Mauritius ready to sign SADC gender protocol

SANF 21 no14 – by Nyarai Kampilipili
Mauritius is expected to sign the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development soon, a move that signifies the region’s commitment to promote gender equality and equity.

The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which entered into force in 2013 and was later revised in 2016 provides for the empowerment of women, elimination of discrimination, and achievement of gender equality and equity through gender-responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects.

All 16 SADC Member States are party to the Protocol, with the exception of Mauritius and the Union of Comoros, which is the newest member of SADC.

Mauritius had previously objected to the Protocol because of a clause on child marriage that conflicted with the country’s civil code which allowed children to marry below the age of 18 but above 16 with parental consent.

However, a new legislation which was finalized in December 2020 and is awaiting promulgation will repeal the Child Protection Act and replace it with a more comprehensive and modern legislative framework which addresses the shortcomings of the Child Protection Act that allowed marriage below the age of 18.

The new Children’s Bill of Mauritius states that “no religious marriage shall be celebrated unless the parties to the religious marriage are aged 18 or above.”

This development now paves the way for Mauritius to be party to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

The process of being party to a regional instrument requires various stages, first signing and then ratification, a process that differs from country to country.

The protocol “enters into force” following ratification by two-thirds of SADC Member States. This advances the regional law from being a stated intention to actual application.

Those member states that join after a protocol has entered into force are said to “accede” to the protocol.

In this regard, once Mauritius signs the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, it will “accede” to the protocol and sign an Agreement Amending the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development which was revised in 2016.

According to Article 22 (11) of the SADC Treaty and Article 38 (3) of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, an amendment to a protocol after it has entered into force shall be adopted by a decision of three-quarters of member states who are party to the protocol.

A total of 12 SADC Member States have signed the agreement amending the protocol — Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, United Republic of Tanzania, Seychelles, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Malawi and South Africa are yet to sign the amendment.

The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development was revised so that its objectives are aligned to various global targets and emerging issues.

Some of these global targets are contained in the post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the African Union Agenda 2063.

SDG Goal 5, for example, deals with the Promotion of Gender Equality and Empowerment of all Women and Girls, and sets nine targets to be met by the global community by 2030.

These include ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls; elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual exploitation; elimination of all harmful practices, such as early and forced child marriages, and female genital mutilation; and ensuring the full and effective participation of women with equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.

Other SDG Goal 5 targets include universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action.

Child marriages are regarded as one of the factors contributing to the slow progress in the reduction of maternal mortality, but the definition of a child by age remains controversial.

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