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Africa has an impressive human rights regime, including the African Charter and Maputo Protocol. Despite this, women and girls across Africa continue to face numerous human rights violations.

Overview

Women and girls across the continent face a range of gender-based violations from child marriage and female genital mutilation, to sexual violence and exploitation.

Governments are failing to uphold their obligations to protect and promote the rights of women and girls, both through the lack of comprehensive legislation to protect women and girls, and inadequate enforcement of the laws that are in place.

Even more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated weaknesses in governance and security structures resulting in an increase in violations against women and girls in different countries in Africa.

Equality Now’s work in Africa at a glance:

Using the Maputo Protocol to protect and promote the rights of women and girls in Africa. In 2003, the Member States of the African Union adopted the Maputo Protocol to safeguard women’s and girls’ rights in Africa. The SOAWR Coalition, of which we are the secretariat, was responsible for the adoption of the Maputo Protocol by the African Union and continually pursues the universal ratification, domestication, and implementation of the Protocol in Africa.

Victory for girls in Sierra Leone at the ECOWAS Court of Justice. In 2018, together with WAVES and Child Welfare Society, we filed a case at the ECOWAS Court of Justice to challenge a ban prohibiting pregnant schoolgirls from attending school. In 2019, we won the case resulting in Sierra Leone lifting the ban. The Government went on to develop policies to protect school-going girls from violations and to ensure access to education for all girls.

Protecting anti-FGM laws in Kenya. In March 2021, the High Court in Kenya upheld and validated the constitutionality of the Prohibition of the Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011. As the first interested party, Equality Now convened and coordinated all the interested parties, both state and non-state, in the case in support of the law. Upholding and implementing the anti-FGM law ensures that women and girls at risk of this human rights violation have legal protection.

Achieving Legal Equality

Though the Maputo Protocol protects the rights of women and girls across Africa, 13 countries are yet to ratify the Protocol.

Ending Sexual Exploitation

Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation disproportionately affects women and girls across Africa.

Ending Sexual Violence

Women and girls across Africa, in both private and public sectors, continue to face sexual violence and too often struggle to access justice

Ending Harmful Practices

Women and girls across Africa are living with the lifelong impact of FGM and child marriage.

Our work

Equality Now works with partners across the region to hold governments accountable for protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls.

Equality Now is honored to be the Secretariat of the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights Coalition (SOAWR), a network of 63 civil society organizations working to accelerate the ratification, domestication, and implementation of the Maputo Protocol while at the same time urging those who have ratified it to breathe life into the Protocol.

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Key resources

Amplifying Survivor Voices: Interviews with survivors of gender based violence in Kenya

Over the past twenty nine years of Equality Now’s quest to realize a just world for women and girls, it has been critical for us to ensure the voices of women and girls are at the …

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Joint submissions to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) 69th Session 2021

Equality Now submitted the following statements to the 69th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The joint statement was …

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Ending Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls: A Call for International Standards

Online sexual exploitation and abuse are growing at an alarming pace globally. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as offenders take advantage of the sex, gender, …

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Countries

Equality Now works with partners across the region to hold governments accountable for protecting the rights of women and girls. Explore progress towards gender equality across the region.

Burkina Faso

Although FGM has been outlawed in Burkina Faso since 1996, and to a great extent the law is enforced, cross-border FGM remains a challenge. Girls are taken to neighboring countries where anti-FGM laws are either weak or nonexistent.

76 percent of women and girls in Burkina Faso aged 15-49 have undergone FGM according to UNICEF.

In Burkina Faso, the majority of the girls undergo FGM before the age of five.

Burkina Faso ratified the Maputo Protocol in 2006 and has also ratified international human rights treaties such as CEDAW

Kenya

Kenya’s government has made bold commitments in recent years to end FGM by 2022, and all GBV by 2026. Despite these claims, rates remain high with 1 in 5 girls in Kenya at risk of child marriage or FGM.

Though Kenya has strong laws, they are inconsistently implemented leaving women and girls at risk.

Over 40% of women are likely to face SGBV in their lifetime.

21% of women and girls between the ages of 15-49 have undergone FGM according to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey, 2014

In 2011, Kenya criminalized all forms of FGM, including cross-border FGM and the medicalization of the practice

In 2020, Makueni County established the first government-run safe house in Kenya for women and girls at risk of sexual violence

Kenya is bound by various regional and international human rights treaties. Kenya ratified the Maputo Protocol in 2010.

