The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) is the main legal instrument for the protection of the rights of women and girls in Africa. Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol guarantees women’s right to health, including sexual and reproductive health.
Women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health include: the right to control their fertility, the right to decide the number of children and the spacing of children, the right to choose any method of contraception, and the right to have family planning education.
Under Article 14 (2) (c) of the Maputo Protocol, States Parties are called upon to take all appropriate measures to “protect the reproductive rights of women by authorizing medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus”.
It should be noted that the Maputo Protocol is the very first treaty to recognize abortion, under certain conditions, as women’s human right which they should enjoy without restriction or fear of being prosecuted.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) welcomes the ratification of this important instrument by the majority of AU Member States. However, the African Commission notes that many countries are yet to undertake the necessary legislative reforms towards domesticating the relevant provisions, including in the area of women’s sexual and reproductive rights. As such, in many States Parties, there is still limited access by women and girls to family planning, criminalization of abortion, and difficulties faced by women in accessing safe and available abortion services, including in cases where abortion is legalized.
There are several reasons why this situation which is harmful to women’s physical and mental health still persists, despite the very high daily rate of maternal mortality in Africa.
It is with the objective of reversing this trend that the African Commission adopted General Comment No. 2 on Article 14 (1) (a), (b), (c) and (f) and Article 14 (2) (a) and (c) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa at its 55th Ordinary Session held from 28 April – 12 May 2014 in Luanda, Angola. This General Comment provides interpretive guidance on the overall and specific obligations of States Parties towards promoting the effective domestication and implementation of Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol.
This General Comment is also to be used when drafting and presenting State periodic reports, to report on the legislative and other measures taken to promote and protect the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls.
The African Commission wishes to express its gratitude to Ipas Africa Alliance for its valuable contribution on all issues relating to sexual and reproductive rights and its technical support towards the preparation of the General Comment.
Commissioner Soyata Maiga
Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa