Sub-Saharan Africa

The Sub-Saharan Africa region is one of the poorest performers in the 2014 edition of the SIGI. Over half of its countries show high to very high levels of discrimination across all SIGI sub-indices. The region displays the highest gender inequalities in the sub-indices of restricted resources and assets and restricted physical integrity. A high level of discrimination in the family code sub-index also continues to restrict women’s choices and infringe on their socio-economic rights.

Having access to land and control over property remains one of the biggest challenges for women in Sub-Saharan Africa. The plurality of legal systems that govern many countries render women’s land and property rights vulnerable or insecure. Gender-neutral clauses in civil codes and constitutions granting all citizens equal land rights are undermined by discriminatory customary laws and practices. Five countries retain discriminatory laws (Gambia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Zambia) and another 38 practise discrimination. Women face legal or customary barriers to financial services in 16 countries, for example requiring the approval of a male head of household to open a bank account or access credit (e.g. Nigeria and Zambia). Data suggest that only 18% of women have land titles.

Violence against women continues to be a major concern; 40% of women in the region have been victims of gender-based violence. While some countries have introduced new legislation criminalising domestic violence (e.g. Sierra Leone), seven countries have no laws on rape, 17 have no laws on domestic violence and 11 have no laws on sexual harassment. Acceptance of domestic violence remains high (54% regionally); in Gambia, 75% of women believe their husband or partner is justified in hitting or beating them in certain situations. Reports indicate that women in fragile and conflict-affected states are vulnerable to rape and violence (e.g. in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan). Female genital mutilation is practised in 26 countries: FGM affects 45% of females regionally but up to 95% in Guinea and Somalia.

Customary or religious laws that condone early marriage and unequal inheritance practices infringe on women’s and girls’ rights. Early marriage rates are declining in many countries (e.g. Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia) but remain high; in the region, 25% of women aged 15-19 are married, and in Niger 60%. Unequal inheritance practices continue in 12 countries (e.g. Botswana, Ghana and Senegal), undermining women’s and girls’ access to and control over land and assets. Social expectations on women’s domestic roles result in women performing four times more unpaid care work than men.