Key Resources for Kenya

Amplifying Survivor Voices: Interviews with survivors of gender based violence in Kenya

Over the past twenty nine years of Equality Now’s quest to realize a just world for women and girls, it has been critical for us to ensure the voices of women and girls are at the…

READ MORE

Ending Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls: A Call for International Standards

Online sexual exploitation and abuse are growing at an alarming pace globally. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as offenders take advantage of the sex, gender,…

READ MORE

Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Kenya

As one of Africa’s leaders on internet uptake, recording the highest internet penetration rate in Africa in 2020, Kenya’s laws are particularly important in protecting users against online sexual exploitation and abuse (OSEA). Among a…

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Liberia

Currently, there is no law that criminalizes FGM in Liberia leaving many women and girls without legal protection.

38.2% of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM according to the Liberian Demographic Health Survey, 2019-20

In 2018, the former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed Executive Order 92, temporarily banning FGM in Liberia for one year

Liberia has signed and ratified international and regional human rights frameworks such as CEDAW and the Maputo Protocol, which it ratified in 2007

Key Resources for Liberia

Liberia Human Rights Committee Submission 2018

The submission, based on consultation with Equality Now’s partners in Liberia including Women Solidarity Incorporated (WOSI) and the Association of Female Sociologists of Liberia (LAFSO), focuses on continued violations against…

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Malawi

Despite the existence of laws against trafficking, including the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Act, Malawi remains a source, destination, and transit country for sex trafficking with traffickers often luring victims on the pretense of education and employment opportunities.

Women and girls are trafficked along major truck routes by truck drivers who promise them jobs, marriage, and education in South Africa.

Women and girls are also trafficked from other neighboring countries such as Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia according to ECPAT.

Malawi has ratified human rights treaties, including CEDAW, the Palermo Protocol, and the Maputo Protocol, which it ratified the Maputo Protocol in 2005

Key Resources for Malawi

Joint Submission to the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking on the principle of non-punishment

This submission in response to the Call for Submission issued by the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children on the principle of non-punishment…

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Malawi – joint submission to UN Universal Periodic Review 36th Session May 2020

This submission details our concerns regarding human trafficking in general, and more specifically regarding trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. We make…

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Mali

Although Mali ratified CEDAW in 1985 and the Maputo Protocol in 2005, it has failed to put in place a legal and systemic framework in line with its regional and international obligations relevant to protecting women and girls from harmful practices.

There is currently no law in place prohibiting FGM in Mali

At least 89% of girls and women in Mali between the ages of 15 and 49 have been subjected to FGM according to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey

73% of Malian girls undergo the cut before their 15th birthday, according to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey

Mauritania

Although FGM is illegal in Mauritania, the law only applies to girls under age 18, and if a girl or her family report dangerous effects like infection or death linked to FGM.

66.6% of women and girls have undergone FGM according to a 2018 report by 28TooMany

80.5% of women and girls in rural areas are more likely to undergo FGM compared to 57.2% of those in urban areas

Mauritania ratified the Maputo Protocol in 2005

Key Resources for Mauritania

Mauritania – Equality Now joint submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 79th Session September 2018

The joint submission deals with our concerns regarding the continued violations against women and girls, including female genital…

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Sierra Leone

In 2018, together with WAVES and Child Welfare Society, we filed a case at the ECOWAS Court of Justice to challenge Sierra Leone’s ban prohibiting pregnant schoolgirls from attending school. In December 2019, the Court found the ban breached girls’ right to education, and the ban was lifted in March 2020.

9 out of 10 women and girls in Sierra Leone aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM according to UNICEF

Although Sierra Leone has national laws that protect women and girls from violations, it does not have a law that criminalizes FGM

Sierra Leone has ratified human rights treaties at the national and regional level, including CEDAW and the Maputo Protocol. Sierra Leone ratified the Maputo Protocol in 2015

Key Resources for Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone – Submission to UN Universal Periodic Review 38th Session April 2021

This submission outlines the gaps in the protection of the rights of women and girls in Sierra Leone with regard to sexual violence, harmful practices, legal equality, and human…

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South Sudan

Domestic and intimate-partner violence is considered mostly a private affair, which rarely results in police involvement and justice for survivors.

Around 65% of women and girls in South Sudan have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime according to UNICEF

The most common form of GBV reported is the abuse within the home, committed by husbands or partners

South Sudan has not ratified the Maputo Protocol

Sudan

Equality Now engaged in the Justice for Noura campaign in 2018. Her case is representative of thousands of women and girls in Sudan who are sexually violated under stringent guardianship laws in the country.

