This section casts a lens on the enlightening conversations and invocations that emanated from the sidelines of the Maputo Protocol at 20 Celebrations. It focuses on the subject-focused parallel events hosted by civil society organizations that attracted hundreds for joint discussions and deliberations.
1. Nurturing Feminist Leadership
The foundation of the African feminist movement rests on the trailblazers who shattered barriers, propelling the rise of feminism and gender equality across the continent.
Nurturing Feminist Leadership: Bridging the Gap between Theory and Reality
The African feminist movement’s evolution owes much to mentorship, shaping a legacy of empowerment. Yet, the journey from theory to lived experiences, particularly with the Maputo Protocol, remains a focal point for policymakers and stakeholders in women’s empowerment.
Amidst this context, Equality Now orchestrated an enlightening mentorship dialogue under the YW4A initiative. Young women engaged with those who championed the rights they now enjoy, exploring strategies, actors, media’s role, and opportunities that catalysed change. Esteemed voices like Equality Now’s Global Executive Director Mona Sinha, Africa Regional Director Faiza Mohammed, Head of Programmes Judy Gitau, SOAWR Steering Committee and Focal point for North Africa, Samia Melki and Africa Steward Women Organisation’s Josephine Chandiru dissected the journey that led to the present moment of reclaimed rights.
Panelists at the YW4A Side Event during the Maputo Celebrations.
At the core of this dialogue rested a poignant exploration of the role that mentorship played in the endeavours of women who ardently advocated for the ratification of the Maputo Protocol within South Sudan. Josephine Chandiru, representing the Africa Steward Women Organization, emphasised, “At STEWARD, we are a women-led organisation. Our focus from 2009 was a robust awareness campaign. In 2012, a pivotal turning point was the collaborative training with Equality Now on employing the protocol for legal action. This propelled us forward with newfound vigour.”
Chandiru insightfully articulated that the strategies harnessed to enhance awareness and promulgate the significance of the Maputo Protocol germinated from grassroots-level mentoring, giving them the energy to begin campaigns on matters of gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health amidst the civil war that the country experienced. This mentorship acted as a driving force, imbuing the movement with momentum and strength, forcing the South Sudan government to ratify the protocol.
Over decades, African women have demonstrated resilience, pioneering achievements, and relentless dedication in advocating for their rights, thereby advancing the cause of gender equality. This resounding momentum culminated in a significant juncture on July 11, 2003, when the African Union formally embraced the Maputo Protocol in the face of an African Union leadership predominantly dominated by males. Faiza Mohammed, the Executive Director at Equality Now, echoed the sentiment that this gender disparity did not deter their collective determination to secure a prosperous future for the continent’s women.
As the mentorship dialogue unfolds, drawing lessons from the experiences of South Sudan, the narrative underscores the remarkable synergy between the wisdom derived from experience and the fervour of youth. Mentorship sessions provide this ideal setting, where the “old guard” brings forth the hard-earned insights gained through years of dedicated activism. Their stories resonate with the challenges they have overcome, the battles they’ve fought, and the victories they’ve achieved. On the other hand, young women entering the advocacy arena are fueled by a deep passion for change, armed with fresh ideas and untamed determination.
2. Article 14: Crafting Narratives of Change
Amid debates surrounding the Maputo Protocol’s stance on abortion, legal scholars offer a fresh perspective on African human rights standards, pushing for full decriminalisation.
Accelerating the Promise for African Women and Girls
While the Maputo Protocol demands the decriminalisation of abortion based on specific grounds, an approach that has been widely criticised, some legal scholars have argued that African human rights standards actually provide robust language to advocate for the full decriminalisation of abortion. According to stakeholders and human rights activists within the feminist spaces, such a hindrance is detrimental to the gains made by the existence of the Maputo Protocol.
During a side event organised by Ipas Africa Alliance in partnership with Hon. Sallah Njie, the special rapporteur for women’s rights in Africa and Ipas francophone/ODAS, that set to provide a platform for sharing innovation and ideas on how to advance the campaign among other agendas, Buky Williams proclaimed, ” No one will come to save us, all we have is ourselves.”
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Lead at Akina Mama Wa Afrika, Buky Williams.
As the torchbearer for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights at Akina Mama wa Afrika, a feminist Pan-African leadership development organisation with headquarters in Kampala, Uganda, Buky provoked introspection among her audience questioning whether they were good movements persons, Recalling Latin America’s synergy of doctors, media influencers, young activists, and symbolic green visual cues, she emphasised the potency of such a holistic approach.
