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African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women comes into force.

Namibia, as part of the African Union, signed and ratified the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa not long after it was introduced in 2003, being among the first ten countries to take this bold step. When Togo became the 15th country to ratify, the Protocol came into force on 25 November 2005.


Thanks to the intensive lobbying of the Solidarity for African Women's Rights Network, this is the quickest Protocol to come into force in the history of the AU. The rest of the AU member states are now obliged to acknowledge the agreement by signing and ratifying it.

Can the Protocol promote women's rights in Namibia?

Dianne Hubbard, coordinator of the Gender Research and Advocacy Project at the Legal Assistance Centre in Namibia, welcomes the existence of the Protocol but adds that there is need to give a framework to its provisions in the national laws so that women can benefit from Articles dealing with issues such as the elimination of harmful traditional practices.

"What we have gained in Namibia so far has been through activism from women within the country and not from any international instruments. We should not rely on international instruments but deal with our own constitution as well. There are many existing laws that impact on women and are in violation of the constitution," she said.

Hubbard said the experience has been that the international laws buttress the Namibian Constitution. However, she urged that there was need to enact specific laws for the provisions in the AU Protocol to become binding, so that it can be used if a woman has a grievance.

At the moment, "very few women are willing to use our own national laws to sue for maintenance, for example. How then can they even think of using international instruments?" asked Hubbard.

Domesticating the Protocol

The challenge to 'domesticate' the Protocol was the main subject of a conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in September 2005.

Christine Mbala, a chief develop-ment planner in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, who attended the conference, said it was important to note that human rights issues in Namibia were constitutional issues and thus could not be overlooked.

"The ministry responsible for gender is thus mandated to facilitate the popularisation and domestication of the protocol, while at the same time taking into account the role of other stakeholders in both government, parastatals and the private sector in the domestication of the protocol," she said.

To this end the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare conducted a workshop in mid-November, inviting representatives of various government departments and regional councils as well as non-governmental organisations to come up with strategies on the implementation of the provisions in the protocol.

The participants identified the Articles in the Protocol dealing with marriage, divorce, inheritance, harmful traditional practices, the rights of widows, and reproductive health as the key issues for Namibia in which women's rights are still being violated and need protection.
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Author:Mwondela, Chilombo
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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