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April 2002


Independent information for the twenty-eight session of the
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)


Hubert H. Humphry Institute of Public Affairs

University of Minnesota




Initial State Party Report submitted 5 February 2001



Population, July 2001 estimate:
  6.6 million

Ethnicities:  99% African (42 ethnic groups, including Fon, Adja, Yoruba, Bariba), less than 1% European

Religion: 50% Indigenous beliefs, 30% Christian 20% Muslim

GDP (purchasing power parity), 2000: PPP$6.6 billion

GDP per capita, 2000: $1,030

GDP real growth rate, 1996-1999:5%

Major Industries: textiles, cigarettes; beverages, food; construction materials, petroleum

Fertility Rate, 2001: 6.23 children born per woman

Infant Mortality Rate, 2001: 89.68 deaths per 1,000 live births

HIV/adult prevalence, 1999: 2.45%

HIV/AIDS infected adults, 1999: 70,000

Life Expectancy at birth, 2001:  female: 50.88 years

                                                   male: 49.02 years
Poverty, 1999:
37.2% below the poverty line

Literacy, 2000: female: 23.6%; male: 52.2%


Source: The World Factbook, 2002 [1]


Critical Issues

Women in Public Life (Covenant Article 1)

·         Limited access for women to run for public office

·         Cultural and economic barriers for women’s participation in public affairs

Women and the Workplace (Covenant Articles 6, 7, and 8)

·         Discrimination in the formal labor market

·         Discrimination in designing, implementing, and benefiting from development strategies

Domestic Violence (Covenant Article 10)

·         Pervasive and persistent domestic violence

·         Marital rape and incest 

·         Forced marriage

·         Underreporting by victims of abuse

·         Poor to non-existent enforcement by police and other authorities

Trafficking (Covenant Article 11)

·         Girls at high risk of being trafficked for sexual and physical labor

Health (Covenant Article 12)

·         High maternal mortality rates

·         HIV/AIDS infection prevalence

·         High abortion rates among adolescent girls

·         Pervasive and persistent Female Genital Mutilation

Education (Covenant Articles 13 and 14)

·         Low rates for primary and secondary school enrollment of girls

·         Discrimination against school-age mothers

·         Low literacy rates of women


Benin achieved independence from France in 1960 at which time the country was called Dahomey. Those who had been government administrators during the French-controlled state were forced to leave the country. Domestic conflict followed and coups d’etats became a norm [2] , with five coups, nine changes in government and five different constitutions, within the first decade of independence.

From 1974 to 1989, the country was a Socialist state under Mathieu Kerekou, a military leader. By the end of 1989 the entire banking system had collapsed [3] , leading to political crisis and fierce criticism of socialism as the state ideology. Less than one year later the country’s political elite adopted a multi-party system. By 1991, the socialist regime was completely gone and the first free elections had been held. Prime Minister Nicephere Soglo became the first elected president and head of state. Since that time, much of the political power has rotated between Soglo and Kerekou. Kerekou is currently the president. [4]

Benin is considered a strong model for democratic transition among African states, because little conflict has erupted from the election process. [5] , [6]   However, election fraud and government corruption are still major issues. In the last round of the election process, Soglo pulled out claiming that the process was fraught with election fraud. Domestic media coverage of the elections favored Kerekou throughout the process. [7] By the end of the 1999 elections, nine members of the Benin’s constitutional court national electoral commission had resigned. [8] With Soglo out, Kerekou’s win over cabinet minister Bruno Amoussou, considered a friendly challenger, was certain.

Benin is among the world’s poorest countries. It depends heavily on subsistence agriculture. With a real growth rate in GDP of approximately 5 percent, the country is on a slow, but relatively stable path of development. [9] Benin’s most important export is cotton; exports in general are projected to grow at a rate of 24.5 percent between 2000 and 2004. [10] Benin’s huge debt is of concern; the country is a Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) by World Bank standards, and participates in a debt relief program. [11]  


Right to Non-Discrimination;  Right to Equal Enjoyment of Rights

Women’s Economic and Political Status

Even though Benin is beginning to adopt democratic practices and a free-market economy, women are not benefiting from the economic and political progress. Women continue to be held accountable for traditional responsibilities (such as childcare and household chores) and subject to traditional cultural norms and practices (including female genital mutilation and stereotypes of inferiority). [12] They do not have the necessary economic means or institutional support to ensure their right to self-determination.

