How Maputo Protocol is improving lives of women, girls

Gender equality symbol. The Maputo Protocol was put in lace to promote gender equality by changing the lives of women and girls.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

  • As of March 2021, 42 of the 55 African Union (AU) member states had ratified the protocol; many of these countries have also domesticated it and even enacted related national laws.
  •  Some countries have made major strides in the realisation and upholding of the rights of women and girls, promoting equal opportunities for men and women to play meaningful roles through affirmative action.

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, commonly known as Maputo Protocol, was put in place in July 2003 to safeguard and uphold the rights of women and girls.

As of March 2021, 42 of the 55 African Union (AU) member states had ratified the protocol. Many of these countries have also domesticated it and even enacted related national laws.

As a result, some have made major strides in the realisation and upholding of the rights of women and girls, promoting equal opportunities for men and women to play meaningful roles through affirmative action.

In Kenya, for example, the government has come up with Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO), an initiative that grants 30 per cent of government procurement opportunities to the marginalised groups, including women.

According to a recent report, titled Impact of Kenya’s Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) on Women, Youth and Persons Living with Disabilities, by Hivos East Africa, women were awarded 52 per cent of government tenders between 2013 and 2016. It also indicated that registered women-owned firms that bid for tenders were at 41 per cent.

Narrowing gender gap

The African Development Bank Gender Equality Index shows many countries have closed the gender gap in primary education. In 11 countries, women hold close to one-third of parliamentary seats.

The treaty has also been vital in protecting and promoting the rights of every woman and girl. For example, it has been lauded for being behind some of the landmark court decisions across the continent that touch on such rights.

In December 2020, the High Court of Kenya delivered a historic judgment that found the government liable for failure to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual and gender-based violence that happened after the 2007 General Election. The suit had been filed by eight survivors with support from non-governmental organisations. They sought accountability and redress for the violations.

The court found the government to have violated several human rights instruments, including the Maputo Protocol, and ordered it to compensate four of the survivors Sh4 million each.

In December 2019, the Ecowas Court of Justice declared that the ban on schooling by pregnant girls in Sierra Leone was discriminatory and in violation of their right to education. The country’s government was found to be in breach of articles 2 and 12 of the Maputo Protocol that call on state parties to eliminate discrimination against women and girls and guarantee equal opportunities and access to education.

Following the decision, Sierra Leone lifted the ban in March 2020, granting pregnant girls access to education. The decision set a precedent for West African countries.


The Maputo Protocol has improved lives of girls and women through legislation, policy, culture and infrastructure. It is the only treaty to specifically address women’s rights in relation to HIV/Aids, supporting protection as the key component of women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Of nearly 25 million Africans living with the virus today, almost 60 per cent are women, according to the UN Programme on HIV/Aids. In some countries, more than two-thirds are women.

The Kenyan government, for example, has been implementing Linda Mama, a free health insurance cover targeting women, especially those in slums and rural areas. It is meant for women who can’t afford the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) cover. It covers pregnancy and expires three months after delivery. Linda Mama can be accessed in all public hospitals, as well as some charity and faith-based facilities.

In 2018, the Jubilee government launched the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) pilot programme dubbed Afya Care, which has significant benefits. With a UHC card, women in the pilot counties of Kisumu, Nyeri, Isiolo and Machakos can access child and maternal health services.

UHC also includes treatment of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, improving nutrition of women who conceive and promoting early screening and treatment for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, mental illnesses. It further covers cancer screening to ensure early treatment initiation, rehabilitation and palliative care. Also provided are common outpatient and inpatient medical and surgical conditions in public hospitals.

In 2014, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta launched the Beyond Zero programme through which she has been heightening advocacy aimed at reducing preventable maternal and child deaths. It has also been vital in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Rwanda has set a precedent by lifting the reservation it had about Article 14 (2) of the Protocol, reforming national laws and sensitising law enforcers and healthcare providers to the changes. It has also served as a key facilitator of #SDG5 on ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.

Harmful traditions

Some cultural practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) have been used to discriminate against women and girls. About 55 million girls under the age of 15 in 28 African countries have experienced or are at risk of experiencing FGM, which remains prevalent in parts of West, East, Central, and Northern Africa. 

But 28 countries now have specific anti-FGM laws or legal provisions. African governments have also committed to the global goal of ending FGM by 2030, in addition to launching continental drive aimed at promoting and accelerating the collective abandonment of FGM.

According to Unicef, about four million girls and women in Kenya have undergone FGM. Overall, 21 per cent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to the practice.

President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2019 issued a presidential directive requiring state agencies and non-state actors to collaborate and ensure FGM is eliminated by December this year.

Kenya banned the practice in 2011, paving the way for the Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011, that carries a minimum punishment of three-year imprisonment and a Sh200,000 fine.

 In Tanzania, the performance of FGM carries a punishment of a minimum of three-year imprisonment, while 'aggravated' FGM carries a punishment of life imprisonment.

Aggravate' FGM occurs if the procedure results in the death or disability of the victim, or if she is infected with HIV, or if the perpetrator is a parent, guardian or health worker.

The treaty has also ensured special protection of elderly women and girls living with disabilities, who carry multiple burden of discrimination, by virtue of their age, gender and disability.


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