Benin Flag

Sexual & Women’s Rights Country Overview: Benin 2020

This series of country context overviews is founded in the Coalition of African Lesbians work in different countries, specifically the Masakhane[1] project in Southern Africa. The project’s focus is on strengthening capabilities of CAL members and partners in different countries through learning in action, as the basis of facilitating effective growth in activism among the groups with which CAL works: lesbian women, women living with HIV and AIDS, sex-workers and young women.[2] As feminists and activists concerned with gender and sexual rights and justice, we understand that current social, political and economic structures, institutions, ideologies and practices undermine our rights and freedoms and restrict our autonomy. This understanding informs both CAL’s areas of focus in its work and the focus in this context overview; Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), sexuality politics specifically expressed in issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, and gender discrimination and violence.

CAL’s approach to its work is also informed by the five factors identified in the “Report of the Study on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa” by the former Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. CAL has modified these factors; patriarchy and heteronormativity, fundamentalisms, militarisation, war and conflict, neoliberal capitalism, crises in democracy and environmental exploitation. 

This publication focuses on sexual and gender rights, specifically violence against women, sexual and reproductive health and rights and sexual orientation and gender identity. It is intended to support Civil Society Organisations, activists and government agencies and institutions in their work to address persisting SRHR issues, gender violence and sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

Background

Population: 12.1 million United Nations Population Fund)
Women’s Literacy:      51.9% [15 – 24 years]
31.1% [15 – 64 years]
2.3% [65 years old and older]
(UNESCO Institute for Statistics)
Women’s Employment Rate: 69% (World Bank)
Maternal mortality: 397 per 100, 000 live births (UNICEF)
HIV prevalence:       1.2% [Women aged between 15 – 49 years old]
                       0.4%%[Young women] (UNAIDS)                               
GBV: 23.8% of women have experienced some form of violence at least once in their lifetime. (UN Women)
GDI: 0.855 (United Nations Development Programme)
GII: 0.621 (United Nations Development Programme)
COVID-19 Status: 4, 560 confirmed cases, 56 deaths (February 15, 2021) (World Health Organisation)

Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

As concluded by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SHRH) encompass efforts to eliminate preventable maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity, to ensure quality sexual and reproductive health services, including contraceptive services, and to address sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and cervical cancer, violence against women and girls, and sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents. Universal access to sexual and reproductive health is essential.

Contraceptive Access and Use

The unmet need for contraceptives in Benin stands at 36.3% while prevalence of modern contraceptive use is 16.1% (Harris, N. and Okegbe, T. 2017). Cultural norms, lack of information on where and how to access contraceptives and remotely located facilities are some of the reasons that contribute to the significantly low use of contraceptives by women in Benin.

In 2019, the government of Benin hosted a national dissemination workshop for the results of a report titled, ‘Strategic Evaluation on unwanted pregnancy, Abortion & Contraception in Benin’ which aimed to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls. The report recommended that the government develop comprehensive sexual education programs, train healthcare providers on how to provide quality reproductive and sexual health services and lastly, include contraceptives as essential medication (IPAS, 2019).

Maternal Mortality Rate

Some of the reasons attributable to the number of maternal deaths include delays with seeking consultation and treatment, scarcity of medical facilities and adequately trained personnel and unsafe abortions. As a result, pregnant women and young girls often suffer and succumb to preventable ailments such as eclampsia, obstetric haemorrhages and other pregnancy complications (Konnon, R. et al. 2020).

In 2019, 1122 pregnancies were recorded amongst young girls between the ages of 10 – 19. This alarming figure indicates that young girls are exposed to sexual violence at an early age, including child marriages, which leads to pregnancies that their developing bodies are not equipped for. This results in the young girls prematurely dropping out of school, and later minimizing their ability to participate meaningfully in the economy which consequently feeds into the vicious cycle of poverty.

Abortion

The legal framework of Benin, much like that of other African countries, is heavily influenced by colonialism. Consequently, the Code of Medical Deontology of 1973 states that an abortion performed for any other reason other than to preserve the health of a pregnant woman is prohibited. As a result, abortion in Benin is only permissible under limited circumstances; to preserve the health of the pregnant woman, in cases of rape and/or incest and lastly where it can be proven that the continued pregnancy would result in ‘abnormalities.’[3] A legal abortion can only be administered by a qualified doctor who must seek the opinion of two other doctors – one of whom must be on the civil court’s list of experts. Thereafter, all three doctors have to certify in writing that an abortion is the only viable way to preserve woman’s life. The doctors may utilise their conscientious objection but are required to refer the patient to another doctor for care.

The abortion framework in Benin is restrictive and does not enable pregnant women and young girls to exercise autonomy over their sexual and reproductive health. As a result, women seeking to terminate their pregnancies resort to unsafe, illegal and unsanitary methods which result in their death (maternal mortality) or other maternal complications, some long-term such as infertility.

