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African women have made significant progress including higher female participation in many legislatures than in Britain and the United States — but women on the continent also face “daunting” challenges in high rates of sexual violence, maternal mortality and HIV infections, said a report released Tuesday.
Across the continent, the report said, constitutions, laws and policies enshrine the principle of equality and non-discrimination and economic, social and cultural rights for women.
However, gaps in legislation and policies as well as a lack of implementation and enforcement reinforce discrimination against women, it said. For example, the report said Burundi, Guinea, Congo, Kenya, Mali, Sudan and Tanzania “all have family and personal codes that discriminate against women in issues of marriage” and only five countries in Africa have an absolute prohibition on marriage for girls under age 18.
Released ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday, the report by the U.N. human rights office, UN Women and the African Union special investigator on women’s rights makes a series of recommendations to promote gender equality.
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warned in a message Tuesday that “in too many countries, we are now seeing a backlash against women’s rights, a backlash that hurts us all.”
He pointed to recent rollbacks on legislation in many parts of the world aimed at “controlling and limiting women’s decisions over their bodies and lives,” fueled by a view that a woman’s role should be limited to reproduction and the family.
In Burundi, Zeid said, “a law on violence against women is progressive in many ways as it criminalizes marital rape and prohibits harmful practices. However, the law also pins the blame on a woman who suffers gender-based violence for her “indecent dress” or “immoral behavior.”
On the plus side, the report on “Women’s Rights in Africa” said that “women are more economically active in Africa particularly as farmers, workers and entrepreneurs than anywhere else in the world.”
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