Women make up a small percentage of legislators and top decision-makers within ministries. In 2001, only 6 percent members of the unicameral parliament were women. [13] Women’s participation in public life is inhibited by oppression based in beliefs about the appropriate roles and limited talents accorded to women. In the 2001 presidential race, for the first time a female candidate ran for office, Marie-Elise Akouavi Gbedo. Up against tremendous opposition, she did not make it to the final rounds of the election process. [14]  

Legislative Measures to Ensure Equality

Article 8 of the Constitution guarantees the equality of citizens in access to health care, education, cultural information, professional training and employment. In addition, the Constitution also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, [15] and Article 6 stipulates that universal suffrage is at the age of eighteen for both men and women. However, despite formal equality, women are not protected from abuse and prejudice, because much of their daily life is still predominantly governed by customary laws and norms, not by the legal state or its measures.

All communications between women and men are characterized by underestimation of the abilities of women: they are excluded from all decision-making. Men in turn know that they enjoy many advantages which they consider perfectly normal. In turn the discrimination against women in Benin is strongly supported by the culture and traditions of Benin, especially in the legal area. In fact according to the traditions still in effect in Benin women are considered minors… . [16]

In 1993, Benin created the National Commission on the Integration of Women in Development (CN/IFD) within the Ministry of Planning and Economic Reconstruction. The CN/IFD was supposed to coordinate international multi-lateral and domestic development initiatives to ensure the advancement of women. The CN/IFD was also charged with the responsibility of putting together a national policy surrounding and supporting women’s participation in development. [17] As late as 1998, the CN/FID had not met its mandates.  The World Bank Country Assistance Strategy Consultant team which conducted interviews with high ranking officials, traditional leaders, and women’s NGOs, among other stakeholders, found that development strategies and policies had clearly not included women, benefited women, or otherwise encouraged women’s participation. [18] At this time, it is unknown if the CN/FID still exists.

At the same time that the CN/IFD was created, small departments also existed within individual government ministries, called Women in Development (WID) units. These WID units were responsible for conducting gender analysis for their respective ministries. The Office for the Promotion of Rural Women’s Activities (SPAFR) existed within the Ministry of Rural Development and its work surrounded data collection. Lack of funding, a void in human resources, and a weak relationship with the planning arm of Ministry of Rural Development contributed to the SPAFR’s inability to be an effective advocate for women. [19]

The Ministry for Social Protection and Women’s Affairs is the national governmental organ responsible for the advancement of women’s status. In 1998, the Ministry collaborated in a conference/workshop held by the World Bank and the Association for Women Jurists (AFJB), a local NGO. The purpose of the event was to increase coordination between the Ministry and local NGOs in order to implement and advance strategies for poverty alleviation in Benin. [20] . At this time, IWRAW does not have data concerning how much financial support has been allocated to the Ministry.

Right to Work, to Just and Favorable Conditions of Work,
and to Form and Join Trade Unions

Benin is an underdeveloped state. The majority of people work in agriculture; 80 percent of the poor are located in rural and sub-urban areas. [21] Women in agriculture are responsible for a tremendous amount of physical labor and also face barriers to obtaining necessary assistance from such programs as extension education services. Traditional practices also affect women in agriculture negatively as they may be prohibited from owning any land, productive land and/or larger plots of land. [22]  

Opportunities to work on addressing the poverty of women and the country are scarce for women. The World Bank’s 1998 Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) Consultation team described women’s inability to define and participate in economic development:

Participants felt that gender issues had been mostly neglected. Development resources especially in rural areas had been directed overwhelmingly towards men. Women are still excluded in major areas of policy developments and program management limiting even further their ability to influence development strategies and outcomes. [23]

The fact of feminization of poverty is well known to the government; it has published reports studying the effect of micro-credit and the persistence of poverty among women. [24] Yet, the education rates for girls are still relatively low in comparison to those of boys (gross enrollment rates for primary education stand at 66 percent and 102 percent, respectively) [25] and in comparison to girl’ education rates in other sub-Saharan African countries (gross primary enrollment rate of 57 percent in Benin as compared to an average of 71 percent in the region) [26] .

