Gender discrimination in social institutions is very high in the 44 Sub-Saharan African countries. Of the ranked countries, all except six are in the bottom half of the SIGI. Just one – Mauritius – is in the top 20. Overall, the main
The Constitution of Angola provides for equal rights for men and women. In addition, the government created a Secretariat of State for the Promotion and Development of Women in 1991. This secretariat was reinstituted as the Ministry of Family and Promotion of Women in 1997 and remains the primary government agency responsible for implementing policies to support equal rights for women.
The Constitution of Benin prohibits discrimination based on race, sex and religion, and grants men and women equal economic and social rights as citizens. In 1992, Benin ratified CEDAW. A Code of Persons and Family, drafted by the government in 1990, was voted upon and promulgated by the president in 2004.
Officially, women in Botswana have the same civil rights as men. However, the country has a dual legal system in which common law and customary law exist side by side, as well as a long history of traditional laws, which are enforced by tribal structures and customary courts. As a result, societal discrimination against women persists in practice, particularly in rural areas and in terms of property rights and economic opportunities.
In Burkina Faso, the government has taken steps to improve women’s rights by enacting new legislation. However in many situations, both the Family Code and the Penal Code are disregarded by society and by the authorities.
Article 17 of Burundi’s Constitutional Act of Transition establishes the equality of men and women before the law. However, the government often falls short of effectively implementing the Act’s provisions. Burundi is a traditional society, with strong patriarchal and patrilineal elements. Women have more duties than rights, and must submit to the customs and practices governing the relation between men and women.
Cameroon’s Constitution upholds the principle of gender equality. However, the country has a complex legal system comprising a mix of Napoleonic Code and common law, as well as customary and written law. This structure is often an obstacle to gender equality. Local traditions also remain very strong, and have negative effects on the situation of Cameroonian women.
Central African Republic
The 1994 Constitution of the Central African Republic guarantees equal rights to men and women in all domains of society. Due to chronic poverty and a lack of funding, the Central African Republic government admits that it has been unable to meet its obligation regarding general human rights. Moreover, local traditions that are unfavourable to women remain strong amidst the predominantly rural population.
The population in Chad is characterised by a distinct division between ethnic groups who inhabit the north and those who live in the south, a fact that is relevant to certain gender issues. The north is home to the Arab, Peul and Hausa ethnic groups, who are Muslims and often livestock farmers; collectively, they represent half of the population. In the south, the dominant groups include Animists, who make up 39% of the population, and Christians, who make up 11%. The country’s largest ethnic group is the Saras, who live off agriculture.
The Republic of Congo’s Constitution of 8 December 1963 proclaims equality before the law for all citizens and upholds the full legal capacity of women, irrespective of their marital status. Nevertheless, discriminatory provisions persist in the laws governing inheritance, marriage and parental authority. The fact that the Republic of Congo is based on a dual legal system, with a French-inspired form of modern law super-imposed upon customary laws, also creates challenges for Congolese women.
Congo, Democratic Republic of
The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo DR) upholds the principle of equality between men and women. However, certain provisions of Congolese law still discriminate against women, particularly in the areas of ownership rights and women’s lack of any capacity to sign legal contracts. The ongoing conflict with high levels of sexual violence has also had a major impact on women and girls.
The Constitution of Côte d’Ivoire prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and government policy encourages full participation by women in social and economic life. Nevertheless, Ivorian women remain confined to traditional roles, especially in rural areas.
The Constitution of Equatorial Guinea provides for equal rights for men and women. The country has a dual legal system based on both civil law and customary law, which creates obstacles to the advancement of women’s place in society. National legislation contains non-discrimination provisions but these laws are rarely enforced.
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991, after 30 years of war. During the conflict, the central leadership of the country (the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front) made efforts to introduce the National Democratic Program, a platform to challenge gender inequality. Eritrea’s Constitution and Transitional Civil Code of Eritrea (TCE) now prohibit discrimination against women, however, as yet, the laws are not always fully implemented due to lack of capacity in the country’s legal system.
Despite recently introducing policy instruments and legislative commitments designed to serve women’s interests, Ethiopia remains one of Africa’s most tradition-bound societies. A vast majority of Ethiopian women, particularly in rural areas, live in a state of poverty and dependence, and they rarely benefit directly from development initiatives. Following traditional socio-cultural installations and practices, women in Ethiopia are considered to be subordinate to men.
