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Africa Day 2016: Protecting women’s rights and fostering empowerment

25 May 2016

Photo: UN Women/Karin Schermbrucker

Photo: UN Women/Karin Schermbrucker

AWEPA welcomes Africa Day, celebrated each year on 25 May to mark the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor to the African Union (AU).

Africa Day represents a time for African countries to celebrate the hard-fought achievement of their freedom from European colonial powers, and a day for all people of Africa to acknowledge the progress that their continent has made, while reflecting upon the common challenges they face for the future.

As 2016 is the AU Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women, AWEPA has decided to take stock of the work it does to empower women in Africa and stand up for their rights, in particular through its programmes on child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

The AWEPA Child Marriage Programme

Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. Child brides are often disempowered, dependent on their husbands and deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety.

AWEPA recently implemented three parliamentary activities in its work to end child marriage: a regional dialogue on child marriage in Johannesburg and two national follow workshops in Zambia and Mozambique.

In addition, AWEPA is proud to have worked in cooperation with the South African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum, several parliaments and Plan International to support the development and adoption of a Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage, which is set to be adopted in the SADC region on 3 June 2016.

The AWEPA FGM/C Programme

Worldwide, approximately 200 million girls and women are suffering the consequences of FGM/C, a practice that is recognised internationally as a violation of human rights. It is estimated that, if current trends continue, 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade.

That’s why AWEPA has been working towards the abandonment of FGM/C since 2009 by promoting the increased capacity of parliamentarians to legislate around the protection of women and girls from violence, and establishing linkages with communities requiring support towards abandonment.

Recent activities include the facilitation of a tailor-made approach developed locally in the Sédhiou region of Senegal. In addition, AWEPA is set to address the cross-border dimensions of FGM/C through sub-regional conference in Saly, Senegal on 30 May – 1 June 2016.

Speakers at the October 2015 AWEPA High Level Seminar and AWEPA members share their views on the importance of women’s rights and women empowerment:

Background Information: A brief history of Africa Day

Africa Day dates back to the process of decolonisation between 1945 and 1965. At a time when African people increasingly struggled for their political rights, and more and more countries were gaining independence from European colonial powers, the first Conference of Independent African States was held in Ghana on 15 April 1958. The conference represented the first Pan-African conference to be held on African soil and a collective platform from which African countries sought to cooperate in the fight against colonialism.

To further forge this common goal, the conference called for the observance of African Freedom Day once a year, to mark “the onward progress of the liberation movement, and to symbolise the determination of the People of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation.” Consequently, 15 April was named Africa Freedom Day.

Five years later, more than two-thirds of the continent had achieved independence, and it was time for another historic meeting. On 25 May 1963, leaders of thirty-two independent African states came together in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, to form the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). This was the very beginning of the AU, an organisation which, over the past 52 years, has brought together the continent of Africa to collectively address the challenges it has faced.

Africa Day was moved to 25 May to mark this momentous meeting, and to celebrate the progress of the AU and of the African continent on the whole.