Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2009


In 2005, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Protocol) came into force. Since that time, the Protocol has received scant attention in legal scholarship. Where the Protocol has been mentioned, by and large it has received praise as a major step forward for women's rights on the continent. Much of that praise is merited. The Protocol includes broad rights to non-discrimination, equality, and dignity, and it addresses a variety of areas such as labor and employment, marriage and the family, the legal system, the political process and public life, education, conflict, the market, the environment, and health. This Article examines the drafting of an African Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and concludes that it was a very fragmented process with consequences for the efficacy of the Protocol as a whole. Three problems are analyzed: the failure of the Protocol to highlight how various articles relate to reproductive health rights (such as HIV prevention and prohibition of early marriage), the narrow construction of a broader right to health, and the dual rejection and embrace of women's roles as mothers. This last tension in particular-the intersection of the elimination of stereotypes found in formal and substantive equality rights and the promotion of a positive cultural context for women-best illustrates contradictions in the theoretical influences underpinning the Protocol. Although the Protocol may have missed opportunities to approach women's reproductive health more holistically and critically, the interpretation of the Protocol moving forward can be supplemented with defining principles that were underdeveloped in its drafting.