Family Matters: We must demand gender equity and equality in Africa 

The family unit is seen as the most important pillar of society, for it embodies the ideals of love, support, and equity. Yet, for countless people across Africa, this ideal often feels out of reach – especially for women and girls. Systemic injustices in the continent perpetuate imbalances in society. In this sacred space — family — where bonds are meant to flourish, women in Africa often find themselves constrained by legal chains that deny them agency, autonomy, and basic human rights. Such laws not only perpetuate a cycle of injustice, but also stifle the potential for progress and prosperity within families and communities. 

In a world striving for gender equity and not just equality, it’s disheartening to confront the harsh realities that persist within legal frameworks, especially when it comes to family laws. A recent report by Equality Now has shed light on the alarming gender disparities within the family laws of 20 African nations. 

Titled “Gender Inequality in Family Laws in Africa,” the report serves as a wake-up call to address systemic injustices and advocate for tangible reforms.

While the findings of the report may seem difficult, there is room for hope and action. Grassroots movements, civil society organizations, and policymakers are rallying together to advocate for legal reforms that prioritize gender equality and women’s rights – including us here at African Women Rights Advocates. AWRA believes that reforms must include measures to eliminate discriminatory laws. As organizers and grassroots activists, we must all collectively work together to strengthen protections for women and girls and promote gender-sensitive approaches to family law. Efforts to raise awareness, challenge harmful norms, and empower women to assert their rights are essential components of this transformative process.

One of the key findings of the report is the prevalence of laws that discriminate against women in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. These laws not only undermine women’s autonomy but also perpetuate cycles of poverty and dependency. In some African countries, women have limited rights to inherit property or access resources independently, leaving them vulnerable in times of marital dissolution or bereavement.

The report highlights the persistence of child marriage in many African nations, where girls are often forced into marriage at a young age, depriving them of education, economic opportunities, and agency over their own lives. Despite efforts to combat this practice, legal loopholes and cultural norms continue to perpetuate the cycle of child marriage, further entrenching imbalance in these societies. Laws should explicitly prohibit practices such as child marriage, polygamy, and marital rape, which violate women and girls’ rights.

The lack of protection for survivors of domestic violence is another concerning aspect highlighted by the report. Inadequate legal provisions and societal stigma often prevent women from seeking help or accessing justice, leaving them trapped in abusive relationships with no recourse for escape. In many African nations, laws designed to address domestic violence are either inadequate or poorly enforced, leaving survivors vulnerable and unprotected. Legal provisions often fail to comprehensively define domestic violence or provide sufficient mechanisms for reporting and prosecuting offenders. As a result, survivors hesitate to seek assistance due to fears of retribution, disbelief, or further harm.

As individuals, we also have a role to play in creating a more just and equitable society by amplifying the voices of those affected by gender inequality and supporting organizations working on the frontlines of change. By advocating for policy reforms, AWRA, its partners, and other grassroots organizations can contribute to dismantling the legal barriers that perpetuate gender injustice in African family laws.

We believe that achieving gender equality requires a collective effort from all sectors of society. We must continue to push for the reforms outlined in the report by Equality Now and work towards a future where every individual enjoys equal rights, equity, and dignity within the family and beyond. We must do this by striving for gender equity in all aspects of society. We can only achieve change when we come together  to address the discriminatory provisions, and build spaces and communities that stand for both equity and justice.

Godson Salman

The Author

Godson Salman is a grassroots activist and communication expert based in Kenya. He champions human rights and stands as a frontline activist against FGM and violence against women, utilizing his talents to spark conversations and drive change. Godson is an award-winning photographer and he recently curated the 'Scars to Stars' exhibition, which highlighted the stories of resilient FGM survivors.