Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives Francophone Africa

Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives - Francophone Africa, is the result of an in-depth examination of the laws and policies affecting women's reproductive health and rights in seven countries of Francophone Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal.

The report makes clear that although these countries have adopted policies to address many of the reproductive health problems common to the region, including high levels of maternal and infant mortality and high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS, these policies have not had the desired effect. Women continue to suffer in the face of discriminatory customary laws and practices that undermine their social and economic autonomy. It is recommended that governments should resolve the contradictions between customary laws and statutory laws, and between laws and policies. In the absence of a commitment on the part of national governments to resolve these contradictions or to ensure that those laws already in place are respected and applied, women will continue to face discrimination in those areas that most directly affect their public and private lives.

Key Findings of the Report:

  • Governments of the seven countries presented in the report, although willing to adopt at least some types of reproductive health policies and programs, lack the political will to promote related rights;

  • Those rights that have been granted to women, by both domestic legislation and international legal instruments ratified by many governments, are still mere formalities;

  • Customary laws, which often have the force of law under the Constitution, undermine women's rights and are often a source of discrimination in areas that are important for women's rights, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance;

  • Contradictions persist between laws and policies. In Burkina Faso, for example, although the provision of information on contraception is no longer considered illegal since the adoption of the Family Planning Policy in 1986, the Penal Code still prohibits it;

  • Finally, there are tensions and disparities between modern statutory law and customary law in that customary law, which tends to be unfavorable to women, often contradicts modern law in the area of women's rights. Benin's customary law, for example, sets a lower age at first marriage than its civil law.