Benin is ranked 81 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country was ranked 74 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

In 2011, country’s UNDP Human Development Index was 0.427, placing it at 167th out of 187 ranked countries. The country’s Gender Inequality Index score is 0.634, placing it at 133 out of 146 countries. Benin is rated 128th out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index 2011, with a score of 0.5832.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Family law in Benin is governed by the Code of Persons and Family, promulgated in 2004.[14] However, in practice, while customary law is no longer recognised by the courts, women continue to be subject to the ‘Coutumier du Dahomey’ – a collection of customs and rules codified in 1931 (when the country was still a French colony), which treats them as legal minors and accords them limited rights in marriage and inheritance.[15] Women’s rights within marriage vary considerably, according to whether the marriage is registered, or performed under customary law.[16] Under customary law, marriage is contracted on the basis of payment of bride money to the family of the bride.[17]

The 2004 Code sets the legal age for marriage at 18 years for both men and women. However, Demographic and Health Survey data held by the UN indicate that in 2006, 22.2 % of girls aged 15 to 19 were married, divorced or widowed.[18] In some cases women and girls are forced, abducted or bartered into marriage.[19]  

Polygamy was outlawed in 2004.[20]  The practice continues, however: in the 2006 DHS, 42.3% of women aged 15-49 reported that they were in a polygamous relationship.[21] The status of marriages concluded prior to adoption of the Code of Persons and Family is unclear.

The Code of Persons and the Family established equal parental authority. However, again the continuing influence of customary law decreases the level of protection of women in the family, as under customary law, a woman cannot declare her children as dependents because she is considered to be a dependent of her husband.[22]  Women have the legal right to divorce their husbands, but often fare very badly in divorce proceedings as property is invariably allocated to the husband.[23]  22.5% of households are considered to be headed by women.[24]

The Code of Persons and Family grants children, regardless of gender, equal rights to inheritance. But in reality, in communities where women remain subject to customary law, it is extremely difficult for women to inherit, and hence own land.[25] In 2006, only 21.9 percent of widows inherited the majority of assets after their spouses which could be explained by restrictive legal framework.[26]  In fact, under paragraph 128 of the Coutumier de Dahomey, women are considered to be the property of their husbands, meaning that when they are widowed, they are inherited by and forcibly married to their husband’s brother or another close male relative, in a practice known as lévirat. [27]  This is often the only way that a woman can retain custody of her children; otherwise, in the absence of a male child old enough to inherit the property, the relatives of a deceased man will typically claim inheritance rights, and may also force the widowed woman to leave her husband’s home, and hand over the care of her children to her husband’s family.[28]

 [14] CEDAW (2005) p.4 [15] CEDAW (2002) pp. 12-13 [16] CEDAW (2002) p.84 [17] CEDAW (2002) p.84 [18] United Nations Population Division / DESA (2008) [19] CEDAW (2002) p. 22; JICA (2009) p.17 [20] UNECA (2009) p.49 [21] Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique (INSAE) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.84 [22] CEDAW (2002) p. 17 [23] CEDAW (2002) p.88 [24] Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique (INSAE) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.17 [25] JICA (2009) p.19[26] Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) p.29 [27] JICA (2009, p.17); CEDAW (2002) p. 17 [28] CEDAW (2002) p.88

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

Reporting to the CEDAW committee in 2002, a representative of the government of Benin stated that domestic violence remains a taboo issue, and one which is dealt with within the family or the community, and very few women go to the police or authorities for help; as a result, no statistics are available as to prevalence rates.[29] The Penal Code prohibits domestic violence and imposes jail terms of 6 to 36 months, but it is not prohibited under the Family Code.[30]  NGO observers believe that women remain reluctant to report cases and police and judges rarely intervene in domestic disputes.[31]

The law prohibits rape (imposing sentences of one to five years in jail) but enforcement is weak and few cases are reported due to the stigma attached.[32] The penal code makes no distinction between spousal rape and other forms of rape.[33]  The limited support services that are available to women who have experienced domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence are provided by women’s groups with support from foreign donors, rather than the state.[34] No legislation exists to protect women and girls from sexual harassment, and the topic remains taboo.[35]

Young girls in Benin face a particular threat to physical integrity due to the practice of ‘vidomegon’, whereby young children (mainly girls) are placed in the homes of wealthier families in exchange for food and lodging.[36]  There is considerable abuse in this practice, including economic exploitation, ill-treatment and sexual abuse.[37] The practice is also in violation of labour laws in force in Benin.[38]

Benin has ratified the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, but trafficking remains a serious issue. [39] The trafficking of children to neighbouring countries where they face exploitation and abuse is of particular concern.[40]

