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Women’s Rights Laws Sometimes Ignored, Rejected by Citizenry in Africa

Mali’s president, Amadou Toure, introduced landmark laws protecting women’s rights of inheritance in August of last year. However, according to a West African Insight: Women and Gender Issues in West Africa (WAI), it faced popular opposition.
“[The law was] instalantly rejected by angry leaders of Muslim associations who called the new family code the ‘handiwork of the devil and anti-Islam.’ The law was eventually withdrawn, according to the president, ‘to ensure calm and a peaceful society—and for the sake of national unity.” In this particular case, “
WAI also mentions several positive government and policy changes in Burkinabe Faso, where there has been a ministry of women’s affairs since 1997. The country’s family code “rejects the idea of the man as head of the household and states categorically that spouses are equal partners. It gives mother and father equal share in parental authority… and in the event of divorce, child custody is awarded to the parent who can provide the best care.”
Additionally, inheritance law gives widows the legal right to inherit property, and stipulates sons and daughters be treated equally.
However, WAI states that it is “not uncommon for the family of [a deceased man] to lay claims to the couple’s material possessions, which frequently leads to the family selling the couple’s house without the widow’s consent—and then she is evicted.”
Additionally, levirate marriage, in which a widow is obliged to marry the brother of her late husband in order to retain custody of children, is illegal, but is “still practiced by a small minority of people.”
And despite laws stating the minimum age for marriage for both women and men is 17, WAI cites a 2004 UN report that states “35 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 were already married, divorced or widowed.” WAI went on to add that in rural parts of the country “females marry between the ages of 14 and 16 years; in the northern parts of the country, the Fulani ethnic group is distinct in marrying even at a much younger age.”
There is a strong popular movement for gender equality though. WAI notes that “women in Burkina Faso are considerably well organized; many of the groups are consistent and serious participants in international women movements.”

Implications from IFTF:
Despite popular opposition from certain sectors of society, gender equality in West Africa is likely to increase despite setbacks. WAI notes that “women in Burkina Faso are considerably well organized; many of the groups are consistent and serious participants in international women movements.”

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Sources:

West African Insight: Women and Gender Issues in West Africa page 2:
http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/CDD_Feb2010.pdf#page=3