Taking stock: Maputo Protocol in Advancing Women’s Rights

November 16, 2023


Issabelah Mutuku

Communications Officer


Over the past two decades, the Maputo Protocol, formerly the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, has made significant strides in advancing women’s rights across the continent. The Protocol has significantly established a legally binding and all-encompassing framework for advancing women’s rights in Africa. It is one of the most powerful tools in the region that has been used by governments, legislators and various institutions to safeguard women’s rights. The Protocol lays out legal groundwork, paving the way for the systemic preservation and enhancement of women’s rights across various fields, including political, social and economic spheres.

Adopted in Maputo, Mozambique, on 11 July 2003, the Maputo Protocol is an international human rights instrument that aims to empower African women by addressing the unique challenges they experience. Its emphasis on equal rights and representation has been essential in increasing the number of African women who hold political and other decision-making positions across the African region. 

As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Protocol this year, as of June 2023, out of 55 African Union (AU) member states, only 44 have ratified the Protocol, with the latest being South Sudan.   

Achievements of the Maputo Protocol 

Comprehensive legal frameworks

The provisions of the Maputo Protocol have prompted the development and implementation of policies and laws aimed at safeguarding women from violence and assault. The framework acknowledges that sexual harassment and domestic violence are persistent problems in many African communities, and it promotes accountability for violent offenders by emphasizing justice for survivors. Kenya has ratified several international and regional human rights instruments, including provisions against sexual violence and discrimination, with the Constitution forbidding all forms of discrimination, including gender-based. Despite Kenya having ratified the Protocol, it has made reservations about Article 14 2 (c) of the Protocol, which allows access to abortion services in cases of sexual violence. 

Recognition of women’s rights 

Rwanda is among the countries that have implemented the provisions of the Maputo Protocol, and also the first country with the highest number of female representation in parliament, with more than 60% of seats occupied by women. Other countries like Mozambique and South Africa have also made substantial progress in increasing women’s participation in politics and decision-making at the national and local levels. In Kenya, the adoption of the two-thirds gender rule in the 2010 Constitution has opened up opportunities for women to secure political seats and increased their representation in parliament. This has created an opportunity for more women to be elected as Women Representatives, which guarantees the entry of forty-seven women into the National Assembly. Additionally, sixteen women are nominated by various political parties, one woman nominated to represent the youth and three to represent people with disabilities, forming a constant total of sixty-seven women in parliament. 

Access to healthcare

Women’s access to sexual reproductive health care remains a top priority in the Maputo Protocol. Since its adoption, there has been improved healthcare infrastructure and access to services by women and girls in the region. This has reduced maternal deaths, facilitated access to family planning services and reduced the prevalence of treatable reproductive health illnesses. Mozambique, for instance, has aligned with global strategies to reduce perinatal and maternal mortality. This commitment is reflected in initiatives that reinforce antenatal care (ANC) coverage, promote facility-based childbirth, and ensure easier access to family planning services in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. The Guttmacher–Lancet Commission on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) report outlines a comprehensive and evidence-based vision for SRHR in all countries.

Protection from harmful practices

The Maputo Protocol is key in the fight against harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. Countries like Kenya and Nigeria have aligned with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and ratified international instruments to combat FGM/C. Kenya has enacted strict legislation like the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2011, alongside awareness campaigns and community education. In Nigeria, the Abuse Against Persons (Prohibition) Act of 2015 outlaws domestic abuse, sexual assault, and harmful traditional practices, ensuring the protection of victims and the prosecution of perpetrators. Ethiopia, too, outlawed child marriage and FGM/C in 2000 and 2005, respectively, and has since implemented national policies and strategies to combat them effectively. These practices, although deeply rooted in culture, are opposed by the Protocol, which champions bodily autonomy and gender equality. 

Challenges and gaps of the Maputo Protocol 

Despite the significant strides made through the Maputo Protocol, it has, however, encountered challenges in implementation due to uneven adoption and adherence. Not all countries align its provisions and guidelines and this has left women in some regions without consistent legal protection. In addition, variations in political will and priorities among governments across the region have resulted in inconsistent enforcement of the Protocol. Cultural resistance poses another significant hurdle, as deeply ingrained practices like female genital mutilation still persist in some areas, making it difficult to disentangle harmful traditions from cultural heritage.

As we reflect on the 20 years since the adoption of the Maputo Protocol, we acknowledge that progress has been made on other issues relating to gender equality and rights. There is a need for the remaining countries that have not ratified the Maputo Protocol to do so, and for more states to implement the provisions that support women and girls’ rights, and vulnerable and marginalized populations, including access to quality reproductive healthcare. In addition, governments should address the barriers that still exist in realising women’s and girl’s sexual and reproductive rights such as criminalizing traditional and harmful practices like female genital mutilation and child marriages.