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Britain Celebrates Africa Women's Day

South African gospel singers smile during a rally to commemorate Women's Day (file photo)

South African gospel singers smile during a rally to commemorate Women's Day (file photo)

2010 to 2020 has been adopted by the African Union as the African Women's Decade. On Saturday, women from around the world met in London to celebrate African Women's Day.

About 100 women from Britain and Africa came together to pay tribute to the progress made for women's rights in Africa during recent years.

One of the women in attendance was Mary-Louise Puemba from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She says her husband died more than a decade ago and in the aftermath her in-laws took possession of all her belongings, including her house, her business, and her land.

"I was very traumatized for many years, depressive, and as I know my right I took them to court and after eight years I won the case," Puemba explained.

She says she wants to help other women fight to protect their rights in the same way.

Marie-Claire Faray-Kele is from the Women's International League for Peace, which organized the event in London. She says the African Union declaration that 2010-2020 is the African Women's Decade means African states need to take action regarding women's rights.

"The African Union is actually putting African women at the center of everything that is going to be done in Africa because if they declare this decade as for African women then that means they have to walk the talk," Kele said.

She says her group wanted to use Africa Women's Day to highlight an important piece of African Union legislation, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women. It is better known as the Maputo Protocol and came into force in 2005.

The Protocol requires states to eliminate sexual violence, discrimination and other harmful practices against women, including female genital mutilation. It also gives women control of their own reproductive health and the right to inherit property.

It has been signed by most African countries and ratified by around half.

She says the United Nations has brought in laws that address women's rights. But she says it is important for women in Africa to have laws that are particular to the circumstances they face.

"There is high mortality for pregnant women and also for women giving birth," Keley said. "And also there are harmful tradition and practices such as female genital mutilation. There are widows who are suffering sometimes because they treat them as witches - there is a lot of very backward practices."

The Maputo Protocol outlines a good framework for women's rights in Africa, she says - but only if it is enacted. She says so far countries are not doing enough to make sure women are empowered in the way it promises.

The United Nations says sub-Saharan Africa is home to 47 percent of global maternal mortality.