where their mouth is” to ensure women enjoy their human rights, says Musuya.

 

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