The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa entered into force in 2005. Met with much celebration for the protection it would provide African women, the Protocol was heralded as one of the most forward-looking human rights instruments. Now, fifteen years after it was conceived, the Protocol deserves a full assessment of the issues that it has faced in accession and will face in implementation. This Note analyzes the way in which the Protocol was developed and the effect the Protocol’s language will have on its ability to achieve its object and purpose. This Note contends that certain language is too narrow, creating an over-specificity that will deter necessary countries from joining. However, this Note also asserts that certain aspirational provisions of the Protocol are overly broad, creating legal obligations that States Parties will be unable to meet. Ultimately, African countries with questionable women’s rights records will refuse to sign—States Parties will either be unable or unwilling to protect women to the extent required, leaving women in the same position as before. Worse yet, some States Parties may implement extreme measures that could increasingly disadvantage women over time. By relying on Western ideas of women’s rights and without explicitly determining how or if customary law will be considered in implementation, the Protocol faces serious obstacles on the domestic level. This Note concludes by asserting that unless States Parties consider a more grassroots, community-oriented approach to implementing the Protocol, the instrument’s requirements will remain unrealized, and women in Africa will remain marginalized.
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