The SADC Gender Protocol: Are the 2015 Objectives Achievable?

Wednesday, 17 August, 2011 - 09:13

Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states have not progressed sufficiently in achieving the 23 progressive targets set out in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development for 2015

The South African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development was signed at the SADC Heads of State Summit held on 16 and 17 August 2008 in Johannesburg. The protocol emerged out of the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development which had been signed about a decade prior, in 1997. The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development is more binding than the Declaration.

The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development sets 23 progressive targets. Among the major targets are:

  • That women will hold 50 percent of decision making positions in the private and public sector by 2015;
  • Revision, amendment and repeal by 2015 of all sex or gender discriminatory laws;
  • Ensuring equal participation of women and men in economic policy formulation and implementation by 2015;
  • Adoption of integrated approaches to reduce gender-based violence (GBV) by half by 2015.

The protocol calls for stepping up prevention, treatment and support for those affected and infected with HIV and AIDS. According to the SADC Gender Monitor, the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development aims to empower women socially, economically and politically, eliminate discrimination, achieve gender equality through gender responsive legislation, policies and projects. The SADC Gender Monitor further indicates that the protocol caters for constitutional and legal rights, governance, education and training, productive resources and employment, GBV, health and HIV AIDS, peace building and conflict resolution as well as media, information and communication among other issues that affect women.

The worrying thing is that it is now almost three years since the signing of the protocol, but such an imperative document with an ability to reshape the anatomy of the structure, modus operandi and status of communities from household to national levels and from national levels to regional levels is yet to be ratified. Though the SADC protocol enshrines various important clauses on gender development and the eradication of socio-economic imbalances between men and women in our societies, its full strength, impact and gains can only be recognised upon ratification by member states. The process of approval of a SADC regional legal instrument requires, first, signing and thereafter, ratification. The protocol will only become law when signed ratification instruments are deposited with the SADC Secretariat in Botswana by at least two thirds (2/3) of SADC member states. Only then will the protocol become effective and seize to be a bunch of intended clauses, but as it stands, time seems to be running out for SADC to achieve its gender-related 2015 objectives.

SADC Ministers for Gender/Women Affairs met on 2 June 2011 in Windhoek, Namibia, to come up with a road map that will operationalise the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development to enable a systematic implementation of the protocol not only at regional level but more importantly at national level.1 The Windhoek meeting revealed that though 13 member states had signed the protocol, only seven had endorsed instruments of ratification with the SADC secretariat, namely: Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It is saddening that South Africa, one of the leading democratic states in Africa and the SADC region, is yet to deposit its instrument of ratification with the SADC Secretariat. As it stands, for the protocol to become law in the region, two more countries must deposit instruments of ratification.

One of the greatest criticisms made of the SADC regional grouping is its habit to make numerous commitments and intentions only on paper without corresponding practical activity and drive to implement the plans. According to the Communiqué of the 2 June Windhoek meeting, some member states have made notable progress on the empowerment of women through increased representation in politics and other important decision making positions both in the private and public sectors. The meeting also revealed that only four SADC member states have reached the original 30 percent representation of women in Parliament by 2005, but none has yet reached the 50 percent target set for 2015. But, at the snail pace that SADC has been moving in this regard, one can only hope for a miracle if even half the countries will have reached the 50 percent representation in Parliament by 2015.

South Africa, which ironically has not yet signed the ratification instrument with the SADC secretariat, has the highest proportionate representation of women in Parliament at 45 percent. Mozambique is second (2nd) at 39.2 percent representation of women in Parliament; Angola is third (3rd) at 36.6 percent and the Republic of Tanzania is fourth at 36 percent. Even though the progress by South Africa at national level is commended, the story at national level is still disappointing. Chief Electoral Officer, Pantsy Tlakula, lamented imbalances at local government in South Africa’s local government elections held in May 2011.2 In those elections, only 37 percent of the candidates were women, yet women constitute approximately 54 percent of the voters roll in South Africa. The results of the election revealed that of the successfully elected candidates, only 17.25 percent of women were women. Thus only one in every five councillors elected was a woman.

The statistics above show that more still needs to be done at grassroots politics not only in South Africa but the entire SADC region in accommodating women in positions of leadership. Much as in democratic societies people must be voted for, based on their fitness for the role, there is no doubt that there is still scepticism in some elements of society with regards to the ability of women to deliver which might still impede the recognition of women. Some gender activists in South Africa are advocating for arbitrary quota systems as the only route to the achievement of a fair incorporation of women into key roles in society.

Poverty, unemployment, lack of capital, lack of land, sexual, verbal, emotional, physical abuse and domestic violence are still some of the rampant challenges that women are still largely susceptible to in the SADC region. In some parts of Malawi, for instance, girls are still being forced into marriages at tender ages which deprive them of their dream education and future.

Given the issues discussed in this article, state and non-state actors all need to put their heads and resources together to advance the role of women in African societies if reasonable strides are to be made towards the 2015 objectives. A lot more has to be done, a lot more drive needs be applied in empowering women economically, socially and politically. Women need to be given the means to being masters of their own destinies in Africa right from household level to national and regional levels as the majority are still facing cultural obstacles.

The African cultural beliefs with regards to the inferior role of women still hold captive millions of African minds. There is a need to put in place more mechanisms to exorcise the mental demons that torment many rural girls viewing themselves as inferior to man. The same demons torment men who view themselves as superior and as the only route through which success can come to a woman’s life. I envisage a SADC region and an Africa where man equally support, respect women and develop corresponding confidence in women and vice versa.


- Takura Chamuka (MSc Economics, BSc Economics) is a Human and Economic Development Consultant/Researcher based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

This article may not be published or reproduced without the consent of the author.

[1] Communiqué on the meeting available at:

[2] International knowledge network of women in politics -

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