Cameroon, a difficult journey towards women’s emancipation and gender equality.
The movement for the empowerment and autonomy of women in Cameroon, and the improvement of their political, social, economic, and health status, has walked a long distance, but is still far from reaching its intended destination. Discrimination between girls and boys, women and men remain a major obstacle to human development in Cameroon.
Cameroon’s population is currently estimated at 24.6 million, with over 55% residing in urban and semi urban areas. Per the 2015 UNDP Human Development Index (HDI), Cameroon’s HDI value for 2014 was 0.512, which puts the country in the low human development category, positioning it at 153 out of 188 countries and territories. Between 1980 and 2014, Cameroon’s HDI value increased from 0.405 to 0.512, an increase of 26.4 percent or an average annual increase of about 0.69 percent. In 2014, the Gender Inequality Index of Cameroon was 0.587 and the country was ranked 132 on a total of 188. The Gender Development Index (GDI) ratio of women against men was 0.879.
The SDG5 aims to encourage equal opportunities for men and women in economic development, to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including early and forced marriage, and to promote equitable opportunities for participation at all levels. At its national voluntary review of SDGs in June 2019, Cameroon contextualized the implementation of the SDG5 at the national level in five mains points:
- Target 5.1: End all forms of discrimination against women and girls
- Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including trafficking and sexual and other forms of exploitation, from public and private life
- Target 5.3: Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child marriage, early or forced marriage and female genital mutilation
- Target 5.4: Take into account and value unpaid care and domestic work, through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibilities in the household and family, according to the national context.
- Target 5.5: Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal access to leadership positions at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.
Considering the national strategy, the country is far from reaching these main challenges by 2030.
Target 5.1: End all forms of discrimination against women and girls
- 51.5% of women lives below the poverty line. 79.2% of them are underemployed.
- The maternal mortality rate is of 782 per 100,000 live births and the rate of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 years giving birth to a child is 105.8 per 1000.
- HIV prevalence among 15-49-year old is 5% for women and 2.3% for men
However, the country ranks 141st among the 189 countries ranked in relation to their level of gender inequality. The inequality index reveals significant disparities in the three key dimensions of human development: reproductive health, education and access to employment.
Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including trafficking and sexual and other forms of exploitation, from public and private life
43.2% of women in union face domestic violence. 39.8% and 14.5% respectively face emotional and sexual violence. In all, 56.4% of women in union were confronted with at least one of these forms of violence
Target 5.3: Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child marriage, early or forced marriage and female genital mutilation
Though progress has been made to prevent different forms of violence against women and girls: criminalization of Female Genital Mutilation practices by the penal code (Act. 277-1), legal age of marriage at 18 for men and women. There are still concerns about the contents and effectiveness of the legislation intended to prevent sexual violence and provide protection and justice for the victims.
Updated in 2016, the Penal Code now gives equal rights to men and women to sue for divorce. In practice, however, the courts are dominated by men, who may undermine gender considerations, such as lengthening proceedings and making the process unaffordable for women. The penal code also criminalizes early and forced child marriage and demands consent as a condition of marriage and advises that consent cannot be obtained by force. However, the Cameroon Civil Status Registration Ordinance allows the marriage of girls under the age of 15 if for “serious reasons a waiver has been granted by the president of the Republic.”
Cameroon law—Article 52 of Order No. 81-02 of June 29, 1981, on the civil service—stipulates: « No marriage may take place if the girl is younger than 15 or the boy is younger than 18, unless the President of the Republic grants an exemption for a serious reason
Target 5.4: Take into account and value unpaid care and domestic work, through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibilities in the household and family, according to the national context.
Women spend an average of 8.2 hours more per week than men on unpaid household tasks.
Target 5.5: Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal access to leadership positions at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.
Though women’s political representation in Cameroon’s national Assembly has increased in the last ten years (31.1% compared with 8.9% in 2007), women’s political participation remains low overall, with significant differences between national and local levels (only 8% of local councilors, and less than 2% of political party leaders, are women)
- 27.1% of women are in parliament in 2017.
- 71.6% of workers in the informal agricultural sector are women.
