Allegations of Discrimination against Women working for the AU Commission
The African continent’s top diplomatic body, African Union (AU) Commission has been at the heart of serious allegations of harassment against women, and gender discrimination within the commission.
A communiqué issued out by the commission dated 16th August 2018, says “the African Union Commission wishes to communicate that the High-Level Committee established, last June, by the Chairperson of the Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, to investigate allegations of harassment against women staff members of the Commission is continuing its work. At the request of its members, the Committee was given additional time to finalize its report, which will be submitted by September 2018. This investigation is being conducted transparently and independently, and its findings and recommendations will be published.”
A research done by DE MIRROR NEWSPAPER based here in Sierra Leone shows that the communiqué is in accordance with complaints forwarded by a group of women who work at the Addis Ababa headquarters of the AU and were calling on President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, the AU chairman, to order an investigation into cases of discrimination against female staff.
Earlier in May this year, it was reported by many continental and international media outlets, including THE EASTAFRICAN NEWSPAPER, a weekly newspaper published in Kenya, that that staff, who mainly work under the Peace and Security Commission, accuse the head of the commission Smaïl Chergui of sidelining women in the AU’s most vital organ.
The Newspaper publication on grounds of anonymity further quoted the women as saying: “We want President Kagame to intervene in this matter because it is tainting the African Union and as chairman, he has the power to put a stop to what is going on.” The women added “Our contracts are being terminated in a manner that cannot be explained while women are not considered for available senior posts. There are also those who have served in the commission for years but are not promoted or considered for senior postings,”
In response, the AU Commission’ Chair Office spokesperson Ebba Kalondo had tweeted: “I want to make it clear that I will not allow discrimination against women under my watch. I have ordered an investigation to get to the heart of these allegations. Gender parity is at the heart of this administration. This is my personal conviction and professional duty to all staff.”
As a way of official response to the allegations, on 20th June 2018, the Africa Union Commission in a statement to editors informed the press on the appointment of High Level Committee to Investigate Allegations of Harassment against Women at the African Union Commission. The Committee is tasked to look into the overall issue of harassment within the Commission.
The High-Level Committee is composed of senior women working within the AU and they are as follows: Bineta Diop, Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security; Lucy Asuagbor, Member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights in Africa; and Tujilane Rose Chizumila, Judge at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
On August 16th 2018, the Communiqué from AU Commission states “at the request of its members, the Committee was given additional time to finalize its report, which will be submitted by September 2018.”
Meanwhile, a research done by DE MIRROR NEWSPAPER shows that discrimination against women or any person is a key human rights violation enshrined in most international and regional human rights documents, and most especially the Africa Charter on Human and Peoples Rights; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights enshrines the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnic group, colour, SEX, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status. Further to this, Article 18 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights calls on all States Parties to eliminate every discriminatory law against women and to ensure the protection of the rights of women as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.
Meanwhile, with reference to international declarations and conventions, DE MIRROR NEWSPAPER research that the United Nations has so far adopted and rectified a convention that protects specifically rights against discrimination of women. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Article 1 states “discrimination against women" shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) Article 2 and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 3 all urge states to undertake measures and to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in them.
However, as things stand now, with the African Union Commission facing one of the greatest allegations of gender discrimination, the finalize report, which will be submitted by September 2018, will be a wait and see as the fate of many women working within the commission, pegs on the three women committee members.