The Centre for Human Rights hosted a Conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter in Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, on the 9th and 10th December at the Merensky Main Library Auditorium, University of Pretoria. The main theme of this conference was “exploring possibilities for promoting women’s sexual and reproductive health rights.”

Generously funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs it was a captivating two days which saw critical and informative discussions around various aspects of women’s health and reproductive rights under the protocol to the Africa charter. HE Kari Bjørnsgaard, Ambassador of Norway to South Africa was present to offer the opening remarks. 

The conference was well attended with participants ranging from, but not limited to human rights practitioners, academics, health care workers, researchers and students. Of utmost consideration was how much has changed in these 10 years and what can be done to ensure that the protocol is effectively implemented to the benefit of Africa’s women.

Touching on the main themes of the Conference, Dr Pregs Govender Deputy Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission gave a moving Key Note address, highlighting amongst others the importance of budgetary allocations in the realisation of women’s human rights as well as the importance of the right of access to information to allow women to assert their rights. The papers that followed this key note address were provocative and touched on the main conference sub themes of the protocol and HIV, the sexual and reproductive health rights of marginalised groups of women, access to safe abortion, sexual rights and women’s reproductive rights and the role of resources. 

Part of the Conference proceedings included a lecture by Mr Steven Lewis, Co-Director of AIDS Free World titled, “The power of advocacy” for the Annual Helen Kanzira Lecture. This is an annual lecture geared towards raising awareness on sexual and reproductive health rights. It is held in memory of the Late Helen Kanzira, an alumnus of the LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa, who died while giving birth to a baby girl.

His was a passionate call for all to realise the power of making your voice heard. Reflecting on the life of the late Nelson Mandela, Mr Lewis boldly encouraged all present to be relentless in their fight for social justice. Focusing on the general theme of the conference, he highlighted the importance of realising sexual and reproductive health rights for all women across the world and shared his varied experiences in his advocacy work. Mr Lewis especially made a call to the younger advocates for human rights to not lose sight of the mission at hand that is to boldly take a stand against impunity and injustice and speak loud in calling leadership to account in the realisation of especially women’s human rights.

This year’s lecture was particularly special due to the attendance by the husband of the late Helen Kanzira; Mr Ernest Kalibbala Wiltshire. He gave a moving opening address reminiscing on the special person that Helen was. She had a giving spirit, her warm and accommodating heart, but most of all the fervour with which she stuck to her principles. It was a reminder once again that we are all commissioned in our different spaces to be agents for the realisation of human rights. As we reflected the life of Helen through the eyes of her husband, it was a further reminder to actively seek social justice for women through the realisation of their sexual and reproductive health rights.


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