The African Commission’s resolute stance is captured in its General Comment 2, which unequivocally asserts that women should be spared criminal proceedings and legal sanctions when accessing health services, including abortion and post-abortion care. Additionally, a thematic report by the African Commission underscores the inhumanity of denying abortion care, categorising it as torture and cruel punishment. This further urges states to revise penal and criminal laws, ultimately discarding criminal sanctions associated with abortion and halting the prosecution and detention of women with illegal abortions.
Buky’s rallying cry centred on the essence of narrative crafting, advocating for voices that authentically represent women’s perspectives. She drew from the example of MTV Shuga, an impactful television drama series that evolved into a multimedia campaign—a beacon for responsible sexual behavior, maternal and child health, family planning, gender-based violence, and women’s empowerment. As her address concluded, her words reverberated: “We must actively counter disinformation, bridging truths to eradicate falsehoods. This endeavour transcends generations.” Her sentiments found an echo in Hon. Sallah Njie’s call for creative advocacy, reminding all that this challenge isn’t alien; our predecessors paved the way.
3. Bridging Generations: Women Leaders Advancing Equality Across Ages
Each generation builds upon the foundation laid by its predecessors. Just as the past provided a stepping stone, the present strengthens its shoulders for the future to come. Intergenerational dialogue forums unite diverse age groups, igniting conversations between seasoned leaders and millennials. These exchanges seek mutual understanding, aiming to collectively dismantle barriers obstructing the path of women and girls.
Handing Over the Baton: Fostering Leadership Across Generations
Stepping into a room opposite the main hall celebrating Maputo at 20 Celebrations on the 4th floor of the Movenpick Hotel in Nairobi on the afternoon of 10th July, one instantly recognises the environment’s progressive nature. This is a space that prioritises accountability and doesn’t shy away from bold discussions. The vibrant atmosphere, thoughtful inquiries, accolades, empowerment efforts, and distinctive flair are infectious, defining the essence of a secure feminist enclave. It’s important to recognise that all these attributes find their source in Dr. Emma Kaliya, FEMNET’s former Chairperson and now an advisor to its board. A pioneering feminist force with more than 25 years of involvement in the women’s rights movement. Her authoritative presence is undeniable, marked by clarity, directness, and steadfastness.
Dr. Emma Kaliya and young feminist Activist from Ghana Bernice.
Dr. Kaliya is one among several panelists in the Intergenerational Dialogue on Women in Political Participation, co-hosted by International Idea and FEMNET. Trailblazers from the Protocol’s inception, seasoned and young politicians, advocates, and influencers convene for this potent discourse. She noted a dwindling interest in discussions about women in political leadership, as they are seen as non-threatening, a stark contrast to the constitutional crises often associated with male political leaders.
Dr. Kaliya asserted that when they first started out in gender activism, they did not have a phrase for young women. Nobody addressed them as young women. However, they learned early on to pay close attention when political leaders contributed in high-level forums and would push a note with changes to their contributions. If they did not want to heed to the advice, they would push for a tête-à-tête outside the halls after their presentation.
‘‘How do you fear your own government? I do not fear my government. I respect my government. End of story’’ posed Dr. Kaliya.
Deregistration, according to Dr. Kaliya, “should not be a barrier to campaigning for women’s rights as long as you are standing for the truth without disrespecting political authorities, whether they be the president or ministers. The 50% allocation for women in political leadership is indispensable.”
“When I hear a women rights defender who says ‘but we cannot say the other things because they are going to deregister my organization.’ Then you know…confused! Not welcomed to be part of this space,” states Dr. Kaliya. She further states ‘‘I will not insult the president or his cabinet. I go up to them and say, “Mr. President, don’t you think you committed to honouring women’s rights when you took your oath?”
She challenged young women to be courageous because their time has come. She encouraged young women to go to the grassroots communities and unpack feminism for them in a manner that is digestible so that they can be empowered, too, without leaving no one behind. This can be accomplished by cooperating with member states rather than dismissing them. She asserts that over the years, they were able to amend numerous laws because they employed a language that all member states could understand.
On the question on the kind of spaces that women should occupy in political leadership posed by a participant in the discussion – Bernice, a young woman activist from Ghana, Dr. Kaliya quips back, “Us we are tired now… we cannot continue. We are giving space to the young women. Your time has come.’’
Dr. Emma Kaliya was speaking during the Maputo Protocol@20: High-Level Intergenerational Dialogue on Women in Political Participation side event that focused on sharing strategies on promoting women’s political participation and sharing platforms from countries that have not signed or ratified the protocol with those that have. The Side event was co-hosted by Idea International and FEMNET.