African Girls and Young Women in all their diversities converged recently in Nairobi, Kenya for the SheLeads 3rd AGYW Festival as part of the ongoing 20th Anniversary celebrations of the Maputo Protocol. Our reporter Clifford Akumu caught up with Esther Nyawirah, the Pan-African SheLeads Coordinator at FEMNET at the sidelines of the event to take stock of the Maputo Protocol 20 years on in Nairobi, Kenya. Nyawirah talks about what the Maputo Protocol means to the African women and young girls.
What would be the role of African governments in propping up women to take leadership positions and or be on the political decision-making tables?
Nyawirah: African governments need to be intentional. We want to see the government supporting the agenda of young women and girls’ leadership by making structures, systems, decision-making platforms, and processes more accessible and inclusive to girls. They also need to finance these processes.
The issue of young girls and women’s inclusion is not just an issue that falls under the Ministry of Gender, it’s something that should be in every institution, drawing the same level of attention and energy we see being put on issues of taxation contained in the Finance Bill. Why is it that only a few people, in Kenya for example, know about the Maputo Protocol? It’s because we are not intentional about it as a country.
More so, a country that is not prioritizing the issues of girls and young women will remain in a vicious circle of poverty.
A decade ago, African governments adopted the Maputo Protocol, an instrument whose aim was to define the rights of women and girls across the continent. What are the hits and misses of this document?
Nyawirah: The gains so far are that 44 countries have ratified the Maputo Protocol. The miss is that three countries have never signed and the fact that eight countries are yet to ratify but have signed the document.
One of the chief gains from the Maputo Protocol is that of the 44 countries who have ratified the document, we can now be able to hold them accountable but the biggest loss again is how many countries are reporting every year and how many countries have also lifted the reservations that they had? It’s a mixed feeling because we are gaining here and losing in other areas. African governments need to listen to what girls and young women need because all they want is for their rights to be respected and dignified.
Has this instrument improved the lives of girls and women across Africa and Kenya in particular?
Nyawirah: Since its adoption, the Maputo Protocol has led to several impacts on the lives of women and girls across the continent, including Kenya. At least we have seen girls and young women from marginalized communities going to school. We have seen allies come out to speak against harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage and the fact that women have already been empowered we have seen a provision in the Constitution whose implementation in Kenya, for example, has enabled women to become citizens.
There have been improvements even in terms of inclusion, a little bit but that is just the case of Kenya.In some countries, they are still very much behind.
African Women leaders have been singing about ratification, domestication, and implementation of the Maputo Protocol. What should African governments do to realise the full potential of this instrument?
Nyawirah: The message to the various African governments is that girls and young women are watching, and they can see which governments are disregarding and disrespecting their rights and which ones are silencing them. Our vision is to see every young woman or girl thriving where they are, living with dignity, walking to the market or school and nobody is harassing them, where perpetrators of gender-based violence are held accountable. Their human rights are respected regardless of where they come from, or whether they have a disability.
In Kenya, for example, we are still struggling with the two-thirds gender rule, several years after the implementation of the 2010 Constitution?
Nyawirah: The President can achieve this by making a commitment or declaration, and it shouldn’t be a big issue. But maybe the Judiciary is the one that can help us because we kept on saying that the previous parliament was unconstitutional but nothing happened. As you know, there is a lot of disregard for court orders.
As civil society, we are still trying to see what it is that we have not done and needs to be acted on even if the president would make it a commitment.
How can young women and girls’ voices be part of the decision-making process and take part in leadership positions?
Nyawirah: Girls and young women are ready to take up positions. But over time they have been left behind or secluded. Hence on the issue of inclusion, we could not even emphasize it more, African governments need to be very intentional about it.
Worth noting, is that several girls and young women are already leading at national and country levels and there is a lot that they are doing and there is a need to amplify their voices and actions. To realize their impact, these girls can not do it on their own, they need to be supported by the civil society, the various governments, and the private sector.
Kindly tell us a little bit about the She Leads Program and its impact on African women and girls’ rights?
Nyawirah: She Leads is an initiative of several organizations including FEMNET, Plan International, and Defence for Children among others. And one of our major impacts has been to see young girls taking up leadership positions in their respective spheres of influence, in schools; we have one girl who is the secretary general of a Ghanaian University and also give girls the opportunity to represent the voice of the youth in high-level forums such as the Maputo Protocol-where one of the girls made opening remarks.
We are trying to penetrate those policy spaces that for a long time have left girls and women behind. And from the AGYW meeting today, we are now working on forming a strong women and girls movement from the regional level.
And what is the role of men in fighting for the rights of women and young girls?
Nyawirah: Both men and boys play a key role in promoting the rights of girls and women. They have to be allies and at the forefront. Men and boys need to speak about the rights of girls and women publicly.