Discriminatory practices towards women in Burkinabe society remain high, despite government commitment and efforts to develop a policy and legal framework, as significant gaps remain between these laws and daily reality. In many situations, both the Family Code and the Penal Code are disregarded by society and by the authorities in favour of customary law that upholds practices that discriminate against women, particularly in rural areas.
Article 1 of the 1991 Constitution (revised in 2002) states that all citizens of Burkina Faso are equal, and outlaws discrimination based on gender. The country has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), including the Optional Protocol, and the 2003 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (in 2006).Since 1997 there has been a dedicated Minister for Women. Despite legislative initiatives, significant obstacles remain to ensure women’s access to justice, equality, and positions of political power.
The 1989 Family Code sets the minimum legal age for marriage at 17 years for women and 20 for men, although civil courts can authorise exceptions for women from the age of 15 and for men from the age of 18 (art. 238). In practice, there is a high incidence of early marriage: according to 2010 data from the UN, 32.4% of girls aged 15 to 19 were married, divorced or widowed. The average age at first marriage is 17.8 years. Under Burkinabe criminal and civil law, forced marriage is illegal. Despite this, many families continue to force their daughters into marriage. Poverty and the prospect of dowry motivate families to arrange marriages for their daughters as soon as they reach puberty.
Under articles 235, 236 and 304, Burkina Faso’s Family Code states that spouses are equal partners, gives mothers and fathers equal share in parental authority, and stipulates the same obligations and responsibilities in relation to their children. The law also provides that in the event of a spouse’s death, custody will be granted to the surviving spouse (art. 519). In the event of divorce, child custody is awarded to the parent who can provide the best care.In practice, custody of children under the age of seven is most often granted to the mother.
In the matter of inheritance, widows and female children have an equal legal right to inherit property under articles 742-744 of the Family Code; however this is widely disregarded in favour of customary law, which grants no right of inheritance to widows or minor children.According to custom, the family of the deceased often claims rights to the couple’s possessions, leaving the widow in an extremely precarious situation.Girls are expected to cede land that they have inherited to their brothers.
Women may, by law, initiate divorce. Divorced women or widows may now remarry before the end of a period of 300 days. This may be reduced to 30 days if she is able to provide proof that she is not pregnant (art. 246). The 2009 report to the CEDAW Committee contains the observation that (in the context of domestic violence), ‘the preferred strategy of the judicial authorities and legal advisory services (social services, Ministry for the Advancement of Women, NGOs and associations) is mediation, because the separations that follow domestic violence are mostly disadvantageous for the woman’, indicating that women’s rights – and wellbeing – in the event of divorce are compromised.
Although monogamy is recognised as the common law form of marriage (art. 232), the Family Code authorises polygamy; as of 2010, 42% of married women lived in a polygamous union. Levirate marriage is, however, forbidden by law, although it is still practiced. Under this custom, widows are obliged to marry a brother of their deceased husband in order to retain custody of their male children; otherwise, custody of sons automatically transfers to the family of the deceased.
Data on decision-making show that men primarily make decisions concerning women’s health and important household purchases (75% and 79% of the cases surveyed, respectively). In only 8% of the cases, is it the woman who primarily makes decisions regarding her health care and in only 4% of the cases with regard to important household purchases. Women have slightly more autonomy when it comes to decisions regarding visits to family; in 35% it is primarily the woman who decides, although in 47% of the cases, the husband makes the decision.
 OECD (2014), Gender, Institutions and Development Database, http://stats.oecd.org  FAO (n.d.)  CEDAW (2009), p. 59  FAO (n.d.)  CEDAW (2004), p. 46  CEDAW (2004), p. 46  UNECA (2009a), p. 42  FAO (n.d.)  FAO (n.d.)  CEDAW (2009), p. 18  INSD (2012), p. 8  FAO (n.d.), quoting from Cotula (2007)  FAO (n.d.)  INSD (2012), p. 55  World Bank, 2014, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP. ADO.TFRT  INSD (2012), p. 279
There are no specific laws in place in Burkina Faso pertaining to domestic violence. The penal code does provide specific protection to girls from violence in schools. Few cases of violence against women make it to the courts, partly as a result of women fearing the consequences of court action, and partly because of a lack of legal aid. The state offers limited support to victims of domestic violence, through reception, advisory and guidance services for women whose rights have been violated; otherwise, such support is offered from NGOs with limited resources.
