Southern African News Features                                           SANF 09 No 04, January 2009
SADC Gender Protocol: From commitment to action
by Patience Zirima

Approval of the groundbreaking Protocol on Gender and Development by twelve southern African countries brings with it the need to take action by all stakeholders so as to accelerate the empowerment of women in the region through speedy implementation.

Signed at the 28th Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit held in August in South Africa by eleven member states, the protocol is regarded by many analysts as historic and groundbreaking insofar as empowerment of women in the region is concerned.

Madagascar who had not immediately signed, has since appended her signature to the protocol.

Botswana, Malawi and Mauritius are yet to sign.

Planned initiatives towards implementation of the agreement include meetings organised by the SADC Gender Unit and its partners such as a recent one to develop a regional monitoring tool that will monitor and track implementation of the gender equality commitments made by SADC member states, and another to develop guidelines for the implementation of the 50 percent target representation of women in politics and decision making.

The Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance, consisting of gender and women’s non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has parallel complementary actions outlined in a consolidated plan although this is still in draft form.

Actions include activities on tracking, monitoring and evaluating progress towards achieving goals set out in the protocol.

Legal and gender experts who participated in the Southern African Protocol Alliance meeting held parallel to the SADC Summit, described the protocol "as the most far-reaching of any sub-regional instrument for achieving gender equality."

Participants said it was time for southern Africa to move from being "a region of commitments to one of action."

Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, who assumed the SADC chair during the summit, said that the signing of the protocol was one of the most important decisions that the regional organisation took in 2008.

"This protocol is important because it consolidates all the important SADC policies and programmes dealing with gender equity. The protocol will help our region to advance the process of women’s emancipation through policies, laws, programmes and projects which all member states have to implement," Mbeki said.

Now that the protocol has been signed, the next stage is to ensure ratification by member states for the protocol to enter into force.

Ratification of the protocol implies readiness by member states to begin implementation, which involves domestication of the regional policy into national legislation and policy.

To formalise ratification, a member state is required to deposit legal papers known as Instruments of Ratification with the SADC Secretariat.

The ratification process, however, can take several years before the protocol receives the requisite two-thirds majority for it to have legal force. This brings into prominence the need for gender movements in the region to pull out all stops in lobbying member state governments if early ratification is to be achieved.

In Article 40, the gender pact says, "The protocol shall be ratified by the signatory states in accordance with their constitutional procedures". SADC member states, however, have different constitutional requirements for ratification.

In some countries, the protocol has legal force once the president has signed the document whereas others require parliamentary approval before the head of state or government can pass an international agreement as ratified.

As a legally binding instrument, the protocol can ensure that governments harmonise their provisions with domestic law meaning that regional commitments can be legally enforceable at the national level or translated into tangible actions.

The signed protocol is a consolidation of the various regional and international commitments to gender equality that strengthens capacity for effective reporting on progress, as well as providing an opportunity for member states to address new challenges.

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