Interview with Ms Faiza Mohamed

In 2003, the Africa Union (AU) adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Today, only 27 countries have ratified. It is only Rwanda, to the best of my knowledge, that has done a comprehensive review of its laws to {{to make them compatible with the AU women’s protocol. There is renewed push to ratify as more women continue suffering from acts of violence in peaceful countries and those in conflicts.

The Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) is a coalition of 36 civil society organisations across Africa working for the popularisation, ratification and domestication of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Ms Faiza Mohammed, a representative of SOAWR shares her experience working with women who face various challenges every day and policy makers on women’s rights in Africa.

Fahamu: Why is SOAWR in Addis at the AU summit?

Ms Mohammed: Our focus is the AU member states because all governments are present. This is the forum to engage governments and raise awareness on challenges that women continue to suffer. Our mission at the summit is to press more countries to ratify; so far 27 countries have ratified, 26 more to go. We expect more countries to take action during the summit.

Fahamu: How has the protocol ratification process progressed since 2003?

Mohammed: It was surprising that one year after the protocol was adopted, only Comoros had ratified; it was surprising that Comoros, a country famous for coup d’états and mercenaries was caring more for women rights than other countries. We had to engage in an aggressive campaign to make sure more countries ratified.

Fahamu: Comoros was a surprise, is there a country, which is a surprise for not ratifying?

Mohammed: Botswana has not ratified and that is a surprise. The country is considered an elite in terms of women rights. Kenya has also not ratified and Uganda, which will host the next AU summit in July this year, is yet to give its nod.

Fahamu:  How many of the countries that have ratified have domesticated?

Mohammed: There are various ways of domestication. For the francophone countries, once they ratify, it becomes applicable in their local courts. In other countries like Ethiopia, Namibia, and South Africa, there is a constitutional mechanism that makes it part of and parcel of the laws. In other countries like Rwanda, the first step is to review the protocol and identify the gaps between local laws and the protocol. There is a provision in the protocol that if the country has more advanced laws, then the laws can be maintained.
Our concern has been the slow pace of starting the review process. We recently organised training with AU, UNIFEM in conjunction with 14 countries that have ratified, prompting them to start implementation.
We have a framework with UNIFEM, showing how various ministries can implement. For instance, the ministry of health can take care of the health concerns, the interior ministry on issues of protecting women. The framework gives an entrance for all sectors of government to embrace, change the mentality that the onus is on the ministry of gender because it is an issue to do with women.

Fahamu: what are the challenges in your campaign?

Mohammed: One of the major challenges is that it takes long for the information to trickle from AU meetings to the respective governments. At times non governmental organisations have more information than the government officials back home.  When lobbying for implementation, country situations matter. At times countries are in elections, conflict, or in peace negotiations which becomes hard to engage. It is less of a priority for the government to address such things. Legislative mechanisms are also challenging. It takes so long but we try to take advantage of instances like the constitutional review mechanism in Kenya where we can give inputs and cover the ground.

Fahamu: Thank you very much Madam for your time.