Home News Outdated laws and customs stalling progress on women’s rights across Africa – study | Women’s rights and gender equality

Outdated laws and customs stalling progress on women’s rights across Africa – study | Women’s rights and gender equality

0
Outdated laws and customs stalling progress on women’s rights across Africa – study | Women’s rights and gender equality

Discriminatory laws and customs across Africa are stalling progress on women’s rights in the region, according to new research.

The human rights organisation Equality Now studied family law and practices in 20 African countries and found that despite some progress in recent decades, inequalities persisted in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance and property laws.

Most of the countries in the report have pluralistic legal systems, where statutory legislation sits alongside customary and religious laws, making interpretation and application difficult.

The majority of countries have ratified two protocols that guarantee strong rights and protections for women, including the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo protocol) and the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

However, some countries still permit rape in marriage; in others, women are unable to petition for divorce and have no guarantee of inheriting property on the death of a partner. Customary laws in countries including Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria mean women receive less inheritance than male counterparts.

Activists say that family laws have not kept up with the social shifts of recent decades, including changes in family responsibilities and increased divorce rates.

There has been some success across the continent, including raising the legal age for marriage to 18, said the report. Countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Mozambique have banned child marriage. However, Cameroon, Senegal and Tanzania still allow it. Countries such as Nigeria outlawed child marriage in 2003, but the practice continues in the north of the country, where approximately 50% of girls are married before the age of 18.

Esther Waweru, report co-author and a senior legal adviser at Equality Now, said: “Culture and religion frequently act as major impediments in the struggle for family law equality, stalling reforms. Claw-back clauses water down the full impact of some progressive laws, and we are now witnessing backlash from anti-rights movements seeking to reverse hard-won gains made in ending harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

“Stagnation is also a problem, with governments pledging to reform discriminatory laws but failing to take meaningful action. In some instances, progressive family codes have remained in limbo for decades, awaiting enactment.”

Female construction workers in the Kono region, Sierra Leone. Activists say that family laws have not kept up with social shifts. Photograph: Topia Salone/The Guardian

Hadiza Dauda, a 37-year-old woman from the northeastern Nigerian city of Bauchi, has had first-hand experience of discriminatory customary laws.

Forced to marry at 12, which cut short her education and exposed her to early motherhood, when her husband died in 2020, her in-laws put pressure on her to marry her brother-in-law. They threatened to take custody of her children and evict her from her matrimonial home if she did not.

Dauda got her land back with the help of Women for Women, which trains marginalised women on their rights, and she is now a community activist, advocating against forced marriage and widow evictions in her home town.

“[These practices] really affect women negatively,” she said. “Those that don’t know what to do fall into poverty, doing all sorts of menial jobs to feed their families. Others go into depression, not knowing where to start from. I didn’t have a choice on when to get married, or when and how to give birth, but we are saying women must have a say, and [this needs to change].”

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here