Attitudes towards domestic violence were reported in the most recent Demographic and Health Survey (DHS 2010). Almost half of women (44%) believe that, for at least one of the reasons cited (burning the food, arguing with her husband, going out without telling him and refusing to have sex with her husband), a husband is justified in beating his wife. The proportion of women who agree that wife beating is justified is highest with regard to situations in which a wife argues with her husband (31%) and when she goes out without telling him (30%).In 2010, 15% of women reported experiencing sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in their life time.
There is no specific legal framework in place to deal with sexual harassment, although the 2008 Labour Code (Code du Travail, articles 37 and 422) explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. The law prescribes fines of 50 to 600 thousand CFA francs and prison terms of up to five years for those convicted of sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is defined as obtaining sexual favours by command, word, intimidation, act, gesture, threat or coercion.
Legislation in relation to rape is in place; article 417 of the Penal Code punishes rape with 5 to 10 years imprisonment, and up to 20 years if the victim is under the age of 15. The law does not, however, recognise spousal rape and is generally poorly implemented. A number of organisations counsel rape victims and once rape is reported, the police investigate the accusation and bring the case to court if the evidence warrants. However, no official statistics are available with regard to the prevalence of rape.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) was criminalised in Burkina Faso in 1996, and the 2005 law on Reproductive Health similarly outlaws such practices. In addition, a national action plan for 2009-2013 was put into place, calling for ‘Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation’.Although FGM remains relatively diffused in Burkina Faso (76% of women reported having had the procedure done), evidence suggests a steady decline in the practice, accompanied by the majority of women and men reporting they believe FMG should end.The country is one of the few in the region to have prosecuted perpetrators under legislation banning FGM. The 2010 DHS also reports a significant difference in the percentage of women who have experience FGM related to age: 89% among those 45-49 years of age compared to 58% among those aged 15-19. Drawing on data from the National Committee to Combat the Practice of Excision, the 2009 report to the CEDAW Committee states that while FGM is now a declining trend, the age at which girls are subjected to the procedure is falling, with the procedure often being performed on very young babies.
Legislation is in place granting the right to reproductive health; in addition, a national strategic plan is in place to secure the supply of contraceptives for the period 2005-2015.While showing signs of improvement, modern contraceptive prevalence remains low, rising from 9% in 2003 to 15% in 2010 among women in a union. Overall, 14% of all women reported using a modern method of contraception. Despite the existence of a national family planning policy (adopted in 2004), which guarantees access to contraception to all women, doctors often only provide contraceptives to women who have written permission from their husbands. The need to travel considerable distances to access health services is another factor limiting access to reproductive and other health services for rural women.
Abortion is only legal in Burkina Faso to save a woman’s life, to protect her physical and mental health, and in the case of rape, incest or foetal malformation.
 CEDAW (2009), p. 18  UNECA (2009a), p. 42  CEDAW (2010b), p. 9  CEDAW (2009), p. 19; CEDAW (2010), p. 7  INSD (2012), p. 271  INSD (2012), p. 283 OECD (2014), Gender, Institutions and Development Database, http://stats.oecd.org  UNECA (2009b), pp. 68-69  US Department of State, 2011  CEDAW (2010), p. 10  INSD (2012), p. 291  INSD (2012), pp. 289, 300  UNFPA-UNICEF (n.d.)  INSD (2012), p. 291  CEDAW (2009), p. 21  CEDAW (2009), p. 40  INSD (2012), p. 67  UNECA (2009a), p. 19  UNECA (2009b), p. 121  CEDAW (2009), p. 56  UN, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013)
The male-to-female sex ratio at birth in 2013 is 1.03 and for the working age population (15-64 years old) is 1.0.
There is no evidence to suggest that Burkina Faso is a country of concern in relation to missing women.
Child malnutrition rates are high for both boys and girls in Burkina Faso, and 2010 DHS data would indicate that in this regard boys and girls face relatively the same conditions. If anything, girls fair slightly better in terms of percentage of the population stunted or underweight.
In terms of education, the primary-secondary gross enrolment ratio (2006-2012) was 48.6 females for every 54.4 males, indicating a slight bias in favour of men. This is accentuated at the third level, where women make up 32.6% of the total.
Women in Burkina Faso face numerous restrictions in relation to ownership rights, despite the existence of state policies aimed at ensuring fair access to land for the entire rural populationand the fact that the law grants men and women equal rights to ownership. In part, this is due to the fact that inheritance is the primary means of accessing land, and as outlined above, women’s right to inherit is often violated.
Data on access to both land and non-land assets suggests discriminatory practices. The 2010 Demographic and Health Survey (2010) reports that 54% of men are the sole owners of a home, compared to 5% of women. In addition, 51% of men declared owning land, compared to 32% of women. In the majority of cases, men were the sole owners of the land (37%).
Women are at a disadvantage in regard to access to bank loans in that formal financial institutions consider women “high-risk” applicants, as they often do not have financial or material security. There do not appear to be any legal restrictions on women’s access to bank loans, however the government reports that social and cultural barriers mean that some entrepreneurial activities are closed to rural women. Government schemes are in place to increase women’s access to credit, including micro-credit and loans in the form of farm materials, equipment and input.
There are no legal restrictions on Burkinabe women’s access to public space, nor on accessing passports or driving. However, the 2010 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) reports that 46.6% women declare that it is primarily their husbands who decide whether they can visit parents and relatives (compared to 35.2% who declare that they principally make this decision). The right to freedom of assembly is generally respected, although in the past, some demonstrations have been violently suppressed. Freedom of speech is protected by law in Burkina Faso but not respected, and journalists face intimidation.
In 2009, a law on quotas for legislative and local elections in Burkina Faso was officially adopted. The law requires parties to have a minimum of 30% women candidates on their party lists; parties failing to are subject to a 50% cut in their electoral campaign funding. The law has come under some critique for having introduced superficial rather than substantive change.
Representation of women at national and local levels of government has steadily increased. The proportion of women winning seats at local government level rose from 8.9% in 1995 to 35.8% in 2006. In 2014, there are 20 women, out of 127 seats, in Parliament, which represents 15.7%. In 2012, the government created the National Council for the Promotion of Gender, charged with advising and giving public voice to advocates for greater gender quality. The council encompassed all government ministries, representatives from other sectors of government and civil society. Critics have pointed to its large size as an obstacle for effective change. National campaigns have also been run to inform women about their civic and political rights, to encourage more women to assume positions of leadership, and to counter discriminatory attitudes towards women as leaders.For example, the National Democratic Institute organised a week-long Young Women Political Party Activist Leadership Academy in July 2011. Fifty young Burkinabe women from the main political parties followed sessions on communications, advocacy, conflict resolution and coalition building. They also learnt strategies to manage their multiple roles as mothers, employees and politicians. The training prepared them to run for office, move their priority issues onto party platforms with more confidence and take immediate action in their parties.
Under the Labour Code, pregnant women have the right to 14 weeks paid maternity leave. Within the formal economy, women’s participation in the labour force is almost equal to that of men’s (women make up 46.9%), but this figure may not present the whole picture, given that so many women (and men) in Burkina Faso work in the informal sector. In addition, women employees are concentrated in the state rather than the private sector, as private sector employers are more reluctant to employ women because of their childrearing and domestic responsibilities.
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