Gender Transformative Programing and Engagement with the African Union, a Promising Strategy to Ending Violence against Women and Girls

November 6, 2022


Nicholas Okapu Etyang

Policy Engagement Manager


The Spotlight Initiative Africa Regional Programme held a capacity-strengthening workshop on gender transformative programming and engagement with the African Union (AU) human rights mechanisms. The three-day training session held in Dakar, Senegal, from August 30 to September 1, was a learning and experience-sharing opportunity for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on how to engage with decision-makers from a gender transformative perspective.

The workshop targeted Central and West Africa’s CSOs and focused on strengthening participants’ capacity to design and implement gender transformative programs and to engage regional and global human rights mechanisms to accelerate the campaign on ending violence against women and girls, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and other harmful practices. 

The participants emphasized the need to encourage African governments to ratify, implement and report on AU human rights instruments that seek to enhance women’s empowerment and guarantee gender equality in the African continent. The training also introduced participants to the process of monitoring and the development of shadow reports to the African human Rights Mechanisms such as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC). 

The participants interacted with Hon. Aboubekrine El Jera, a member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and Special Rapporteur on Health Welfare and Development of the Child in Africa. Hon. Aboubekrine took participants through the requirements and procedures for obtaining observer status in the ACERWC and the opportunities for engagement with ACERWC. 

“The Committee is available to collaborate with CSOs to advance the rights and welfare of children in Africa. Organizations should pursue such opportunities to include their voices in conversations in the committee that provide a great platform to reach policy makers in African countries,” declared Hon Aboubekrine. 

Participants were informed that there are a number of ways in which CSOs, women/human rights defenders, youth and children’s rights organizations can engage with the African human rights mechanisms. These include participating in the general comments drafting process, writing communications to Special Mechanisms; participating in the ordinary sessions of the African Commission/ACERWC; submitting amici curiae briefs in contentious cases; and, perhaps most importantly, sending communications to ACHPR and ACERWC. 

The training exposed participants to opportunities for knowledge and information exchange that CSOs can use to share experiences and advocate for accountability in relation to ratification and implementation of the AU human rights instruments. These platforms include but are not limited to NGOs Forum at ACHPR, CSOs Forum at ACERWC, networks of national human rights institutions and networks of CSOs focused on protecting human rights defenders. 

During the event, participants traced the strategies that gender advocates have adopted throughout the history of women empowerment and advocacy, bringing to focus the fact that the fight for women empowerment is more of a marathon than a sprint.

Dr. Anne Khisa, who facilitated the sessions on gender transformative programming, took the participants through the history of women’s rights, describing a time when gender was unequal and when society seemed oblivious to the glaring inequalities.

In the early days of the fight for women’s empowerment, gender advocates pursued gender sensitivity. To them, things would be ideal if society acknowledged the different contributions by both genders and the needs that they both had. While appreciating these differences this approach fell short as it did not provide a strategy for addressing the gender inequalities that remained forged as though on stone. The society in this case was gender aware but policies were not reflective of the gender needs. The discourse would later morph into one on gender specificity. The approach acknowledges gender norms and considers women’s and men’s specific needs.

“It is very interesting to learn that gender equality does not necessarily mean the same treatment but rather some semblance of equity in the coexistence of men and women,” shared Boubacar Soumana, a traditional chief from Niger. 

Gender transformative programming now addresses the causes of gender-based inequalities and works to transform harmful gender roles, norms, and relations. This may be the reason to reignite the discussion and bring forward the change that gender advocates have been pursuing for decades.

“When providing opportunity across the gender divide, it is important to consider the availability of the resources, accessibility, and acceptability. The opportunity should be available to both genders, they should also be able to access the opportunity and be willing and able to benefit from the proposed solution and opportunity,” observed Rabiatu Sageer who serves as the Spotlight Initiative program manager for UNFPA, Nigeria.

The participants felt confident that they were now well equipped to apply the concept of gender transformative programming in project design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting and that they can effectively engage with the African Human Rights Mechanisms in advocating for the end to violence against women and girls in Africa.

The challenge is to identify barriers to the opportunities that exist and custom design the adjusted interventions that will lead to equality of outcome. Programers may need to work on pre-existing information on how to cater to the needs of vulnerable groups. This can be done by providing options for different groups to get access or find one option that caters for the needs of all groups. This may be at a great cost;  however, it provides an opportunity for collaboration where the cost may be shared among the collaborating partners.