African Union - Gender Equality in Africa



We, the Heads of State and Government of Member States of the African Union, meeting in the Third Ordinary Session of our Assembly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 6-8 July 2004:

Reaffirming our commitment to the principle of gender equality as enshrined in Article 4 (l) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union, as well as other existing commitments, principles, goals and actions set out in the various regional, continental and international instruments on human and women’s rights, including the Dakar Platform for Action (1994), the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW - 1979), the African Plan of Action to Accelerate the Implementation of the Dakar and Beijing Platforms for Action for the Advancement of Women (1999); the Outcome Document of the Twenty-third Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (2000); UN Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003);

Standing by our Decision on gender parity taken at the Inaugural Session of  the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in July 2002 in Durban, South Africa implemented during the Second Ordinary  Session of the Assembly in Maputo, Mozambique, 2003 through the election of five female and five male Commissioners;

Noting with satisfaction that our Decision on gender parity is a historic achievement that does not yet exist in any other continent or regional organizations;

Re-affirming our commitment to continue, expand and accelerate efforts to promote gender equality at all levels;

Determined to build on the progress that we have achieved in addressing issues of major concern to the women of Africa;

Taking cognizance of the landmark decision to adopt the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa during the Second Ordinary Session of the Assembly in Maputo, Mozambique, 2003;

Noting the decision of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission to transform the African Women’s Committee on Peace and Development (AWCPD) into the African Union Women’s Committee (AUWC), which will be located in the Gender Directorate and serve as an Advisory Body to the Chairperson on Gender and Development;

Recognizing that major challenges and obstacles to gender equality still remain and require concerted and collective leadership and efforts from all of us including networks working on gender and development;

Deeply concerned about the status of women and the negative impacts on women of issues such the high incidence of HIV/AIDS among girls and women, conflict, poverty, harmful traditional practices, high population of refugee women and internally displaced women, violence against women, women’s exclusion from politics and decision-making, and illiteracy, limited access of girls to education;

Aware of the policies and programmes we have put in place to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS pandemic as well as the current challenges in this campaign;

Concerned that, while women and children bear the brunt of conflicts and internal displacement, including rapes and killings, they are largely excluded from conflict prevention, peace-negotiation, and peace-buildingprocesses in spite of African women’s experience in peace-building;

Aware of the fact that low levels of women’s representation in social, economic and political decision-making structures and feminisation of poverty impact negatively on women’s ability to derive full benefit from the economies of their countries and the democratization process;

Aware of the digital divide between the North and the South, men and women and the role of information telecommunication technologies (ICTS) in the advancement of the gender issue as stated in the e-gender Forum Declaration of Tunis, May 2004 in preparation for the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) 2005;


1. Accelerate the implementation of gender specific economic, social, and legal measures aimed at combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic and effectively implement both Abuja and Maputo Declarations on Malaria, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Disease. More specifically we will ensure that treatment and social services are available to women at the local level making it more responsive to the needs of families that are providing care; enact legislation to end discrimination against women living with HIV/AIDS and for the protection and care of HIV persons, particularly women; increase budgetary allocations in these sectors so as to alleviate women’s burden of care;

2. Ensure the full and effective participation and representation of women in peace process including the revention, resolution, management of conflicts and post-conflict reconstruction in Africa as stipulated in UN Resolution 1325 (2000) and to also appoint women as Special Envoys and Special Representatives of the African Union;

3. Launch, within the next one year, a campaign for systematic prohibition of the recruitment of child soldiers and abuse of girl children as wives and sex slaves in violation of their Rights as enshrined in the African Charter on Rights of the Child;

4. Initiate, launch and engage within two years sustained public campaigns against gender based violence as well as the problem of trafficking in women and girls; Reinforce legal mechanisms that will protect women at the national level and end impunity of crimes committed against women in a manner that will change and positively alter the attitude and behaviour of the African society;

5. Expand and Promote the gender parity principle that we have adopted regarding the Commission of the African Union to all the other organs of the African Union, including its NEPAD programme, to the Regional Economic Communities, and to the national and local levels in collaboration with political parties and the National parliaments in our countries;

6. Ensure the active promotion and protection of all human rights for women and girls including the right to development by raising awareness or by legislation where necessary;

7. Actively promote the implementation of legislation to guarantee women’s land, property and inheritance rights including their rights to housing;

8. Take specific measures to ensure the education of girls and literacy of women, especially in the rural areas, to achieve the goal of "Education for All" (EFA);

9. Undertake to Sign and ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa by the end of 2004 and to support the launching of public campaigns aimed at ensuring its entry into force by 2005 and usher in an era of domesticating and implementing the Protocol as well as other national, regional and international instruments on gender equality by all States Parties;

