Governments often pass laws and sign treaties that look great on paper but don’t actually have an impact in reality for citizens of the country. The challenge of turning legal norms into changes in behavior is huge.
In September 2007, Angola ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, more commonly known as the “Maputo Protocol.” This human rights mechanism guarantees a wide range of rights for women and calls for an end to gender-based violence and discrimination against women. Since its ratification, women’s groups and local organizations in Angola have been hard at work to make the rights enshrined in the Maputo Protocol a reality for Angolan women. This is no easy task.
Our partner Plataforma Mulheres em Acção (also known as PMA, or Women’s Platform for Action in English) is one such organization. Earlier this month, PMA held a workshop for local organizations working to implement the Maputo Protocol and strengthen protections for women’s rights.
The women and men at this workshop represented many different sectors of Angolan society. Some came from urban areas, while others came from more rural parts of the province. Many spoke Portuguese, while others spoke Kimbundu and other local languages. Despite the differences among them, all of these activists were passionate about promoting women’s rights in their communities and were eager to share their thoughts and experiences with each other. During breaks, they could be seen dancing, singing, and laughing together. Their enthusiasm and hope for the future of women’s rights in their communities was palpable.
When asked about the importance of the Maputo Protocol in the lives of Angolan women, the activists revealed some of the challenges that women face in their societies. One, in particular, resonated with the group. A woman explained the specific types of discrimination that rural women encounter, including lack of access to education and exclusion from decision-making. She pointed out that rural women are rarely represented in politics, even by women leaders, and reminded workshop participants that the Maputo Protocol cannot be fully implemented in Angola without taking into account the experiences of rural women. The other participants and workshop leaders nodded their heads, agreeing that the needs of rural women should not be forgotten.
Though there are still significant gaps in the implementation of the Maputo Protocol in Angola, these activists will continue to fight for women’s rights, gender equality, and social development in their communities. As the final training day came to a close, participants explained the projects they were planning to increase support for women’s rights and the implementation of this important human rights treaty. Looking around the workshop, it was clear that these women and men would be the ones to make the Maputo Protocol a reality in Angolan society.