Corruption, especially within public institutions, makes it very difficult to advocate for the betterment of women’s position in the workplace. Institutional transparency and accountability measures are steps that must be taken in order to remedy discrimination against women. [27]

Protection of the Family and of Mothers and Children

Early marriage is a persistent and troublesome phenomenon in Benin. In rural areas, especially, girls can be forced into marriage as early as seven years of age when they are “inducted” into their new families. Emotional coercion along with physical and sexual assault are used as methods to make reluctant brides enter into marriage. Even though the custom is illegal and punishable by up to 5 years in addition to a fine, because of weak enforcement measures, forced marriage is still prevalent. [28]

Incest, domestic violence, and rape within marriage are also major issues in Benin. Incest is illegal, but the lack of enforcement by authorities has also allowed the problem to persist. [29] There is no legal definition of marital rape. Domestic violence is a given within forced marriage arrangements. Underreporting of domestic abuse and assault is one barrier to documenting and eliminating the crisis. Women’s reluctance to report these offenses is the result of a combination of fear of the abuser and knowledge of the lack of enforcement. Police and other authorities are often unwilling to intervene and punish offenders, even though there is legal jurisdiction for intervention and prosecution. [30]  

Right to an Adequate Standard of Living

Poverty is widespread, with more than one-third of the population living below the poverty line. Women are forced to work both inside and outside the home to ensure the survival of themselves and their families. In addition to the cultural norms that assign women to these burdens, the state mandates that women are also liable for military service after they turn 18 years of age. [31]

Limited financial means puts extreme pressures on families, especially the large ones. A 1999 Anti-Slavery report on trafficking between Benin and Gabon suggests that girls are at higher risk for trafficking because of their associated wedding costs. [32] Girls are also targeted victims, because they are less likely to run away from their traffickers and/or they are more willing to obey their parents’ instructions to go with traffickers. Parental consent and family structure are important factors in understanding the problem of trafficked children; the Anti-Slavery Report found that of the children included in its study, families of trafficked victims tended to be polygamous. Parents journeyed with children to cross borders into Togo or Nigeria in order to reach traffickers. [33]

Some parents place their child in the home of a wealthy family. The practice is known as “vidomegon.” The child, usually a girl, is subjected to physical and even sexual abuse. There have been instances where the abuse has lead to the death of child. In 1996, a 12-year-old maid was beaten to death. There is no indication that the matter has been addressed in the legal system. [34]


Right to Physical and Mental Health

Childbearing and Abortion

More than half of the female population has had a child by age 19. [35] The adolescent fertility rate is 109 per one thousand young women between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. [36] Because of low and/or incorrect usage of contraceptives, there is a high incidence of unwanted pregnancies and abortion, especially among school-aged girls. More than 7 out of 10 pregnancies among girls in this age category end in abortion. [37] Abortion is illegal, except in the case of endangerment to the mother’s life. Even when the pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the mother, an abortion is difficult to obtain. It must be performed by a qualified doctor with the endorsement of two other doctors, one of whom must be an expert from the civil court’s lists. [38]

In 1996, the government issued a Population Policy Declaration that was supposed to ensure education to the entire population on health matters, including and especially, information and services to women on family planning. A combination of private clinics and local NGOs were to provide these services. Many factors inhibit women from taking control of their sexual and reproductive health and utilizing the services created by Population Policy Declaration. One such factor is the pro-natalist attitude that put husbands in control of family planning; another factor is the lack of men’s education on the benefits of family planning and the appropriate roles for their participation. [39]

Maternal Mortality

Maternal mortality rates are very high. In 1996, it was estimated that nearly 500 women died for every 100,000 births [40] . More recent information about the maternal mortality rate is not available. These deaths are attributed to a lack of skilled personnel, inadequate equipment, and an inability to bring necessary medicines to the patients [41] , but must also be considered a result of the government’s lack of effort in prioritizing women’s health and health care. With an average of more than six children born to each woman, the government must address the conditions that lead to the deaths of women from child birthing.


Girls in the situation of “vidomegon” and the ones that have been trafficked are a particularly vulnerable group. They have extremely limited or no access to health care and are subjected to many physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological health risks. They have no way to improve their quality of life by using public health services nor do they have adequate voice in either traditional community settings or government institutions. Women and girls in situations of domestic violence, too, face great barriers to physical and mental well-being because of living in a traumatic family environment.


HIV/AIDS is an extremely serious problem and the rates of infection are rapidly increasing. While in 1999, approximately 2.45 percent of the adult population was infected with HIV/AIDS, in 2001, an estimated 4 percent of the entire population was believed to be infected. [42] Women comprise 40 percent of the population living with HIV/AIDS; and among sex workers 54 percent are infected. [43] In 2001, the government announced a national initiative to deal with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but it is unclear whether the program is targeting both prevention ad intervention measures, or just prevention. [44] Without equal emphasis on both treatment as well as prevention, the quality of life for infected women and girls will not be improved by any HIV/AIDS policy.


Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is also a critical issue for the health of women and girls. In many cases FGM is coerced, performed in unsanitary conditions, and results in health complications. [45] Women are at risk from the time of infancy through their late 20s.  The World Health Organization survey estimates that one-half of the female population in Benin has undergone FGM although FGM is declining in practice.  The custom is not illegal. [46] One factor in the continuing presence of FGM is the profit gained by those performing the procedures, usually older women. [47]

COVENANT ARTICLES 13 AND 14: Right to Education

The vast majority of women and girls in Benin are illiterate. Many girls are not allowed to go to school, because their contribution to everyday activities and chores within the household are considered more important and necessary than their education. [48] Of the entire primary school age population of girls, only 57 percent of them are enrolled, compared to an average 71 percent of girls in the Sub-Saharan African region and to 98 percent of boys in the country. [49]   The low enrollment rate of girls in basic education, in turn, contributes to the fact that only 23.6 percent can read and write.

Because births by girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 20 make up approximately 10 percent of the Benin’s fertility rate, access to sex education must be a national priority. [50] Girls often do not receive the necessary prevention education because of service providers’ attitudes condemning pre-marital sex and fears that sex education encourages sexual activity. [51]

Girls who carry their pregnancy to term are ostracized in their schools. They are very often discouraged from continuing their education and are forced to drop out, as they are viewed as a poor influence on the other girls. [52]


Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Benin. 24 August 1999. (CRC/C/15/Add.106.)

Concerns and recommendations:

Concluding observations of the Committee on Torture: Benin. 22 November 2001.


No recommendations concerning women were issued by this committee


[1] CIA, The World Factbook, available at  www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/bn.html, accessed on 10 March 2002.

[2]   “Begin the democratic Benin,” The Economist, v. 318, no. 7698 (16 March 1991): 41

[3] The World Bank, Memorandum of the President of the International Development Agency to the Executive Directors on an Interim Country Assistance Strategy of the World Bank for the Republic of Benin, available at: www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2001/04/13//000094946_01040505302866/Rendered/PDF/multi0page.pdf accessed on 8 April 2002.

[4] The World Bank, “History,” Countries: Benin, available at: www.worldbank.org/afr/bj2.htm accessed on 5 April 2002.

[5] Ibid.

[6] United States Agency for International Development, “Democracy and Governance: Programs,” Benin, available at: www.usaid.gov/bj/democracy/programs.html accessed on 5 April 2002.

[7] Committee to Protect Journalists, “Benin,” Africa 2001, available at: www.cpj.org/attacks01/africa01/benin.html accessed on 8 April 2002.

[8] BBC News, “Benin: day of mourning,” available at: news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_1263000/1263931.stm accessed on 8 April 2002.

[9] The World Bank, “Economy,” Countries: Benin, available at: www.worldbank.org/afr/bj2.htm accessed on 5 April 2002.

[10] The World Bank, “Benin at a Glance,” Data and Publications, available at: www.worldbank.org/data/countrydata/aag/ben_aag.pdf accessed on 5 April 2002. 

[11] The World Bank, “Benin to Receive Around US$460 Million in Debt Service Relief:
World Bank and IMF Support Debt Relief for Benin Under the Enhanced HIPC Initiative,” Press Release (18 July 2000) available at: lnweb18.worldbank.org/news/pressrelease.nsf/92203140240d75178525678c00585fc3/4862bc724587ba5a8525692000523c94?OpenDocument accessed on 5 April 2002.

[12] Benin: Women, Poverty and Discrimination,” Women's International Network (WIN News), v. 25, no. 1 (31 January 1999): 47.

[13] United Nations, The World’s Women 2000 Trends and Statistics, available at: www.un.org/depts/unsd/ww2000/table6a.htm accessed on 18 March 2002.

[14] “First female presidential candidate in Benin,” AFROL NEWS (22 February 2001) available at: www.afrol.com/News2001/ben002_woman_candidate.htm accessed on 18 March 2002.

[15] “Afrol Gender Profiles: BENIN,” AFROL NEWS available at: http://afrol.com/netscape_index.htm accessed on 18 March 2002.

