Women Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa

Women rights include the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to education and access to economic opportunities, as well as a range of other human rights. Women are also entitled to health services like safe abortion and contraception, the ability to choose if, when and whom they marry, to freedom from gender-based violence including sexual assault and female genital mutilation (FGM) and to leave dangerous situations and relationships such as abusive husbands and so-called honour crimes.

While many people in the US say that there is more work to do to advance women’s rights, most people think that there has been some progress over the past decade. Women’s groups around the world fight to ensure that women can own property, vote, run for office and get paid fair wages, and live free from discrimination, exploitation, domestic and other forms of violence, and harmful practices such as child marriage and FGM.

A major reason for these gains is the Global Fund for Women, which was created to support women’s groups and the men and women who lead them. While we must continue to invest in these organizations, the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to foreign aid and stringent policies such as those on refugees, immigration, abortion, and climate change threaten the progress that has been made.

When asked what a society that has achieved equal rights for women might look like, most respondents cited that men and women would be paid equally for the same work and there would be no discrimination against either in hiring or promotion. A smaller share cited that men and women might have the same amount of respect in the workplace, and fewer still mentioned better paid family leave or paternity and maternity benefits as examples of societies that have achieved gender equality.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Gabon stands out as a country that has made great strides in advancing women’s rights. Its law prohibits discrimination against women in all areas of life, and it abolished the requirement for married women to seek permission from their husbands before they could get jobs or pursue education.

But most other countries in the region have a long way to go to achieve equal rights for women. For example, 65% of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa restrict women’s mobility by not allowing them to move without the permission of their spouses, and many of the nations there also limit women’s property rights and require them to obey their husbands’ laws. These restrictions impede women’s ability to access the health and educational services they need, as well as to make their own choices in their lives. This is a huge obstacle to women’s rights. In order to fully achieve their rights, these barriers must be removed. The Global Fund for Women is working to make that happen.