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Sexual & Women’s Rights Country Overview: Cameroon 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: 25.9 million (World Bank)
Women’s Literacy: (UNESCO Institute for Statistics)
82.4% [15 – 24 years]
71.6% [15 – 64 years]
25.3% [65 years old and older]
Women’s Employment Rate: 71% (World Bank)
Maternal mortality: 782 per 100, 000 live births (Demographic Health Survey)
HIV prevalence: 4.2% [Women aged between 15 – 49 years old]
                                    1.4%% [Young women] (UNAIDS)                               
GBV: 51% of women have experienced some form of violence at least once in their lifetime. (UN Women)
GDI: 0.864 (United Nations Development Programme)
GII: 0.560 (United Nations Development Programme)
COVID-19 Status: 33, 749 confirmed cases, 523 deaths (February 28, 2021) (World Health Organisation)

Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

As concluded by the World Health Organisation (WHO)[3], 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 not only to achieve sustainable development but also to ensure that this new framework speaks to the needs and aspirations of people around the world and leads to realisation of their health and human rights.

Contraceptive Access and Use

It is estimated that 2.3 million young women and girls in Cameroon are of reproductive age (15 – 49 years) and only 37% of this demographic are using modern contraception while the outstanding 63% are experiencing an unmet need for contraceptives (Institute, G., 2014). The reasons for the low use of contraceptives in Cameroon include frequent unavailability of contraceptive supplies, infrequent sexual activity, condemnation by sexual partner(s), concerns about medical side-effects and the costly nature of contraceptives (Institute, G., 2014). A study conducted in 2018 revealed that the most commonly used methods of contraception are male condoms, injectables, oral pills, implants and IUDs (Edietah et al., 2018). The highest unmet need for contraceptives occurs in rural areas of Cameroon more as compared to urban and semi-urban areas (Institute, G., 2014).

Maternal Mortality Rate

Cameroon ranks 18th out of 20 countries with the highest rates of maternal mortality globally (UNICEF, 2019). According to a Demographic Health Survey last conducted in 2011, 782 women per 100, 000 births died in Cameroon with up to 12 – 13 of those deaths occurring daily (National de la Statistique, I. and International, I., 2011). The main causes of maternal mortality are haemorrhages, unsafe abortions and eclampsia – all preventable and avoidable ailments (Pierre-Marie et al., 2015).

In 2016, the death of a woman named Monique Komate sparked outrage in Cameroon after she died in front of a healthcare facility, unable to pay for her medical fees whilst pregnant with twins (Linning, S., 2016). Her death highlighted one of the leading factors of maternal mortality in Cameroon – the inability to afford and access adequate maternal care. The high maternal mortality rates are additionally heightened by the shortage of skilled healthcare workers, low use and access to contraceptives as indicated above and lastly, an inadequate budgetary allowance for (maternal) healthcare – a mere 6% of Cameroon’s entire budget (Alongifor, N. C., 2016).

Abortion

An abortion can only be lawfully obtained under limited circumstances in Cameroon – where the pregnant woman’s health is as risk, to preserve her mental and physical health and where the pregnancy is a consequence of incest and/or rape.[1] Once a pregnant woman meets the abortion criteria, her medical doctor has to obtain the opinion of two experts who then testify in writing that an abortion is necessary. Thereafter, three copies of the opinion are shared with the woman, her physician and a legal expert. A copy of the decision made then has to be sent by registered mail to the National Council of Medical Practitioners.

Anyone found guilty of carrying out an illegal abortion is liable to up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 2 million CFA/XOF while the woman who performs an abortion is punished with a year imprisonment term. A person who supplies medication that induces the termination of pregnancy is liable to two years of imprisonment. Procuring an abortion in Cameroon is an arduous and complex process that inadvertently discourages women from exercising their sexual and reproductive health rights (Schuster, 2010).

