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.
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.
Enhancing Policy Responses to Addressing Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA) in Kenya
Every year, over 400 million children around the world are exposed to child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA). Defined as any exploitative and abusive sexual activity involving …
Words and Deeds: Sex Discrimination in Violence Laws
The 4th UN Conference on Women in 1995 was the birth of The Beijing Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights. Governments around the world pledged to change or remove their existing …
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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.
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’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
Enhancing Policy Responses to Addressing Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA) in Kenya
Every year, over 400 million children around the world are exposed to child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA). Defined as any exploitative and abusive sexual activity involving…
Kenya – Submission to the Committee against Torture – 73rd Session – April 2022
This submission details our concerns with regard to laws related to rape and other forms of sexual violence and procedures and practices which effectively deny access to…
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…
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
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…
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…
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
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…
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…
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
Key Resources for South 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…
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…
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…
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
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
Zambia – Committee On The Rights Of The Child – 90th Session, May 2022
This submission details our concerns with regard to laws related to sexual violence and the right to education for girls in Zambia. Submitted by: Equality Now, Women and Law in Southern Africa…
Hear from some of the incredible survivors and activists committed to raising their voices to make equality reality across Africa and around the world.
The feminist movement in MENA needs more funding and greater inclusion: Nora Noralla – Egypt
Nora Noralla is an Egyptian human rights researcher who focuses on issues involving sexual and bodily freedoms, Islamic Sharia, and human rights in the Middle East and …
None of us can afford to sit back and wait for equality to arrive – we need to act now. Only by working together will we achieve the legal and systemic change needed to address violence and discrimination against women and girls.
Social change begins with legal change and people like you — raising your voice against injustice — play a vital role in our collective success.