SMS and awareness raising about the African Women’s Rights Protocol

March 5, 2008 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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African Women’s Protocol

Though I am a few years late reporting this, I was excited to learn that women used an SMS campaign that spanned Africa to get governments to ratify the African Women’s Protocol of Rights. Though it took eight years of negotiation to create the protocol, now ratified by 23 out of 53 African countries– the real challenge remains getting the word out.

The protocol is significant because it is able to address cultural and traditional practices specific to Africa, such as polygamy, female genital mutilation (FGM), land ownership, and sexual cleansing. But once the protocol was written, the struggle for implementation and awareness was just beginning. It received significant media coverage, but to reach grassroots women, community organizers used flip charts to explain to women that they have rights.

“Assisting women to demand the rights of the protocol is challenging because most women are not literate. We have to ensure every woman knows about the protocol, it is a big issue,” said Rose Gawaya, Oxfam Global Gender Adviser, speaking to the Commission on the Stats of Women.

Oxfam has even conducted a study of awareness levels about the protocol since it entered into force in 2004.

The charter is gaining traction in some countries legal systems. In Zambia, the Protocol has been used to implement a new policy that requires 30% of advertised land to go to women in title.

Still, educating women parliamentarians about the protocol and the importance of rights policies for women is urgently needed. Even when women have political power, it does not mean they can enforce their rights.

In Mozambique, where 92 out of 252 parliamentarians are women, a bill on violence against women has been stalled in the legislature for one year. According to women advocates, no one is supporting it, and the women in power in the parliament do not have enough power to influence processes.

Many women’s rights advocates have the protocol at the center of their work, using it as a catalyst for policy change and teaching about human rights. “This is a tool that can be used in national development strategies because it is a legitimate tool for governments, but it was created by women’s movement and articulates struggles of domestic violence and widowhood,” said Gawaya.

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