The Constitution in Gabon recognises men and women as equals before the law. However, discriminatory legal provisions within both the Civil and Penal Codes continue to constrain the status of women, particularly within the context of marriage and family relations. Social attitudes and cultural practices also represent genuine obstacles to the advancement of women.
Under the 1997 Constitution, women in the Gambia are accorded equal rights with men. Yet they continue to experience discrimination and inequality, largely because the patriarchal nature of Gambian society reinforces traditional roles of women. In addition, the country has a dual legal system that combines civil law (inspired by the British system) and Islamic law. Provisions under the latter law are generally viewed to be discriminatory towards women, particularly in relation to marriage, divorce and inheritance.
Ghana’s 1992 Constitution officially bans all cruel and inhumane aspects of cultural and traditional norms. The Criminal Code imposes sanctions with respect to defilement, forced marriages, customary servitude, female genital mutilation, abuse of widowhood rites and the practice of banishment of "witches".
The Constitution of Guinea upholds equality between men and women as a fundamental right, but many forms of discrimination remain evident. Guinean women are forced into polygamous marriages and do not have equal rights under divorce laws. Female genital mutilation remains widely practised. Discrimination is most prevalent in rural areas, where women do not have access to land and have difficulty accessing farming equipment and other resources.
The Constitution and legislation of Guinea-Bissau prohibit all forms of discrimination on the grounds of gender, race or religion. In practice, the government is not in a position to enforce the principle of non-discrimination, and violence and discrimination against women remain serious problems. Traditionally, women do most of the agricultural work, but in certain ethnic groups, they do not have access to land or property.
Kenya is characterised by the co-existence of several institutional frameworks. Unofficial "family codes" and ownership rights vary substantially between three main groups: the Muslim population, traditional society and modern society. In some cases, a given couple may belong to two of these societies. For example, a customary marriage may be followed by a statutory marriage, thereby creating conflicts in relation to the rights and obligations of each spouse. Moreover, some judges do not respect modern institutions, which impacts negatively on the situation of women.
The Kingdom of Lesotho is an enclave within South Africa. Its Constitution, amended in 1993, grants civil and political rights to all individuals but also recognises customary law and, thus, continues to uphold discrimination in some areas. In fact, Lesotho has a dual legal system, incorporating both civil and customary law.
In 2005, Liberia became the first African country to elect a woman, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, as president. The Constitution of Liberia prohibits discrimination. In 2001, the government created a Ministry for Gender and Development and in 2006 published a National Gender-Based Violence Plan of Action. In 2009 the government also published "The Liberia National Action Plan for the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325". Liberia is one of the first African countries to write this four year plan to advance women’s equality and mainstream gender in the country. Currently, the position of women in Liberia varies according to region, ethnic group and religion. Customary laws are a major contributing factor to inequality: women who are married according to these laws are considered to be legal minors. The civil war and widespread sexual violence that ravaged Liberia has also had grave consequences for women.
The Constitution of Madagascar prohibits any discrimination on grounds of gender and grants women the same legal status as men. Though, reportedly, discrimination still exists in relation to inheriting land and property. Early marriage is common and there is widespread violence against women.
The Constitution of Malawi upholds the principle of equal rights for men. After the Constitution was adopted in 1994, the government established a Law Commission to assess whether existing legislation was compatible with the aims of the Constitution. Malawi has been profoundly modernised since it embraced democracy in 1994, yet it remains a very traditional society. There is a wide discrepancy between the declarations in the Constitution and the actual relationship between men and women, and customary law acts as a norm in the socialisation process. The country’s media contributes to the wide-ranging debate on these questions.
Women’s rights are very limited in Mali, where tradition dominates daily life. Nearly all Malian women have been subjected to female genital mutilation, violence against women is widely accepted and many girls marry at a very young age.
In general, the rights of women in Mauritania are not sufficiently protected. The country is home to two main ethnic communities: the majority Moors (Arabs and Berbers) and a large minority of Blacks. Nearly all the inhabitants of Mauritania are Muslim, but tensions exist between the two communities. Moreover, each group has different traditions that affect the condition of women in different areas of daily life. Thus, it is helpful to examine the position of women according to their ethnic origin.
In 1995, the Constitution of Mauritius was amended to include gender in the definition of discrimination. In addition, the government adopted in 2000 a law against sexual discrimination. All citizens are equal under Mauritian legislation, but the society remains firmly rooted in traditional practices.
