In July 2018, the Africa Regional Dialogue on Advancing Gender Equality and Rights took place in Nairobi, Kenya. Experts from civil society from all over the world joined forces to explore what remains to be done to realise women’s rights in Africa. At the forefront of the discussions were key issues such as the prevention of HIV, gender-based violence against women, harmful practices and reproductive health and rights.
On July 2 and 3, diverse actors across Africa joined forces at the first Africa Regional Dialogue to discuss the state of women and girls’ rights on the African continent. More precisely, the status of implementation of African women’s rights commitments as put forth in continental policy frameworks such as the Maputo Protocol (2003) and the Maputo Plan of Action (2016) were under scrutiny. As such, the two-day conference allowed for mutual exchange and joint strategising between 180 stakeholders from 45 countries and multilateral institutions, such as the African Union and . They explored possible ways forward that help African countries to implement their policies to make gender equality a reality.
‘Here in Africa, one in ten girls aged 15 to 19 becomes a mother’, says Heide Richter-Airijoki from the German development agency GIZ, head of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) commissioned bilateral programme ‘Support to the Kenyan Health Sector’ in her keynote speech. ‘It is our job as international community, policy makers, and civil society, health-care and education providers to make sure that women and girls are not deprived of their opportunity to strive.’ Striving means that every woman and girl on the African continent should be able to live a self-determined life – free from discrimination, violence and sexual coercion. This includes having access to comprehensive sexuality education and modern contraceptives so she is able to protect herself against unintended pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. ‘We believe that women can only achieve their full potential, if you enable them to make life choices based on knowledge and evidence, and the appropriate access to health services.’
For this purpose, the first day of the conference was dedicated to the launch of the State of African Women research report that was developed under the EU-funded Right by Her campaign. The report analyses gaps in the implementation and monitoring of women’s rights commitments on the continent. Attention was given to the four core rights areas put forth in the report: HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence against women, reproductive health and rights, and harmful practices. The results informed the participants of the dialogue coming from Africa, Europe and Asia with the knowledge necessary to engage in solution-driven dialogues that advocate for change.
‘You are the voice to claim the rights for those who cannot speak up!’
On a broader scale, the evidence from the report and the knowledge acquired are crucial for the empowerment of civil society organisations (CSO), notably the advocacy network Africa CSO League on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. First, through the increased awareness of policy gaps and contestations, CSOs are better prepared to influence future positioning and implementation of legal and social norms. Second, the evidence base provided by the report enables them to raise their voice to hold decision-makers accountable to their commitments. As the powerful presence and active engagement of youth, activists and religious leaders, health practitioners and journalists in the conference discussions showed: They stand unified – no matter what their background is – to represent the voice of millions of women and girls in Africa. Moreover, their diverse backgrounds make sure that the results will reach a broad audience across the continent.
To equip civil society with the necessary tools to further accelerate their efforts, a policy tracking tool was developed with the support of International Planned Parenthood Africa Region and GIZ. The policy tracking tool, which was presented to the audience on the first day of the event, is an online platform that provides a comprehensive list concerning women’s rights policies, especially sexual and reproductive health and rights policies, in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.
ICPD@25 – A programme under review
At the same time, the conference provided a space to discuss the forthcoming 25-year review process of the Cairo Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. The Cairo Programme of Action acknowledges the full realisation of human rights as being essential for eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development for all. It was adopted by UN Member States in 1994 and is reaffirmed in its five-year review conferences that lay out the status of implementation, as well as the annual session of the UN Commission on Population and Development for policy guidance. The programme sets out a milestone for women’s rights across the world as it recognised the right to sexual and reproductive health, based on human rights and the empowerment of women and girls. Under the leadership of the United Nations Population Fund and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, conference participants engaged in thematic discussions to reflect on achievements, emerging issues and effective policies as well as their implementation on the ground in support of the International Conference for on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action. Civil society made clear that they will defend what has been fought hard for with the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development, the African regional ICPD review document of 2013 (ICPD plus 20). Therefore, a committee of about 25 participants engaged in drafting a joint statement called “The Africa We Want” to be brought forward by CSOs during the African Ministerial meeting in October in Ghana.