Discrimination and Violence against Women

In 2019, a study conducted by Care & Plan International revealed that 56.4% of women in Cameroon experience sexual, emotional and domestic abuse (Moussi, C. A., 2020). The overwhelming prevalence of violence is attributable to socio-economic and cultural factors such as the inherent belief that women are inferior to men (sexism), patriarchy, militarization and militarism. Women have stated that they are abused by their male partners/husbands because of a myriad of reasons – their partner’s inferiority complex, the woman’s inability to conceive children and continued substance abuse, amongst others (Takwa & Tita-Fangmbung , 2019). 

Cameroon does not have legislature that specifically speaks to the prohibition of violence against women and marital rape is not considered a crime. As a consequence, survivors rarely report when they have been violated.

Women and young girls in Cameroon face grave discrimination on the basis of their gender. Only a mere 1.6% of women own a property in their own name, access to education is still higher for boys than it is for girls – 65% and 53% respectively and women only make up 27.1% of parliament (Brun, D., 2019). Menstruation is still largely considered a taboo therefore young girls are not spoken to about their sexual and reproductive health rights including where to access sanitary products as well as how to use them. As a consequence, menstruating girls’ resort to the use of tree leaves, sponges and pieces of cloth (Brun, D., 2019).

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Expression

Article 347(1) of Cameroon’s Penal Code prohibits “sexual relations with a person of the same sex.” One found guilty of this ‘offence’ is liable to a fine and a prison term between six months and five years. The prohibition is phrased in a gender-neutral manner and therefore applies to all queer sexual relations.  Despite the Constitution providing for equal rights for all, those in the LGBTQI+ community continue to experience harassment, discrimination and stigma based on their real or perceived sexual orientation in both public and private spaces, queer women have recounted instances of corrective rape, sometimes initiated by their family members (Department State, U. O., 2018).

Treaties Ratification Table[5]

Below are the sexual and reproductive health and women’s rights treaties to which Cameroon is a party. By virtue of being a signatory to these instruments, Cameroon 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)6 June 198323 August 1984
Protocol to The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol)25 July 200613 September 2012

Organisations in Cameroon Working on Women’s & Sexual Rights

  • Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS)
  • Humanity First Cameroon
  • Alternatives Cameroon
  • National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTI Persons and Their Defenders
  • Women for a Change Cameroon (Wfac)
  • Women in Action against Gender Based Violence
  • Foundation for Women’s Advancement

[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] WHO (2014) Sexual and reproductive health and rights: a global development, health, and human rights priority, WHO. World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/gender_rights/srh-rights-comment/en/

[4] Penal Code 1967 (Code Penal n° 67/LF/1) Available at: https://abortion-policies.srhr.org/documents/countries/03-Cameroon-Code-Penal-1967.pdf

[5] This table is focused on the treaties relevant to the focus of this context overview, for a more comprehensive database of treaties signed by Cameroon, and their ratification status visit the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?CountryID=178&Lang=EN , the African Union (AU) website: https://au.int/en/treaties  and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) website: http://www.achpr.org/instruments/.

References

Matsúmunyane, K. and Hlalele, D. (2019) ‘Culture, Religion and Sexual Diversity in Lesotho’, Journal of Asian and African Studies. SAGE Publications Ltd, 54(4), pp. 498–511. doi: 10.1177/0021909618824351.

Maraisane, V. (2020) In climate change-affected Lesotho, self-injected contraceptives empower women to choose their own future  , UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund. Available at: https://www.unfpa.org/news/climate-change-affected-lesotho-self-injected-contraceptives-empower-women-choose-their-own  (Accessed: 10 June 2020).

Phakela, M. (2019) Lesotho: Unsafe abortions push up maternal mortality, Gender Links . Available at: https://genderlinks.org.za/news/lesotho-unsafe-abortions-leading-to-high-maternal-mortality/ 
(Accessed: 11 June 2020).

WHO et al. (2019) Maternal mortality in 2000-2017. Available at: https://www.who.int/gho/maternal_health/countries/lso.pdf
(Accessed: 10 June 2020)

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