Sudan has a pluralistic legal system which results in undermining the rights of women and girls by enforcing certain harmful practices such as child marriage

Sudan has not ratified the Maputo Protocol

Key Resources for Sudan

Sudan – Equality Now submission to the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) 124th Session October 2018

The submission respectfully urges the Committee to recommend to Sudan to comprehensively amend Article 149 of its 1991 Criminal Code to specifically criminalize…

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Juris Prudence on Sexual Offences Proposals to Close the Gaps for the Prosecution of Rape in Sudan

This report complements Equality Now and partner advocacy in Sudan aimed at getting clarity and guidance in the law to address discriminatory legislation on rape and…

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Tanzania

Nearly 3 out of every 10 females aged 13 to 24 in Tanzania have experienced at least one incident of sexual violence before attaining the age of 18 according to UNICEF. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to abuse. In November 2020, we filed a case together with our partners at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights seeking to overturn the discriminatory policy that expels pregnant girls from school.

Tanzania has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world

One in four girls aged 15 to 19 in the country is either pregnant or has given birth according to UNFPA

Over 30% of girls in Tanzania are married before their 18th birthday according to Demographic Health Survey 2015-16

The Marriage Act, 1971 sets the minimum age of marriage for girls at 14 with the consent of the court or at the age of 15 with parental consent and for boys at 18 years

In October 2019, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court ruling that marriage under the age of 18 was illegal and directed the Government to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18.

Tanzania ratified the Maputo Protocol in 2007.

Key Resources for Tanzania

Protecting Girls from Undergoing FGM in Kenya and Tanzania

This booklet explores the challenges and accomplishments of Equality Now partners in Kenya (Tasaru Ntromonok Initiative) and Tanzania (Network Against Female Genital Mutilation) as they work to eliminate the harmful…

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Togo

Despite Togo’s international obligations to protect the right to a nationality and protect the rights of stateless persons on the basis of UN and regional treaties which it is party to, the Togolese Nationality Code includes sex discriminatory provisions that contribute to statelessness.

Articles 5 and 12 of the Nationality Code of Togo do not allow women to transfer their nationality to noncitizen spouses on an equal basis with men

Under Article 23, foreign women who take their Togolese husband’s nationality may lose their Togolese nationality upon termination of the marriage

Togo ratified the Maputo Protocol in 2005

Zambia

43 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 having experienced some form of sexual violence in Zambia. Adolescents and school girls are often on the receiving end of these violations, often in traditionally safe spaces such as schools and homes where guardians and caregivers are sometimes the perpetrators.

Girls experience abuse and sexual harassment not only in school, but also on their way to school and back or even those staying at the boarding facilities

Many incidents of sexual violence are largely unreported for fear of reprisal, victim shaming, stigma and unresponsive school authorities and legal systems

Zambia ratified the Maputo Protocol in 2006

Key Resources for Zambia

Learning From Cases of Girls’ Rights

Representing the knowledge gained from cases undertaken as part of Equality Now’s Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund (AGLDF), this report identifies and addresses the common obstacles faced by adolescent girls in their pursuit of justice….

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Stories

Hear from some of the incredible survivors and activists committed to raising their voices to make equality reality across Africa and around the world.

A black person's hand's hold a smartphone over a wooden table

Modupe – Nigeria

I was 16 years old when I started accessing the internet. I had a friend who knew about things. She introduced me to Facebook and helped me create an account. As soon as I logged on I began receiving requests.   I didn’t know the first person who contacted …

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Sarah Kuponiyi expert interview – Nigeria

Sarah Kuponoyi is an ImSafer Instructor, Center for Clinical Care and Clinical Research, Nigeria I’ve come across lots of girls who have experienced online harassment, abuse, or exploitation, particularly via Facebook. A girl starts …

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A black person's hand's hold a smartphone over a wooden table

Mohamed Daghar expert interview – Kenya

Mohamed Daghar is the Regional Coordinator Eastern Africa: Enhancing Africa’s response to transnational organized crime, Kenya “Kenya is a technology hub in East Africa – but organized crime accompanies development, and increases …

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Madam K – Sierra Leone

People know me as Madam K. I am 42 years old. I am a teacher by profession and love working with girls because I know how invaluable it is to educate the girl, empower her and give her a voice.   I have been mentoring girls through this club for …

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