Making laws matter

Date: January 1, 1970
  • SHARE:

Ask the average person on the street about how protected they feel by national and international laws or Protocols, and you will likely find varied responses. Some may have faith in these instruments, while others will likely say how the complexity of the legal system and how laws translate into the real world leave them skeptical.

Ask the question again, particularly of the most impoverished and marginalised women in the region, and you will likely find that many are not aware of the rights that they have, and of those who are, many will say that the legal system does not work for them.  Making sure that legal protections are in place is vital, but part of the process is making sure that these laws are really put into practice. 
In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocols are critical for striving towards every citizen’s health and human rights. They are a vital part of improving and deepening regional integration, advancing the development agenda and ensuring equal understanding and implementation of policy by Member States.
SADC Member States have committed to a number of different national, regional, and international agreements on gender and women’s rights. The uniqueness of the draft Gender and Development Protocol up for review at the August 2008 Heads of State Meeting, is that it brings together various SADC commitments related to gender in one document and addresses gender dynamics overlooked in other instruments.
This proposed Protocol is one of the important instruments expected to bring equality of women and men and empowerment of women in the region. Yet, like all legal instruments, the laws in place are only as good as how they are implemented on the ground. It will therefore be important that following adoption, Member States ratify, domesticate, and implement the Protocol immediately.  
This protocol has benchmarks, specific strategies, and measurable targets for tracking, monitoring and evaluating implementation.  With hopes to have the Protocol adopted by Heads of State at their Summit in August 2008, the question is, what will it take and for how long for member states to start implementing it?
Sections 37 and 39 of the draft Protocol provide for countries to set up appropriate structures to ensure implementation of the Protocol and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. These include, collecting, analysing and utilising baseline data and developing indicators to track progress.
They will also submit annual reports to the SADC Secretariat. However, one of the gaps in the draft is that it does not make provision for institutional mechanisms for tracking progress.
Do countries have the ability to set up national structures to carry out the monitoring and evaluation?” It takes political will and leadership commitment to ensure implementation and compliance to the entire instrument. For example, all SADC countries have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Yet, according to the United Nations update on CEDAW country reports, in December 2007, four of the SADC countries had not submitted any report on what they are doing in line with this Convention. Five countries last reported before the year 2000, one last reported in 2000 and the other two in 2002 and 2004. Only two reported in 2007.
Does this reflect no implementation of the CEDAW? Is there simply no political will and commitment to gender issues and issues that affect women specifically? Or is the problem with the lack of in- country monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in place?
Despite provisions for monitoring and evaluation, it is doubtful that governments can effectively self-monitor, even at inter-government level. With the absence of structures to do checks and balances, it is necessary to set up an independent monitoring and evaluation commission that will be responsible for tracking progress in implementing the Protocol. This body should not only identify gaps in implementation and make recommendations to countries but must have powers to enforce compliance.
The draft Protocol also provides for “sanctions for non-compliance with this Protocol shall be imposed in accordance with Article 33(2) of the SADC Treaty.” This can only be possible if there is a coordinating body that will provide annual analysis of how countries are complying with the provisions of the Protocol and ensure that countries are not breaching such provisions.
There is a lesson to be learned from the implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights was set up to monitor adherence to the Charter, but because the Commission lacked powers to make sure countries complied with the Charter, there was little implementation progress. Currently there is discussion to set up an African court, which can actually implement sanctions against countries that do not comply.   
SADC Heads of state have to start thinking about how they will show their commitment to bringing gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region through the Gender Protocol.
Along with submitting timely annual reports to the independent commission on monitoring and evaluation, and pro-actively participating in monitoring, governments can support the recording and reporting of programmes being implemented, and assess their impact so that best practices can be identified and programmes continually be improved.
Governments can also develop strategic partnerships with NGOs and improve coordination between all sectors to effectively respond to and address the comprehensive needs of women, men, boys and girls.
The Gender Protocol could make a real difference to gender equality in SADC. Yet for this to happen, political will and leadership commitment are key.
Lorato Moalusi-Sakufiwa is the Director of the Kagisano Society Women’s Shelter Project
And Sector Coordinator of the Gender and Development Sector of the Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (BOCONGO).  This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

Comment on Making laws matter

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *