Women’s rights are human rights. Thirty years after the adoption of CEDAW, many women and girls still do not have equal opportunities to realize rights recognized by law. The African Union in 2003 passed The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), which guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, to control of their reproductive health and an end to female genital mutilation.
As of July 2010, 46 countries have signed the Protocol and 28 have ratified it. What needs to be done now is how to better incorporate the rights enshrined in the Protocol into domestic law and how to educate women about the protocol so they can fully enjoy these rights. In Africa, in some countries, women are denied the right to own property or inherit land. They face social exclusion, “honor killings”, FGM, trafficking, restricted mobility and early marriage, among others. Society needs to be fixed so that girls and women can have equal access to health information and services, education, employment and political positions.
Against a backdrop of increasing conflicts, repressive governments and social fundamentalism and cultural backlash, African women have taken on the mantle as human rights defenders over the past two decades.They seek the promotion and protection of civil and political rights as well as the promotion, protection and realization of economic, social and cultural rights. They campaign against torture, domestic violence, equal treatment at work or for land rights and access to credit
Human rights defenders expose violations and campaign for redress for victims. They are all too often both the champions of progress, as well as the victims of repression. Whether as individuals, groups or organs of society, the activities that they carry out in promoting human rights standards is very important. They do all this at enormous risk to their lives and are thus very courageous and their work needs to be highlighted.
In 1998, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on Human rights Defenders, the first UN instrument that recognized the work of human rights defenders as well as their need for protection. Both states and non-state actors have a duty to ensure their protection.
However, according to the Banjul Declaration (2010) women are still considered victims of the constraints of culture, traditional and the patriarchal structure of the society which confine them to a limited role and stigmatize them in their daily activities and highlighted the need to undo the specific threats and attacks faced by women human rights defenders in their daily work.
Mechanisms have been specifically established at the international and regional level for the protection of defenders, and on women human rights defenders and they include but are not limited to;
The mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders (2000)
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights on human rights defenders (2004)
The Human Rights Defenders Unit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2001)
The European Union Guidelines on human rights defenders (2004)
For more information on human rights defenders, please look at the following websites:
www.ishr.ch – International service for human rights
Frontline Protection of Human Rights Defenders. www.frontlinedefenders.org
International Federation for human rights. www.fidh.org
World Organization against torture. www.omct.org/human-right-defenders/
The Carter Center-Human Rights defenders Initiative. www.cartercenter.org