Research Handbook on Feminist Engagement with International Law
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Research Handbook on Feminist Engagement with International Law

Edited by Susan Harris Rimmer and Kate Ogg

For almost 30 years, scholars and advocates have been exploring the interaction and potential between the rights and well-being of women and the promise of international law. This collection posits that the next frontier for international law is increasing its relevance, beneficence and impact for women in the developing world, and to deal with a much wider range of issues through a feminist lens.
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Chapter 24: The Maputo Protocol and the reconciliation of gender and culture in Africa

Jing Geng


On 11 July 2003 in Maputo, Mozambique, the Assembly of the African Union adopted a protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights that specifically addresses gender equality. The Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa supplements the general protections guaranteed under the regional human rights instrument. Through its explicit enumeration of state obligations to comprehensively protect African women from discrimination, the Maputo Protocol, as the document is commonly known, affirms and surpasses the scope of women’s rights as outlined in previous international treaties. The Protocol entered into force on 25 November 2005 after Togo was the 15th country to deposit its instrument of ratification. The purpose of the Protocol is to eliminate discrimination against African women and to provide for wide-ranging social, cultural, political, economic and other general welfare rights. The Protocol is highly progressive and comprehensive in its protections. Though it has great potential, it is certainly not perfect. In the intersection between global standards and local values, one strength of the Protocol is its ability to reconcile culture and broader aspirations of gender equality. The instrument aims to affirm positive cultural values while eradicating harmful traditional practices. In contrast to the idea that human rights are culturally intrusive and foreign to Africa, the Maputo Protocol is an instrument that was created by African women for African women. Therefore, it is a product of African origin with African ownership. Throughout the Protocol, three interrelated themes emerge in the implementation of substantive equality for women, those being: governmental commitment, the interaction between local culture and global norms, and women’s voice and agency. Because the Protocol requires and specifies state action to ensure equality, political will and commitment are absolutely necessary. Therefore, the Protocol will only be as effective as the individuals who advocate for its principles. Where institutions are weak or political will is lacking, continuous activism and advocacy by various stakeholders are necessary to achieve substantive improvement in the lives of African women. This chapter will first discuss the shortcomings and gaps in protection of CEDAW and the African Charter to illustrate the motivating forces behind the creation of the Maputo Protocol as well as the underlying tension between global norms and regional culture. Next, this chapter will explain the impetus for the formation of the Maputo Protocol and provide a sociopolitical background for its drafting. What is highlighted is the fact that the Protocol is the product of regional advocacy by African women to address the needs of African women. The discussion then serves as a form of stocktaking to determine whether the Maputo Protocol is indeed more effective than previous instruments in its protection of the rights and dignity of African women. In this respect, this chapter asks the important question of what the Protocol can and actually does contribute to the implementation of gender equality in Africa. The final section emphasises the need for local activism and advocacy at various levels to implement the protections provided for in the Maputo Protocol. Ultimately, the view adopted is that culture and gender equality are compatible and the empowerment of African women can go far in realising and implementing their human rights.

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