10. Establish AIDS Watch Africa as a unit within the Office of the Chairperson of the Commission who should render annual report on HIV/AIDS situation in the continent during annual Summits; and promote the local production of anti-retroviral drugs in our countries;

11. Accept to establish an African Trust Fund for Women for the purpose of building the capacity of African women and further request the African Union Commission to work out the modalities for the operationalisation of the Fund with special focus on women in both urban and rural areas;

12. Commit ourselves to report annually on progress made in terms of gender mainstreaming and to support and champion all issues raised in this Declaration, both at the national and regional levels, and regularly provide each other with updates on progress made during our Ordinary Sessions;

13. We request the chairperson of the African Union Commission to submit, for our consideration, an annual report, during our ordinary sessions, on measures taken to implement the principle of gender equality and gender mainstreaming, and all issues raised in this Declaration both at the national and regional levels.




Subject: Join the campaign, sign the petition for ratification of AU Protocol on Womens rights in Africa now!
Importance: High

Dear Colleagues,

We write to invite you to join an exciting continental campaign spearheaded by the women’s rights organisations Equality Now and FEMNET, together with Oxfam GB, Credo for Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights and Fahamu. The campaign seeks to press African Governments to ratify the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. This advocacy initiative has been well received by African Governments and the African Union Commission during the recently concluded AU Summit. Hon. Graca Machel of Mozambique wrote in support of the campaign; "I urge all African States to ratify the Protocol immediately because African Womens' rights cannot be postponed". So far, 600 people have signed the petition. The Coalition is targeting at least 10,000 by the end of this year.

You can read some more about the campaign below and in the Special Issue of Pambazuka News 162 "Unfinished business" at but for now,

We urge you to;

1) Click on the following URL link to sign the petition on-line or

2) Send text messages to all your colleagues and friends in your address book alerting them to the petition and fowrard this to them in an email.

3) Forward this in an email to listserves and human rights or social justice organisation in Africa Send your details to and
we will post you pamphlets to distribute.

4.) Contact if you require a translation of this request into French

5.) If you are from the following countries write to the coordinators of the campaign working at country level and ask for what activities are underway and how you can lend support to their initiatives;
Guinea Conakry   - Dr Morissanda KOUYATE, SG CPTAFE, Guinea Conakry
Uganda           - Sarah Mukasa,Akina Mama wa Afrika
Nigeria          - Saudatu Mahdi, WRAPA
Gambia           - Hannah Forster, ACDHRS,
Kenya            - Anne Gathumbi - Masheti, COVAW

Rose Gawaya  (Gender Advisor-SA)  Irungu Houghton (Pan African Policy Advisor) Debra Bucher (Gender Advisor-WA)                    



 For a copy of the protocol go to or email me

                      To African Union Heads Of State

                            Your Excellencies:

Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa

We the undersigned write to you regarding the ratification of the Protocol on the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa by member states of the African Union and urge your Excellencies  to ensure the fast tracking of its ratification by your respective  governments by the next Heads of States Summit in July December 2004.

As you will recall, the Protocol was adopted in July 2003 during the Second  Ordinary Session of the Heads of States held in Maputo. Its adoption was celebrated by African women, women's and human rights organizations in  Africa and the diaspora as a major step towards finally securing a legal and rights framework for the protection and advancement of the human rights of African women.

 However, one  weeks before  its first anniversary only 29 31  of the AU's 53 member states have signed the Protocol and only one three  (Comoros, Libya and Rwanda) has have ratified it. This record undermines   the stated intention of African governments to protect and promote the  rights of all their peoples.

  Many women and their families experience social, cultural and economic rights abuses and political discrimination on a daily basis. Physical violence, vulnerability to life-threatening diseases most notably HIV/AIDS, poor educational opportunities and legal barriers around rights to property  combine to keep women in Africa as second class citizens as well as  inhibiting their ability to contribute fully to the prosperity of the continent.

 Our call for the urgent ratification of the Protocol by all countries of  the African Union deserves your serious consideration. Ratification will  send a clear signal that women and men can and should enjoy equal rights and responsibilities. This enjoyment, in turn, will realise benefits to the  whole of the continent.

 We in civil society share the dream of the Heads of States that Africa's social, economic and political well-being rests on enabling women's  resourcefulness at this time. We trust therefore that you will recognize the urgency of the situation and will facilitate the speedy ratification of the Protocol thereby completing the good work that your Excellencies began   in Maputo last year.

                              Yours Sincerely

 Mary Wandia, African Women's Development & Communication Network (FEMNET)    – continental organization Kenya
     Faiza Jama Mohamed, Equality Now, Africa Regional Office, Kenya
   Rotimi Sankore, Credo CREDO for Freedom of Expression and Associated   Rights, England UK
                      Firoze Manji, Fahamu, EnglandUK
                    Rose Gawaya, Oxfam GB, South Africa
                Sarah Mukasa, Akina Mama wa Afrika, Uganda
              Mourissanda Kouyate, SG CPTAFE Guinea (Conakry)
                       Saudatu Mahdi, WRAP, Nigeria
                        Anne Gathumbi, COVAW, Kenya
                       Hannah Foster, ACDHRS, Gambia
                 Gladys M’Sodzi Mutukwa, WiLDAF, Zimbabwe
  Nairobi, London, Oxford, Pretoria, Kampala, Conakry, Abuja, Harare and
                           Serrekunda July 2004

                          And close to 600 others


The target of the campaign is to petition African Governments to ratify and popularise the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa.  The Protocol covers a broad range of human rights issues and is a comprehensive legal framework that African women can use to exercise their rights. “Once it enters into force the Protocol will be a powerful new tool to achieve equal rights for women in Africa. It could well serve as a model for the rest of the world,” said Faiza Jama Mohamed, Africa Regional Director of Equality   Now.

This initiative follows positive responses by African leaders during the recent African Union Executive Council and Assembly meetings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to a campaign for the ratification of a protocol that enshrines the rights of women. The coalition is spearheaded by the women’s rights organisations Equality Now and FEMNET, together with Oxfam, Credo for Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights and Fahamu. For a more detailed review of the progress so far in a number of African countries and at a regional level click on this update.

African countries have been slow to follow through. So far only three countries, the Comoros, Rwanda and Libya has ratified. Twelve more countries are required for the protocol to come into force. Echoing concerns about the lack of political will on the part of African countries to push forward with ratification, Mary Wandia of FEMNET noted, “Until it comes into force, the rights granted to women in the Protocol will simply remain hypothetical and the tedious lobbying efforts undertaken by civil society groups to ensure that the Protocol  reflects a comprehensive list of rights for women will all be wasted.”

Last week, we launched an innovative campaign to get sign ons by SMS. “To our knowledge, this is the first time that SMS technologies will have been used on a mass scale on the African continent in support of human rights,” said Firoze Manji, Director of Fahamu, a human rights organisation that developed the facility. “The facility enables those with poor on non-existent internet access to sign the online petition and takes advantage of the fact that there are nearly eight times more mobile phone users compared to email users in Africa.” The initiative has been made possible through the support of the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada, and Oxfam GB.

In the light of the UK Treasury announcement that UK aid is set to increase by UKŁ1 billion from next year, this technology could further assist to ensure that Africanpeople can influence the way that these funds will be spent in Africa. The use of such mass based technology is going to be critical in getting people’s voices heard in the 2005 G8 meetings to be chaired by Britain’s Tony Blair,” said Irungu Houghton, Oxfam’s pan Africa Policy Advisor.

Africa currently has 52 million mobile phone users and figures indicate that the continent has caught on to the global SMS fad, with 450 million SMS messages sent in December 2002, compared to 350 million for December 2001, nearly a 30% increase in one year. As one of the fastest growing mobile phone markets, Africa is set to reach 67 million mobile phone users by the end of 2004.

ends (but we assure you this is only the beginning).



                   The Reality for African Women and the
 These facts and summary of the Protocol first appeared in Pambazuka News 162, July 2004

Armed Conflict, Violence and the Right to Peace and Safety
African women are increasingly playing a critical role in peace building efforts and conflict resolution in Africa. In conflicts flashpoints such as Darfur-Sudan and DRC among others, women and girls are vulnerable to all forms of violence including sexual violence and exploitation, torture, rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and trafficking.

In many parts of Africa, violence against women is shocking. A survey by the Kenyan Women Rights Awareness Program revealed that 70% of men and women interviewed, were aware of neighbours who beat their wives. In South Africa, it has been estimated that a woman is raped every 83 seconds, while in Zimbabwe, domestic violence accounts for more than 60 per cent of murder cases at the Harare High Court.

What the protocol says:
¤     Every woman is guaranteed the right to peace.
¤     Women refugees must be accorded full protection and benefits guaranteed under international refugee law.
¤     States parties are required to reduce military expenditure significantly in favour of spending on social development in general and the promotion of women in particular.
¤     States must ensure the full participation of women in processes for conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation.
¤     The protocol calls for education to end harmful practices and stereotypes that negatively impact on women.
¤     States should introduce measures to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women including the provision of budgetary and other resources to prevent violence against women.

