Unpacking the Maputo protocol …Looking back at 20 years of gains in women’s rights
Published On August 8, 2023 » 1423 Views» By Times Reporter » Features
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ZAMBIA is one of the African countries that ratified the landmark Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
Commonly known as the Maputo protocol, the international instrument has led to tremendous gains in women’s rights, from access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, to equal pay.
The Maputo protocol is one of the most ratified of any instrument in the continent as 49 out of the African Union member states have signed on, and 42 have ratified it since it came into force 20 years ago.
It was adopted by the Heads of State in Maputo in July 2003 and came into force in November 2005, after activism by a number of women’s-rights organisations.
Zambia ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (The Maputo Protocol) on the 2nd of May 2006.
With its goal to enhance and safeguard women’s rights throughout Africa, it is widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive, progressive and innovative documents of its type.
It is an important tool for governments to ensure that women’s rights are protected and upheld in all aspects of life: the right to education and healthcare, political participation, equal inheritance rights, freedom from violence and access to land and property.
It also seeks to eliminate harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage and forced marriage, and requires governments to take measures to prevent gender-based violence.
What is particularly impressive is how the protocol recognises the importance of tackling HIV/Aids and acknowledges widow’s rights and women’s and girls’ rights to access safe abortion under certain circumstances.
But what has Zambia achieved since it ratified the Maputo protocol?
As Dr Anne Beatrice Kihara, the current president elect for the International Federation for Gynecology and Obstertrics (FIGO) puts it, “the Maputo Protocol has helped to address harmful cultural practices, support women’s and girls’ empowerment through education and employment, promote economic safety nets, and work towards a zero-rate unmet family planning needs and a zero-rate preventable maternal deaths.”
“It has also promoted the need to pay attention to vulnerable and marginalised populations such as people living with HIV, people living with disabilities, humanitarian crises, urban informal and rural populations, adolescents and youth,” she said.
Rightly so, there are a number of landmark decisions that Zambia has made that speak directly to the requirements of the Maputo protocol.
For instance, Zambia has removed user fees for maternal health services in government-owned health facilities. This has increased access to quality maternal healthcare services for marginalised women and girls.
On account of this, maternal mortality has decreased remarkebly, as reported by the UNFPA Zambia in its 2022 report which indicated that Zambia recorded some significant progress with more than 1000 maternal deaths averted in the year under review.
In addition to that, Zambia has developed post-abortion care guidelines to expand access for women and girls.
Other documents include The Adolescent Health Strategic Plan 2022-2026 which seeks to improve the status of adolescents in Zambia without leaving anyone behind, and the National Community Health Strategy 2022-2026 which will move the country towards the attainment of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030.
Further, the National Child Participation Framework is aimed at promoting and advancing child participation and fulfillment of their rights as provided for in the Children’s Code Act.
Media Network on Child Rights and Development (MNCRD) Executive Director Henry Kabwe has implored journalists in the country to highlight the successes and failures of international conventions such as the Maputo protocol.
Mr Kabwe said in an interview that journalists needed to acquaint themselves with the treaties that Zambia was committed to.
“Zambia has committed to so many international treaties and for us to hold the government accountable, we need to know what the Maputo protocol requires of our Government and we need to tell success stories and failures of such commitments,” he said.
True to Mr Kabwe’s assertions, a key challenge is women’s and girls’ lack of awareness of their rights to access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and in the country’s ratification of the Maputo Protocol.
This challenge is compounded by the lack of supportive voices to uphold access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as essential, and the lack of regulation on “conscientious objection” in health care workers present very serious barriers to women’s and girls’ access sexual and reproductive health services.
As noted by Mr Kabwe, there is need for concerted efforts from all stakeholders including the media to inform the public on the successes of the Maputo protocol.
Keep your comments coming to moseschimfwembe@gmail.com

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