Discrimination and Violence against Women

A report published by the Ministry of Family and National Solidarity in 2010 revealed that 68% of women and young girls above the age of 15 had experienced violence at least once in their lifetime.[4] Furthermore, adolescent girls in schools experience sexual violence, harassment and unwanted pregnancies which disproportionately disadvantage them later in life and result in them dropping out of school prematurely or ultimately being unable to participate in economic activities or find a source of employment and sustainable income.[5]

Rape culture is rife in Benin and results in the silencing of survivors of violence who are often too embarrassed to report their perpetrators. Amongst young girls, this fear of reporting is coupled  with the shame associated with having had sex as such girls are perceived as ‘loose’ and devoid of any dignity. In response to the violence experienced by young girls and women, Benin has adopted various policies. The Act on the Suppression of Sexual Harassment and Protection of Victims (2006 – 2019) which criminalises sexual harassment with a penalty of up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine up to XOF 1 000 000. Additionally, the Prevention and Punishment of Violence against Women (2012)criminalises violations such female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriages and further expands the scope of violence to include economic violence and marital rape while laying out a comprehensive approach for the investigation, prosecution and punishment of a perpetrator.[6]

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Expression

It is unclear what the legal status of homosexuality and queer rights in Benin are due to the divergent views expressed through various documentation and resources. On the one hand, Article 88 of Benin’s Penal Code of 1996 expressly states that “anyone who commits an indecent act or an act against nature with an individual of the same sex will be punished by one to three years imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 francs,”[7] while on the other hand, an annual report published by the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex avers that Benin does not criminalise sexual activities between consenting adults.[8]

Treaties Ratification Table

Below are the sexual and reproductive health and women’s rights treaties to which Benin is a party. By virtue of being a signatory to these instruments, Benin is obligated to abide by the treaties and ensure that there is a harmony between its domestic laws and international law standards.

TreatySignedRatification, Accession (a), Succession (d)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)[9]11 November 198112 March 1992
Protocol to The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol)[10]11 February 200430 September 2005

Organisations in Benin Working on Women’s & Sexual Rights

  • Ministry of Gender and Women’s Promotion (MIGERPROFE)
  • CARE
  • Association des femmes avocates du Bénin (AFAB)
  • Le Réseau pour l’Intégration des Femmes des ONG et Associations Africaines, section du Bénin (RIFONGA)
  • The Beninese Association for assistance to the child and family (ABAEF),
  • Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAFF
  • CARITAS
  • The Association of Women Jurists of Benin (AFJB)
  • Amnesty International Benin
  • Roajelf Benin

[1] Masakhane is a Nguni word which translates to ‘Let us build together’

[2] CAL works on issues affecting all women on the continent, but works closely with these specific groups because they are further marginalised in society. 

[3] Centre for Reproductive Rights: The World’s Abortion Laws https://reproductiverights.org/worldabortionlaws?country=BEN

[4] Ministry of Family, Social Affairs, National Solidarity, Handicapped and Senior Citizens (MFASSNHPTA), Directorate for the Advancement of Women and Gender. One year of experience listening and counselling women who have suffered a violation of their rights (December 2010- December 2011)

[5] M. Akpo. (2009). ‘When a place to thrive, becomes the place to fear.’ Gender- Based Violence In Schools: A Benin Case Study. Center for Gender Equity. Academy for Educational Development (AED).

[6] L. Ally. (2020). ‘The Autonomy Report: A Report on Violence against Women & Women’s Political Participation in Rwanda, Benin & Tunisia.’ Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL).

[7] Benin LGBTQI+ Resources : https://www.refugeelegalaidinformation.org/benin-lgbti-resources

[8] ILGA World State-Sponsored Homophobia, Global Legislation Overview Update: https://ilga.org/downloads/ILGA_World_State_Sponsored_Homophobia_report_global_legislation_overview_update_December_2020.pdf

[9] United Nations Treaty Body Database: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?CountryID=178&Lang=EN

[10] List of countries that have signed/acceded to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa: https://au.int/sites/default/files/treaties/37077-sl-PROTOCOL%20TO%20THE%20AFRICAN%20CHARTER%20ON%20HUMAN%20AND%20PEOPLE%27S%20RIGHTS%20ON%20THE%20RIGHTS%20OF%20WOMEN%20IN%20AFRICA.pdf

References

Harris, N. and Okegbe, T. (2017) From “Non” to “Oui”: How Community Health Workers are Revolutionizing Contraceptive Access, Use in Benin . Available at: https://www.jsi.com/from-non-to-oui-how-community-health-workers-are-revolutionizing-contraceptive-access-use-in-benin/  (Accessed: 10 May 2021).

IPAS (2019) Benin strengthens reproductive health and rights for women and girls, IPAS. Available at: https://www.ipas.org/news/benin-strengthens-reproductive-health-and-rights-for-women-and-girls/  (Accessed: 10 May 2021).

Konnon, R. et al. (2020) ‘Trends on Maternal Mortality in the Republic of Benin and Comparison with the Neighboring Countries’, Medicine, Law & Society. University of Maribor, 13(2), pp. 197–216. doi: 10.18690/mls.13.2.197-216.2020.

Search