A path to sustainability

8 August 2016
© UNFPA Rwanda

KIGALI, Rwanda – Ministers and gender experts from across Africa convened in Kigali for the African Union high level panel to discuss gender equality and women’s empowerment, ahead of the 27th African Union Summit.

The Maputo Protocol, which entered into force 13 years ago, is a landmark legal instrument that aims to protect the rights of women, including from any form of discrimination and violence.

Yet some have questioned whether it has done much to safeguard the rights of women. The high level panel’s theme, ‘The Contributions of Maputo Protocol on Women’s Rights in Transforming Gender Roles in Africa: Stocktaking, Opportunities and Accountability’, affirmed the Maputo Protocol and interrogated African countries’ commitment to allow women the rights due to them.

Unplanned pregnancies and poor maternal health outcomes hinder the success of programmes and investments put in place to empower women. © UNFPA Rwanda

Dr. Ademola Olajide, Chief of Non-Core Funds at UNFPA, said women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, especially family planning, should be prioritized as authorities set strategies to invest in education, entrepreneurship, health and agriculture, as a means to empower women and tackle gender inequality. It is a basic need and a human right for all women, including adolescents, as clearly articulated in the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, he said.

Unplanned pregnancies and poor maternal health outcomes hinder the success of the programmes and investments put in place to empower women.

“A woman might miss a planting or harvesting season due to maternal health challenges, which affects the productivity and income of the family in the long run,” Dr. Ademola said.

Include rights in RH services

In many African countries, women traditionally have limited rights to take decisions related to family matters, especially when and how many children to have. Larger families are seen as a sign of prestige yet this may negatively affect the health of women, the finances of their families and can be a burden to the nation.

To ensure respect for human rights, and that of women in particular, the inclusion of rights in reproductive health services should be at the forefront of Africa’s commitment in the days ahead. 

Young people are the future and women can be Africa’s biggest asset – but only if they are given access to good health. For this, governments and donors must make the right investments in their future. 

Harmful practices against women and girls

As stipulated in the Maputo Protocol, ‘harmful practices’ means all behaviours, attitudes and/or practices that negatively affect the fundamental rights of women and girls.

State Parties in Article 5 of the protocol commit to the elimination of harmful practices, and prohibit and condemn all forms of harmful practices that negatively affect the human rights of women. However, in most countries girls and women still encounter harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), breast ironing, early child marriage, and sexual and gender-based violence.

The girl who undergoes FGM is the same girl who is taken out of school early to marry. And this is the same girl who dies before she reaches age 20, giving birth to her third unplanned child. - Nafissatou J. Diop, UNFPA Senior Adviser

Nafissatou J. Diop, UNFPA Senior Adviser and Coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM, called for the protection of women who are at risk of being subjected to harmful practices or violence, abuse and intolerance.

“Women should not suffer from such harmful practices because they are the heart of the family. We need to understand that the girl who undergoes FGM is the same girl who is taken out of school early to marry. And this is the same girl who dies before she reaches age 20, giving birth to her third unplanned child. There is a long-term impact of harmful practices across the life-span of a woman. The long chain of discrimination starts with marking the girl’s body with FGM. No matter how limited resources are, governments and partners should support girls and women’s access and rights to sexual and reproductive health,” Dr. Diop said.

Empower us and invest in our education to support the fulfillment of our dreams and aspirations towards the Africa We Want. - Wudalat, an Ethiopian teenage girl

“When the whole community values and protects girls and they receive sexual and reproductive health information, they are able to stand up for themselves.” They are better able to meet their full potential, benefiting themselves, their families, their countries and the world.

Wudalat, an Ethiopian teenage girl committed to the Gender is My Agenda Campaign in Kigali, said: “We are just like boys. It’s unfortunate that the countries we are born in have cultural malpractices that affect our ability to prove to the world that we can contribute to the prosperity of our country and continent. Empower us and invest in our education to support the fulfillment of our dreams and aspirations towards the Africa We Want.”