African Governments Strive Toward Greater Rights for Women

Great strides have been taken in the field of women’s rights by both Tunisia and Morocco. Both Muslim nations have ratified the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women but have either not implemented laws regarding gender equality or have little effective enforcement of these laws. Recent events have indicated both countries are opening up to the idea of greater gender equality.

Tunisia has adopted an article in the new constitution which writes gender equality into law. Although the country has been fairly progressive regarding women’s rights in the past, there was concern that the Islamist-led government would use the new constitution as a method of withdrawing the rights that Tunisian women have held since independence. Article 20 of the draft constitution establishes that male and female citizens are “equal before the law without discrimination.” The draft constitution needs to be approved by parliament before it is adopted and enforcement of this article could be a problem in the future, but things appear to be progressing for the women of Tunisia.

The most promising sign of the progression of women’s rights in Africa came from the repeal of Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code. Article 475 allowed a rapist to escape punishment by marrying their victim, many of whom were underage. This violates multiple articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (which Morocco ratified) and violates Morocco’s own law that both parties be at least 18 at the time of marriage. It took the suicide of a 16-year-old victim of rape and forced marriage for the law to be repealed, but it has also sparked the creation of a bill threatening a 25-year prison sentence for perpetrators of violence against women. There is, without doubt, room for improvement, but there is hope that this is the beginning of a new era of women’s rights in Morocco.

There has also been a rededication to the prevention of child marriages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Benin, and Guinea due to the London Summit on Family Planning. All three countries have agreed to increase education and health programs to help prevent forced child marriages, and they plan to dedicate more time and effort into enforcing age limits for marriage in their countries. Although progress is slow, many African countries appear to be realizing the need for gender equality and are taking steps to achieve it.

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5 Responses to African Governments Strive Toward Greater Rights for Women

  1. Another issue for which mere ratification of CEDAW by African countries has proved ineffective is female genital mutilation. While many justify the practice as a cultural right, CEDAW General Recommendation No. 14 calls for countries to eradicate the practice. Still, states that have both signed and ratified CEDAW have failed to curb the practice of FGM. In Egypt and Guinea (both parties to CEDAW), more than 90% of women are subjected to some form of FGM.

  2. agebremedhin says:

    These nations are making great legalistic and structural strides to ensure that the rule of law is supporting women and acknowledging certain risks based on gender. However, is there any information on how normative change is progressing in these nations? Without both normative and legal change occurring concurrently, there will always be a limit to how effective gender-aware legislation can be.

    • manaljfarah says:

      Either method (whether the normative change occurs first or the structural change) serve to be extremely effective and inherently impact one other. Take Djibouti as a brief example, the nation instituted laws against FGM in the late 80s and within 10 years it become part of every child’s curriculum to reject and critic the practice as a whole. And today if you talk to anyone that grew up during the era of anti-FGM laws their normative perception on the issue changed than those of a generation prior.

  3. Interesting example, Manal. Connects to what we were discussing yesterday with regard to LGBT rights in South Africa—i.e. legal/constitutional changes preceding social/normative change.

  4. Interesting. I still see the distinction though between the effectiveness of international treaties (CEDAW) versus state laws on human rights outcomes. And in South Africa, I sometimes wonder whether the fact that LGBT protections “slipped quietly” into the constitution was precisely what allowed the reform to be rather successful.

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