Maputo Protocol: Reflection as a Legal Framework for International Cooperation in the African Union

Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa or commonly known as Maputo Protocol is a critical legal framework for promoting and protecting the rights of women in Africa.

Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa or commonly known as Maputo Protocol is a critical legal framework for promoting and protecting the rights of women in Africa. Adopted by the African Union in 2003, the Maputo Protocol emerged from the needs of a comprehensive legal instrument which specifically addressing women’s rights in Africa. Despite the existence of other global treaty such as Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Maputo Protocol arose for several reasons. First, it focuses on regional specificity. Unlike CEDAW, Maputo Protocol is not focusing on the global area. Its focus is more into the unique cultural, social, and economic realities faced by women in Africa. It considers specific challenges such as the harmful traditional practices of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and limited access to education within certain cultural context. Second, the Maputo Protocol encourages regional cooperation. It can strengthen the peer pressure and accountability among African states for implementing the protocol’s provisions. Here the African Union should be able to play a more active role and provide greater capacity to monitor and report the progress of the protocol implementation compared to the global framework such as CEDAW. Third, the Maputo Protocol empowers African women’s rights movement. It is in fact, the product of African women’s rights advocacy.

As a regional framework, the Maputo Protocol has a high potential to facilitate international cooperation among African Union countries. With the common standards and goals, the protocol creates a shared understanding of what needs to be achieved and how to collaborate on strategies and best practices. Several ways to achieve the goals are by sharing best practices on legislative reforms and policy initiatives, coordinating efforts to overcome cultural barriers and resistance to gender equality, collaborating on data collection and research on women’s rights issues, as well as jointly advocating for stronger international commitments on gender equality. Apart from that, the Maputo Protocol is also able to provide a framework for African countries to work together on mobilizing resources such as financial, technical, and human resources to support the implementation of its provisions. This can involve jointly seeking international development assistance focused on women’s rights, sharing expertise and resources within the region for capacity building programs, and developing regional mechanisms to pool resources for supporting national implementation efforts.

Another benefits that African countries can acquire from the Maputo Protocol is that the protocol can fosters a sense of accountability among member states by establishing a common standard for women’s rights. This creates a situation where countries are incentivized to comply due to potential reputational consequences of failing to implement the protocol. This motivates collaboration and information sharing to ensure progress across the continent. As previously mentioned, this protocol also has a strong correlation with women’s right movement. It can be used to empower civil society organizations and women’s rights groups to advocate for cooperation among African Union member states. These groups can pressure governments to participate in regional initiatives, share information and best practices across borders, and hold governments accountable for their commitments under the protocol.

Various examples can portray the success of the Maputo Protocol. In terms of legislative reforms, Tanzania enacted the Children’s Act in 2004, raising the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18. Apart from that, following legal challenges by women’s rights groups inspired by the Maputo Protocol, Kenya’s 2010 Constitution prohibits gender discrimination and guarantees equal rights for women. Meanwhile, in terms of combating FGM, Gambia and Uganda can be profound examples. In 2015, President Jammeh declared a ban on FGM, citing the Maputo Protocol as a key driver of this decision. This decision was followed by amendments to national laws criminalizing FGM. On the other side, the Maputo Protocol has empowered Ugandan civil society organizations to advocate for an anti-FGM law, which was passed in 2010. Rwanda and Ethiopia also show positive progress in elevating women’s political participation. Rwanda boasts the highest percentage of women in parliament globally (over 60%) and following the adoption of the Maputo Protocol, Ethiopia has seen an increase in women’s representation in government, with reserved seats for women in parliament. As for Sierra Leone, the government lifted its ban on pregnant girls attending school, promoting girls’ education and reproductive rights in 2020.

Despite these successes, the Maputo Protocol also face some challenges that needs to be addressed. First, it depends strongly on the political will. The effectiveness of cooperation depends on the political will of member states. Countries with weaker commitment to gender equality might be less engaged in regional cooperation initiatives. Second, there are some limitations in the enforcement mechanism. This can potentially hinder cooperation if some states lack strong incentives to participate. Thus, it requires strong domestic support to make the Maputo Protocol works effectively to maintain the achievement of its objectives.

Estu Sarwo Mukti
Estu Sarwo Mukti
Estu Sarwo Mukti is a Master’s student of International Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada with an interest in development studies, gender, and human security.