Economic disempowerment and the right to a livelihood
In sub-saharan Africa, women comprise 60 per cent of the informal sector, provide about 70 per cent of total agricultural labour and produce about 90 per cent of the food. However, they receive less than 10 per cent of total credit to farmers. In addition, women in Africa on average work 50 per cent longer than men. Yet despite this contribution, women live in situations of acute insecurity with weak ownership over land, lack of access to resources such as credit and education.

What the protocol says:
¤     Women will be guaranteed the freedom to choose their occupation.
¤     States will adopt measures to promote equality of access to employment; promote the right to equal remuneration for jobs of equal value for women and men; ensure transparency in recruitment, promotion and dismissal of women and punish sexual harassment in the workplace.

Disease, HIV/AIDS and Sexual and Reproductive Rights
Poor health infrastructure, loss of control over women’s sexuality and the right to choose impacts on millions of African women daily. Financial and material dependence on men means that many women in Africa cannot control when, with whom, and in what circumstances they have sex or conceive.

Women account for 55 percent of adults in sub-Saharan Africa with HIV/AIDS. Poor women affected by HIV/AIDS are less economically secure and are often deprived of their rights to housing, property, inheritance and access to adequate health services. In rural areas, AIDS has resulted in the collapse of coping mechanisms that have for long helped women feed their families during times of difficulty and natural catastrophes.

More than 90 million African women and girls are victims of female circumcision or other forms of genital mutilation. Doctors in Cote d'Ivoire, for instance, estimate that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) causes 25 percent of infertility cases amongst Ivorian women. Less than five percent of women in Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Sierra Leone have access to modern contraception. While many countries in Africa have restrictive abortion laws, eleven thousand unsafe abortions occur each day (four million unsafe abortions each year) in Africa.

What the protocol says:
¤     States are required to prohibit and condemn female genital mutilation.
¤     Women and men must have equal rights in relation to marriage.
¤     Obligates governments to guarantee women a right to adequate and paid pre- and post-natal maternity leave.
¤     Recognizes that the reproductive rights of women must be protected through access to abortion in certain circumstances.
¤     Guarantees the right to protection against sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.

Right to Education
Accelerating efforts to get more girls into school is key in meeting the global goal of poverty reduction. Illiteracy rates are still far higher among women than men. At least 9 million more girls than boys are left out of school every year in sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of girls left out of school each year has risen from 20 million in 1990 to 24 million in 2002.

What the protocol says:
¤     States will be required to guarantee equal opportunity and access to women in the sphere of education and training.

Marginalisation and the right to freedom
Some countries still have laws that perpetuate discrimination on the basis of personal status, marital status and violence against women. These include Algeria, Mali, Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Lesotho, Cameroon, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Morocco. Certain customary laws and practices facilitate harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early childhood marriages, forced marriages, inheritance of widows, slavery and trafficking in women, child custody and maintenance and burial laws. In several African countries, women are still regarded as second-class citizens, minors or the property of their husbands.

What the protocol says:
¤     It seeks to highlight the human rights of women in Africa and promote the principles of equality, peace, freedom, dignity, justice, solidarity and democracy.
¤     It covers broad issues including employment, education, voting rights, nationality laws, rights in marriage and divorce, health care, reproductive rights, and equality before the law.
¤     State parties to the protocol will have to adopt legislative, institutional and other measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.
¤     It recognizes the need and seeks the protection of elderly women.
¤     It mandates that any woman whose rights have been violated is entitled to a remedy determined by a competent judicial, administrative, legislative or other competent authority provided for by law.

Right to Participate in Government and Public Affairs
Between 2000 and 2002, number of women parliamentarians increased in 17 out of 23 elections held in sub-Saharan Africa. For instance, South Africa’s parliament this year registered a 10 per cent increase in women representation from 120 to 131. Rwanda, with 49 per cent women representation, has the highest number of women parliamentarians in the world. The overall proportion of women parliamentarians has increased to 32.8 per cent from 30 per cent in 1999. This is double, the average number of women represented in national parliaments. Although Africa is one of the world’s poorest regions, women's representation in parliament is now higher compared to many developed countries.

What the protocol says:
¤     Governments are obliged to promote the participation of women in governance.

                              Irungu Houghton
     Pan-Africa Policy Advisor/Conseiller en Politiques Panafricaines
          Nairobi, Kenya. Website:

Some Relevant Links:

AMANITARE, the African Partnership for the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of women and girls is an initiative of RAINBO -  an African led NGO working to promote and protect African women’s and girl’s rights to sexual and reproductive health . RAINBO 1994 – 2004:  A decade devoted to social change.

Pambazuka News