W&L Law Symposium to Explore African Women’s Rights and Health Issues

Lexington, VA • Monday, March 23, 2009

The African Women's Protocol
Prof. Charles Ngwena explains the importance of this new human rights treaty.

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On Friday, April 3, human rights scholars from around the world will gather at Washington and Lee University School of Law for a symposium exploring women’s reproductive and sexual health as human rights on the African continent. W&L Law’s 2008-09 Scholar-in-Residence, Charles Ngwena, Professor of Health and Human Rights at the University of the Free State, South Africa, will chair the symposium.

Activities will begin at 9:00 a.m. in the Millhiser Moot Court Room, Sydney Lewis Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Participants will explore the implications of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, a human rights treaty that was adopted by the African Union in 2003 and came into force in 2005. One of the chief innovations of the Protocol is that it is the first international human rights charter to focus on the rights of women at a regional level. Ngwena notes that, in some respects, the Protocol is also considered a radical document in that it addresses explicitly women’s right issues, such as abortion, making it is the first international human rights treaty to recognize abortion as a human right in its formal provisions.

“Abortion as we all know is an issue that is underpinned by moral controversy,” says Ngwena. “And it is quite bold for a regional human rights instrument to pronounce explicitly that countries in Africa have a duty to make abortion services available to women who need them for a number of reasons.”

Symposium topics will revolve around the African and Asian human rights systems, lessons that can be learned from United Nations instruments for protecting the rights of women, HIV/AIDS, abortion, adolescent sexual health, sexual and reproductive health in marriage, sexual violence in times of conflict, and access to health services.

Though many African nations have signed on to the treaty in principle, there remain challenges at the domestic level for those countries to implement laws to enforce the provisions of the Protocol. One of the goals of the symposium is to provide a forum for exploring how human rights principles can be applied across a group of nations with such varied histories, cultures and political orientations.

“Human rights systems are also comprised by civil society,” says Ngwena. “And civil society, including academic institutions, has an important role to play in raising awareness and promoting understanding of the new human rights treaty.”

The symposium is co-sponsored by the W&L Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice and the Frances Lewis Law Center. A panel schedule, a list of symposium participants, and detailed presentation information is available online at http://law.wlu.edu/Africa.

For more information or to inquire about attending, contact Wendy Rice at ricew@wlu.edu.

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