International Development Law Organization

Fear, shame, women and the law

In 100 countries worldwide, women are barred from doing certain work solely because they are women. Over 150 countries have laws that are discriminatory to women, and only 18 countries are free of such laws. In 32 countries, women cannot apply for passports in the same way as men. In 59 countries, there are no laws against sexual harassment at work and in 46 there is no legal protection against domestic violence. 

In Africa, the line between the girl/child and woman is often blurred, and at 14, thousands become mothers when they themselves are still children. Yet they have no access to proper maternal and sexual reproductive health education and services. There are countries where the law denies women access to contraceptives and countless die as a result of unsafe abortions. It is also here that the law insists on upholding moral or cultural obligations instead of addressing the reality of the situation on the ground.

In spite of these challenges, Africa is also making progress. Sub-Saharan Africa was last year cited as the most progressive region globally for legislative and regulatory reform in support of women’s economic advancement. The World Bank Group’s 2016 Women Business and the Law report described the region as a “study in contrasts”. There is clearly room to do more. 

Africa is a continent blessed with rich cultures and diverse religious practices and beliefs, yet the same beliefs continue to uphold patriarchy and deeply rooted negative cultural norms. Where cultural and religious law run parallel to or are integrated in state law, how do we keep the good and discard the bad? As practitioners, we need to recognize and give enough priority to education and attitude change as we come up with, and implement laws. And we should look at glocalization, the domestication of international treaties and laws that we ratify to fit our local scenarios and African reality. This op-ed was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier and the rest of the article can be read HERE.

The author Faith Wafula, is the Gender Programs Officer at Strategic Applications International and member of the Commonwealth Youth and Gender Equality Network. Faith recently attended and contributed to IDLO's Africa rule of law for sustainable development conference, and high-level side event at the 32nd session of the United Nations’ Human Rights, Council