Nyarai Kampilipili in Windhoek, Namibia
A total of 12 countries in Southern Africa have now signed the agreement amending a regional protocol that aims to advance gender equality and equity bringing the revised document into force.
Namibia and Seychelles became the latest members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to sign the Agreement Amending the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development during the just ended SADC Summit held in Windhoek, Namibia.
Other member states who have signed the agreement are Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kingdom of Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Malawi and South Africa are yet to sign the amendment.
The remaining two member states – the Union of Comoros and Mauritius – cannot sign the amendment as they are not parties to the protocol.
Comoros is a new member of SADC after having been formally admitted into SADC by the 38th SADC Summit held from August 17-18.
Mauritius is not party of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development because it is not in line with the civil code of the country, which allows children to marry below the age 18 but above 16 with parental consent.
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.
The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in Article 8 says that “no person under the age of 18 shall marry”.
The Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development provides for the empowerment of women, elimination of discrimination and the promotion of gender equality and equity through gender-responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects.
The protocol was revised in 2016 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 African Union Agenda 2063, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
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 child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation; and ensuring the full and effective participation of women and 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.
In addition, the revised protocol captures emerging issues such as climate change and child marriages.
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.
The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development entered into force in 2013 following the ratification of the instrument by the requisite two-thirds of member states.
It was revised in 2016 and approved by the 36th SADC Summit held in Swaziland the same year.
The process of approval of a regional legal instrument requires, first, signing, and then ratification, a process that differs from country to country.
A 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.
The 38th Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government was held under the theme “Promoting Infrastructure Development and Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development”.
The theme builds on the focus of the past four SADC summits that sought to advance industrial development, and takes into account the need for adequate infrastructure to support industrialisation as well as the importance of engaging the youth, who are the bulk of the SADC population.
At the summit, Namibian President Hage Geingob took over the SADC chair from his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa.