Women’s Rights in Djibouti and What the US is Doing to HelpGenerally speaking, many inequalities exist between men and women in Djibouti. Men make up the vast majority of the national workforce. Women have a very low proportion of representation in government compared to men. Historically, the state permitted many forms of unjust treatment for women. In recent years, the Djiboutian government has made many strides in improving the lives of women through legislation, the ratification of international treaties and the cooperation with foreign governmental agencies. In spite of these improvements, quite a bit of work remains in order to assure women’s rights in Djibouti.

Women in the Workforce

Djibouti’s constitution, ratified in 1992, states that all people are equal under the law regardless of sex, language, origin, race or religion. Nevertheless, large gaps exist between men and women which is particularly evident within the workforce. Only 19% of women are employed, compared to 81% of men. According to the Labor Code and Penal Code, all people are protected from discrimination when seeking employment. It is illegal for employers to take into account one’s gender when hiring and is punishable by imprisonment and fines. Furthermore, employers are required to pay men and women equally for equal work.  In spite of these legal protections, labor restrictions still exist for women. For example, women are restricted from working a job that is considered above their strength. This frequently excludes women from jobs that include any manual labor. Thereby, it contributes to 19% employment rate.

Domestic Issues

When it comes to domestic issues, obstacles stand in the way of women having equality within the family. For example, men can request a divorce without the burden of evidence. However, for a woman, she must surrender any financial rights and sometimes even pay her spouse damages. Furthermore, the high illiteracy rate of women in Djibouti (61%) causes women to have minimal access to justice, information regarding their rights and legal assistance. In terms of domestic violence, the penal code only criminalizes violence generally. However, it does not provide specific legal protections from domestic violence. Rape is a violent act and punishable under the law. In spite of this, marital rape remains taboo and is rarely prosecuted.

Gender-based Violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is another women’s rights issue in Djibouti. The Djibouti federal government has taken many administrative and legal actions to outlaw gender-based violence and reduce its occurrence. The Ministry of Women and Family collaborates with the National Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD) to combat gender-based violence. This collaboration advocates for better legal protections for women and also provides counseling services to victims of GBV.

One of the greatest obstacles for women in terms of GBV is female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C). Many legal instruments are in place that aims at eliminating FGM/C such as Article 333 of the Penal Code and the establishment of the National Committee for the Abandonment of FGM/C. However, FGM/C is still a common practice. As of 2015, an estimated 71% of women and girls were victims of FGM/C. In order to respond to the continued practice of FGM/C, the Ministry of Women and Family released the National Strategy for the Total Abandonment of FGM/C 2018-2022. This plan aims to use radio, television, door-to-door campaigns, school curriculum and high-profile publicity strategies to effectively and quickly eliminate the practice.

How the U.S. Is Helping Djiboutian Women

USAID, through a grant to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), began a two and a half year program entitled “Women’s Empowerment and Community Strengthening.” This plan aims at empowering impoverished women in suburban and rural areas through skills-strengthening strategies.

This program has three primary goals: to improve the capacities of the Ministry of Women and Family, to bolster women’s income-generating skills and to promote new women’s cooperatives. A relatively small-scale operation, the program plans to provide about 850 women with the skills to engage in small-scale economic activities. Some of the program’s successes include the donation of raw materials and equipment to women creating handicrafts. It also includes providing literacy courses to women in national languages and supporting artisan fairs where women can showcase their crafts.

This program through USAID is certainly a step in the right direction in improving women’s rights in Djibouti and the ability to earn income. However, a larger-scale program would do even more to help. In light of the efforts of the Ministry of Women and Family and the more recent structural and legal protections, the future looks hopeful for Djiboutian women.

Alanna Jaffee

Photo: Flickr