The 1999 Constitution of Mozambique upholds the principle of equality between men and women in every aspect of the country’s economic, social, political and cultural life. The state endeavours to promote the emancipation of women and improve their situation. Customary laws are still discriminatory, however, particularly with regard to family relations and inheritance. The government has established a legal reform commission to review discriminatory legislation.
The Constitution of Namibia prohibits gender-based discrimination, but men still dominate in the family domain. Inequalities in the country are aggravated by religious beliefs, cultural practices and persistent legal discrimination in both civil and customary (traditional) law.
Niger’s living standards are among the lowest in the world and women live under particularly harsh conditions. Traditions exert a heavy influence and Nigerien women have little legal protection. The lack of social institutions leaves all women highly vulnerable.
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, but customary and religious laws continue to restrict women’s rights. As Nigeria is a federal republic, each state has the authority to draft its own legislation. The combination of federation and a tripartite system of civil, customary and religious law makes it very difficult to harmonise legislation and remove discriminatory measures. Moreover, certain states in the north follow Islamic law, which is unfavourable to women. The government has established a National Committee on the Reform of Discriminatory Laws against Women, which has drafted a decree for the abolition of all forms of discrimination against women. The decree is under discussion in the National Assembly.
The 2003 Constitution of Rwanda prohibits gender-based discrimination, but women in the country continue to face social inequalities. The 1992 Family Code improved the legal position of women in regard to marriage, divorce and child custody. In September 2008, Rwanda became the first country to have more female members of Parliament (56%) than male.
The situation of women in Senegal has improved since the country became independent in 1960. Being a former colony, Senegal’s judicial system and Civil Codes are heavily influenced by those in France. A wide gap is evident between the situation of women in urban areas, where the law is generally respected, and those in rural areas still dominated by tradition.
The Constitution of Sierra Leone provides for equal rights for men and women, but the principle of non-discrimination does not apply in all areas. In February 2007, the government established a commission to review the Constitution and eliminate all discriminatory measures.
Due to a series of civil wars (the most recent of which began in 1991 and is ongoing), the country has operated without a central government for almost ten years. As a consequence, customary practices have increasingly taken the place of a non-existent legal system. Justice is perceived and applied differently depending on the region, and is based on a combination of systems that includes tribal rules, Islamic law, and the Penal Code that existed before 1991. Overall, women’s rights are restricted by the fact that they live in a highly patriarchal system.
South Africa is a unique case in sub-Saharan Africa: it is the only country in which a significant proportion of the population (22%) is not of African origin. The end of Apartheid (in 1993) led to the introduction of legislation supporting women but there is still significant gender and race-based discrimination. To date, civil law is often ineffective in replacing the prevailing customary law, particularly in rural areas.
The situation of women in Sudan is largely influenced by Islamic traditions, which have been a major force in the country since the 15th century. Muslims comprise about 80% of the total population.
The Constitution of Swaziland, adopted in February 2006, grants the same legal rights to men and women, but tradition continues to limit women to inferior roles. Legislation in Swaziland is based on a dual system of traditional and civil law. Several discriminatory laws are still in force, having not yet been aligned with the anti-discrimination measures in the Constitution.
The Constitution of Tanzania prohibits gender-based discrimination but the country’s legislation has yet to be adjusted to support this principle. In general, legal protection for women remains limited, in part because Tanzania’s judicial authorities take into account both customary and Islamic laws.
In 2001, the government of Togo established an inter-ministerial commission to assess the extent to which women’s rights were being respected in the country. The commission conducted a national survey and is expected to put forward amendments to the personal and family code.
The Constitution of Uganda includes anti-discriminatory provisions and condemns any custom that contradicts human rights. But discrimination against women is rife and the situation of Ugandan women is further aggravated by deeply rooted patriarchal tradition and years of armed conflict. The government has enacted new laws to improve the situation of women, but their implementation has been obstructed by some reticent communities.
Zambia is one of the most urbanised countries in Africa and has achieved a reasonable level of democracy. These factors should benefit women, yet the overall situation in regard to gender equality remains difficult. Tradition imposes many restrictions on women, the effects of which are more pronounced in rural communities than in urban areas.
Zimbabwe’s recent history has been marked by a sluggish economy resulting largely from ineffective government policies. The economic decline has led to increased poverty for the population as a whole, with women being particularly hard hit.
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