Legal Reforms Key to Women’s Empowerment in Cameroon
Cameroon, like many countries around the world, has dealt with women’s inequality. There are several laws in Cameroon that are severely discriminatory towards women, and even after observations and suggestions made by the CEDAW Committee to the government of Cameroon in 2000 and 2009, there have been no legal reforms to improve the protection of women’s empowerment in Cameroon. To make matters worse, customary law is applied next to statutory law, which brings about many contradictions and inconsistencies.
There are many customs and traditions that impede the implementation of statutory laws. Many marriages are forced, especially in rural areas, where some girls as young as 12 are married. There is also the practice of levirate, where widows are forced to marry the brother of their deceased husband, a very common practice since widows are considered property. Furthermore, according to tradition, only male children can inherit property.
Domestic violence is prevalent and happens often while remaining socially acceptable. Unlike many other countries, marital rape is not considered a criminal offense. The government has not established shelters or legal aid clinics, and victims usually have to suffer in a culture of silence and impunity.
When it comes to education, the literacy rate for the 15-26 age group is 72 percent for males and 59 percent for females. This is due in part to families being more in favor of boys getting an education if they are unable to send all their children. Even though there are still fewer females than males in secondary school, there is slight progress. There have been some efforts made by the government to promote girls’ access to education. However, only so many girls have been able to benefit from the scholarship policy after already being affected by the lack of infrastructure, educational materials and a shortage of qualified teachers.
There are labor laws in place to honor gender equality and provide equal access to employment and equal wages for equal work, but women are still being employed in informal sectors like agriculture and household services. Sexual harassment in the workplace is common and is not punishable by law.
There are calls for the authorities of Cameroon to reform or repeal all discriminatory measures in statutory law; specifically, the provisions of the Family Code concerning the age of marriage, consent, polygamy, marital power and property. They need to take all necessary measures to improve women’s access to public and political life when it comes to decision-making positions, which include adopting special temporary measures such as a quota system and passing legislation criminalizing sexual harassment. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to improve women’s access to health care; in particular, developing healthcare infrastructure and intensifying the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The country has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women but has not ratified the protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. These changes would further encourage women’s empowerment in Cameroon.
The government of Cameroon must act and vigorously combat these issues so they can become things of the past. If the government does not make these changes and bring about equality, it will be seen as inadequate and paying lip service to the noble goal of gender equality. Women’s empowerment in Cameroon is the goal and it is up to the government to instill these laws and hold people accountable.
– Chavez Spicer