- 32.5% of women over 25 have some level of secondary education (39.2% for men).
- 16.8% of women benefit of a credit for any use
3% of women own a house without a property title and 1.6% own a property title in their name. Although Decree No. 76/165 of 20 April 1976, as amended and supplemented by Decree No. 2005/481 of 16 December 2005, establishes a legal framework that guarantees women the same rights as men in terms of access to ownership or control of land, it does not provide a basis for women’s access to land.
In despite the not very encouraging report on the achievements of the SDGs in Cameroon, it must be recognized that many actions are being carried out by both government and civil society to meet the expectations of the SDG5 and to ensure a plain emancipation of women.
Major international commitments through equality and women’s empowerment : Cameroon has made key strides toward gender equality and women’s empowerment through major international commitments to advance women’s rights and fight discrimination against women such as :
- the BPFA in 1995
- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
- The CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)
- the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women (1985)
- the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993), and the Cairo Declaration on Population and Development (1994)
- the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Declaration of Heads of State and Government of the African Union on Equality Between Women and Men, and the Sustainable Development Goals.
However, though these international and regional commitments take precedence over Cameroon’s national laws, customs, and traditions, discrimination against women continues in Cameroon, especially in rural areas. Many questions about ending inequalities faced by women continue to linger, such as the recognition of rape between husband and wife, protection for unemployed women, pension for widows, the continuation of child marriage, breast ironing, and other issues.
Formal education of Women: As an important instrument of empowerment and development, education is one of the most important means of giving women the knowledge, skills and self-confidence to participate fully in the development process. Access to vocational training is today a key to entry into the workplace and also a basis for financial independence. Although the Cameroonian Penal Code provides means of redress for children not attending school, there is no mechanism for monitoring girls, who are generally more affected by not attending school and dropping out.
Legal Support: With regards to legal support for women, Cameroonian law recognizes the right to legal assistance for all unemployed persons who lack resources, or those abandoned by their spouses. The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family focuses mostly on women in urban and semi-urban towns, where they have offices, and disregards rural women, who form the bulk of women with limited financial means.
The rule of law and implementation of policies is moving Cameroon in the right direction and toward ending inequality against women. But we must improve awareness and accountability. Laws must be understood at the local level and accompanied by meaningful rural programs to ensure that we do not leave rural women behind.
Civil society, Women in action.
Money is an essential element in household livelihoods, and those who control it have considerable power. However, development projects seeking to alleviate household-level poverty and promote economic growth often speak of the ’empowerment’ of women in relation to promoting women’s access to credit or income-generation. What is the relationship between empowerment and money? Access to income does not always leads to increased control of assets within the household, or to greater say in decision-making in the household or in wider society.
UN Women Cameroon builds capacity of partners: Government (Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Family, Ministry of Economy, Planning and Spatial Planning, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Commerce, Commission National Human Rights and Freedoms, Elections Cameroon); and NGOs (CSO, media, political parties) for the institutionalization of gender. UN Women Cameroon works in four themes: Leadership and Political Participation, Economic Empowerment, Violence Against Women, and National Planning and Budgeting.
Current programs in Cameroon:
- The Program of Women Involved in Cross-Border Informal Trade (PAFICIT)
- Prevention and care of victims of gender-based violence through the establishment of a One Stop Center
- H4 + / AIDS Collaboration on Accelerating Progress in Childhood, Newborn and Child Health Fund for Gender Equality
- UNGTG Gender Project (UN gender thematic group)
Women for Change Cameroon a feminist organization is also involved in advocacy work and advancing the rights of girls by addressing gender based violence, furthering knowledge in sexual education and providing leadership program for girls in Cameroon.
The important axes and challenges to be taken up by Cameroon before 2030
With more than 65.4% of the rural population living below the national poverty line, the Government of Cameroon needs to prioritize a rapid and effective transition of students to secondary school. The government will need to ensure universal access to primary education for all, with a special focus on rural areas, where child marriage is common.
The government should address the structural and socio-cultural challenges to women’s participation at all levels of decision-making. In this respect, the partnership established with ELECAM, political parties and women political aspirants and elected leaders, will be pursued.