[16] Benin: Women, Poverty and Discrimination.”

[17] The Food and Agriculture Organization, Fact sheet: Benin - Women, agriculture and rural development (1994) available at: www.fao.org/docrep/v7948e/v7948e03.htm#TopOfPage accessed on 9 April 2002.

[18] The World Bank, Memorandum of the President of the International Development Agency to the Executive Directors on an Interim Country Assistance Strategy of the World Bank for the Republic of Benin.

[19] The Food and Agriculture Organization.

[20] The World Bank, “Gender and Law Initiatives in Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa; Gender and Law Workshop in Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa (March 1998)”  African Region Findings available at: www.worldbank.org/afr/findings/english/find148.htm, accessed on 18 March 2002.

[21] The World Bank, Memorandum of the President of the International Development Agency to the Executive Directors on an Interim Country Assistance Strategy of the World Bank for the Republic of Benin.

[22] The Food and Agriculture Organization.

[23] The World Bank, Memorandum of the President of the International Development Agency to the Executive Directors on an Interim Country Assistance Strategy of the World Bank for the Republic of Benin.

[24] United Nations Department of Public Information DPI/2035/F (May 2000), “Women and the Economy,” available at www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/followup/session/presskit/fs6.htm accessed on 8 April 2002.

[25] The World Bank, “Benin,” Genderstats available at: genderstats.worldbank.org/SummaryGender.asp?WhichRpt=education&Ctry=BEN,Benin accessed on 9 April 2002.

[26] The World Bank, Benin at a Glance.

[27] The World Bank, Memorandum of the President of the International Development Agency to the Executive Directors on an Interim Country Assistance Strategy of the World Bank for the Republic of Benin.

[28] The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP) and Association des Femmes Juristes du Benin (AFJB), Reproductive rights of young Girls and Adolescents in Benin; A Shadow Report available at: www.crlp.org/pdf/SRbenin99en.pdf accessed on 10 March 2002.

[29] Ibid.

[30] U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,  Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001: Benin, available at: www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/af/8252.htm accessed on 8 April 2002.

[31] CIA, The World Factbook.

[32] Anti-Slavery, Synopsis of 1999 report on the trafficking of children between Benin and Gabon, available at: www.antislavery.org/archive/other/trafficking-benin-synopsis.htm accessed on 18 March 2002.

[33] Ibid.

[34] “Afrol Gender Profiles: BENIN,” AFROL NEWS available at: afrol.com/netscape_index.htm accessed on 18 March 2002.

[35] The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP) and Association des Femmes Juristes du Benin (AFJB), Reproductive rights of young Girls and Adolescents in Benin; A Shadow Report available at: www.crlp.org/pdf/SRbenin99en.pdf accessed on 10 March 2002.

[36] The World Bank, “Benin,” Genderstats available at: genderstats.worldbank.org/PopulationRpt.asp?WhichRpt=population&Ctry=BEN,Benin accessed on 9 April 2002.

[37] The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP) and Association des Femmes Juristes du Benin (AFJB).

[38] Ibid.

[39] International Planned Parenthood Federation, “Benin,” Country Profiles, available at: lppfnet.ippf.org/pub/IPPF_Regions/IPPF_CountryProfile.asp?ISOCode=BJ accessed on 5 April 2002.

[40] USAID-Benin, “Saving Women’s Lives in Benin,” available at: www.usaid.gov/bj/health/s-prime.html accessed on 18 March 2002.

[41] Ibid.

[42] “Benin to launch national AIDS programme by own means,” AFROL NEWS  (27 June 2001) available at: www.afrol.com/News2001/ben012_aids_program.htm accessed on March 10, 2002.

[43] USAID “Benin,” Global Health available at: www.usaid.gov/pop_health/aids/Countries/africa/benin.html accessed on 18 March 2002.

[44] “Benin to launch national AIDS programme by own means.”

[45] Charity Tatah Mentan, interview with IWRAW, 18 March 2002.

[46] “Afrol Gender Profiles: BENIN,” AFROL NEWS available at: afrol.com/netscape_index.htm accessed on 18 March 2002.

[47] U.S. Department of State.

[48] Benin: Women, Poverty and Discrimination,” Women's International Network (WIN News), v. 25, no. 1 (31 January 1999): 47.

[49] The World Bank, Benin at a Glance.

[50] The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP) and Association des Femmes Juristes du Benin (AFJB).

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.


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