Success of SADC Gender Protocol Lies in Evaluation

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BYLINE: Pamela Mhlanga

All indications are that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state will adopt the Gender and Development Protocol at the SADC summit in Lusaka next month. Will this protocol mean greater member state accountability to achieve gender equality and women's rights?

The past one-and-a-half years have seen an unprecedented move by SADC heads of state, spurred on by civil society groups, to upgrade the 1997 SADC Gender and Development Declaration and 1998 Addendum on Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women and Children, into a protocol.

Gender ministers were to hold a final meeting in Maputo late last week to review the draft protocol, which would then be reviewed by justice ministers before being forwarded to heads of state at next month's summit.

The question remains, what is a protocol, and what does this particular protocol mean for women? In 1992, SADC institutionalised protocols as legally binding instruments aimed at facilitating the implementation of the SADC Treaty. All SADC protocols provide a legal and institutional framework for deepening regional integration in the social, economic and political spheres.

The SADC protocol system is a bridge between policy and action. Protocols aim to step up accountability by member states for policy commitments made, and to translate political will into systematic and sustainable implementation.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges women's rights activists experience in realising the gender equality agenda in SADC is the apparent widening gap between policy and action. Promises made by governments to women rarely match substantive delivery. There are more paper rights than real rights being enjoyed by women on the ground.

Moreover, a negligible number of SADC countries have domesticated international conventions they have signed, including the recently adopted Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Lack of effective implementation often mars a good ratification record.

Can we expect any different with the adoption of SADC's Gender and Development Protocol? The main reason there is a move towards the adoption of this instrument on gender equality is because of the need to accelerate implementation, and to address the weakness of the non-enforceable nature of the Declaration on Gender and Development.

There is a need to get governments to agree to be bound in law to a supranational legal and monitoring framework. …