NIAMEY (Reuters) – Some 2,000 Muslim traditionalists in Niger staged a protest on Sunday against plans to ratify Africa’s Maputo Protocol on women’s rights, which has already been rejected by the West African country’s parliament.
Adopted by African heads of state in Mozambique’s capital in 2003, the Protocol aims to enshrine rights for women across the continent, guaranteeing them equality with men in all spheres of life and outlawing female circumcision.
But the Protocol has met resistance in Niger, a deeply impoverished, landlocked country in the arid Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara.
Some 95 percent of Niger’s 12.6 million people are Muslims and Islamic law and tradition, as interpreted by Muslim scholars and judges known as Ulemas, govern family life here.
Crowds gathered on Sunday at a square in the capital Niamey used for Islamic prayers to voice opposition to the Protocol and government attempts to have it ratified.
“An Ulema can not accept a man saying that his wife and he are equal in the sharing of their heritage. It is unimaginable,” said Ibrahim Oumarou, a preacher and member of a coalition of Islamic organisations who organised the demonstration.
Parliament voted down ratification of the Protocol in June by 42 votes to 31.
Muslim groups held a demonstration in October to denounce a “new diabolical plot” to ratify the Protocol. A planned meeting of Muslim groups at the capital’s main mosque a week ago was banned by the authorities.
Last week the government revived efforts to have the Protocol ratified, seeking to mollify traditional Muslims by saying the text was aimed not at them, but at people who mistreated women because they had not followed their God….
The Maputo Protocol is designed to guarantee women rights in marriage, politics, education, employment and a host of other areas, and requires countries which ratify it to respect those rights in their own domestic laws.
It also bans female circumcision — often referred to as female genital mutilation — and bans or discourages polygamy, child marriage and other customs common in Niger’s conservative and largely rural society.