Southern African leaders sign long awaited gender protocol

from UN Development Fund for Women
Published on 21 Aug 2008 View Original
Harare - After three years of negotiation, leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), signed into effect the Protocol on Gender and Development amidst celebration from activists. The document was signed at the SADC Heads of State Summit held on 16 and 17 August in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Protocol, a more binding agreement than the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development, which was signed in 1997, has gone through a drafting and approval process that has seen civil society organisations and governments struggling to reach agreement on the critical issues affecting women in the region.

UNIFEM has been closely involved with the SADC Gender Unit and NGO Alliance in the process of drafting the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and will actively participate in advocacy efforts to ensure it is ratified.

The signed Protocol includes several progressive clauses and 23 set targets, including the target that women will hold 50 percent of decision-making positions in the public and private sectors by 2015. According to the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance, a grouping of civil society organisations from the region, other key targets include ensuring that provisions for gender equality are contained in all constitutions and include affirmative action clauses. Additional targets are to halve gender based violence, abolish the legal minority status of women enshrined in many of the member states' constitutions based on the dual legal systems that recognize customary law.

The protocol also calls for stepping up prevention, treatment and support of those affected and infected with HIV and AIDS, and access to Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) in the event of sexual assault. The protocol further makes provision for women's economic empowerment.

Unfortunately, several of the sticking points that had caused dismay amongst gender activists following the review of the draft protocol by the SADC Council of Ministers in August 2007 remain in the protocol. These include the use of the word 'endeavor' instead of 'shall' in some sections, thus watering down the text. In addition, the Ministers had amended or removed some key words, clauses or entire sections of the draft protocol that they felt were either not gender-specific or which they considered controversial. These included marital rape, cohabitation and the rights of vulnerable groups. Further, the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance notes that the contradictions between customary law and constitutional provisions for gender equality are not explicitly addressed.

Whilst celebrating the protocol, activists nonetheless recognize that unless it is quickly ratified by all the member states, the gains will be lost. "It is indeed time to say congratulations, but this is just step one. The heads of state and government have signed but the document requires ratification by two thirds of the same group before it can come into force. We now need to ensure that this happens within the stipulated time," says Abby Mgugu, the director of Women, Land, Water Rights in Southern Africa, a Harare-based NGO.