Benin outlawed female genital mutilation (FGM) in 2003, and an official ceremony was held in 2005 to declare an end to the practice.[41]  DHS data from 2006 indicates that 12.9% of women aged 15 – 49 had been subjected to FGM.[42]  Of those women, only 15.9% had at least one daughter who had been subjected to FGM, or intended to subject their daughter to the procedure.[43] This would indicate a marked decrease in prevalence, as UNICEF states in a 2005 report.[44] Of women aged 15-49 questioned during the DHS survey in 2006, only 1.4% stated that they believed that FGM was a practice that should continue.[45] The practice has been more prevalent in rural areas (20 % of women) than in urban areas (13 %),[46] and in some areas of the country and among certain ethnic groups than others; 38 % of women belonging to the Peulh ethnic group who had been subject to FGM reported that their daughters had also undergone the procedure, while among the Adja, very few girls are cut.[47]

Access to reproductive (and other) health services is provided by local social protection centres; these centres also encourage people to abandon FGM.[48] According to DHS data, 17 % of married women reported using some form of contraception.[49] In 2002, the CEDAW committee reported that in general, a partner’s permission was needed in order for a woman to access family-planning services.[50] In some families, husbands control their wives access to health services more generally, with 44.6 % of women reporting that their husbands made decisions about their wives’ health without consulting them.[51] In addition, 38.1% of women questioned in the 2006 DHS reported that distance was a factor limiting their access to reproductive and other health services, again limiting access.[52]   A survey conducted in 1996 (cited in the 2002 CEDAW report) found that 23 % of the women questioned and 15 % of men said that they were opposed to contraception.[53] Following a change in the law in 2003, abortion is now legal in Benin in cases of rape or incest, or where the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.[54]

[29] CEDAW (2005) p.4 [30] CEDAW (2005) p.5 [31] US Department of State (2010) [32] US Department of State (2010) [33] US Department of State (2010) [34] CEDAW (2002) p.30 [35] UNECA (2009) p.70 [36] CEDAW (2002) p. 23 [37] CEDAW (2002) p. 23 [38] CEDAW (2002) p. 23 [39] UNECA (2009) p.2 [40] CEDAW (2005) p.7 [41] CEDAW (2005) p.3 [42] Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique (INSAE) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.152 [43] Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique (INSAE) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.157 [44] UNICEF (2005b) p.7 [45] Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique (INSAE) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.165 [46] UNICEF (2007) p.134 [47] UNICEF (2005a) p.7; JICA (2009) p.30 [48] CEDAW (2005) p.6 [49] UNECA (2009) p..119; JICA (2009) p.27 [50] Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique (INSAE) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.283 [51] UNICEF (2007) p.18. See also JICA (2009) p.16[52] Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique (INSAE) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.122 [53] CEDAW (2002) p.89 [54] CEDAW (2005) p.4

Son Bias: 

Data from the 2006 DHS survey, reported in the African Women’s Report 2009 does not indicate any significant discrepancy between malnutrition rates of girls and boys under three.[55]  Likewise, there is no significant gap between male and female neonatal mortality rates, and the under-five mortality rate is slightly higher for boys than for girls.[56]  In terms of access to education, in the 2006 DHS, 48.2% of women aged 15-24 reported never having attended school, compared to 18.3% of men in the same age bracket.[57]

In regard to son preference, this is evident in terms of access to education, but not early childhood care.

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.[58] 

There is no evidence to suggest that Benin is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

[55] UNECA (2009) p.102 [56] JICA (2009) p.28 [57] Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique (INSAE) et Macro International Inc. (2007) pp.34-35 [58] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

According to Article 26 of the Constitution, as well as Article 3 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights (to which Benin is a signatory), women and men have equal right to own and administer property.[59] In practice, access to land is extremely restricted for women in Benin; in fact, they may be prohibited from owning any land at all and customary practices make it practically impossible for them to inherit property, and hence, obtain land.[60] This situation is most evident in the agricultural sector. Women make up 80 % of the agricultural workforce but very few are landholders;[61] rather, they must rent land, and often the only land that they are offered is of poor quality,[62] In addition, income they earn by working in the fields may be taken away by their husbands or the husbands’ families. This is one of the issues to be addressed in the government’s new National Policy for Gender Promotion.[63]

The situation is similar in relation to women’s access to bank loans. It is theoretically possible for a woman to obtain a loan, but very difficult, and in certain cases, a woman needs her husband’s permission to apply for credit.[64]  It is particularly difficult for women in rural areas to access agricultural credit or equipment and agricultural extension services, as this is often contingent on owning land,[65]  Various initiatives have set up micro-credit programmes that focus specifically on women, including some run by women’s NGOs.[66]

[59] CEDAW (2002) p.79 [60] CEDAW (2002) p.78; JICA (2009) p. 18-19 [61] JICA (2009) p.32 [62] CEDAW (2002) p.78 [63] JICA (2009) p.33 [64] CEDAW (2002) p.79; UNECA (2009) p.137 [65] JICA (2009; pp.19, 33; CEDAW (2002) p.70 [66] CEDAW (2002) p.68

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

There are no legal restrictions on the right of women’s freedom of movement and right to travel independently and without permission from a male relative within and outside Benin.[67] However, when a woman marries, she is expected to move to live with her husband; failure to do so can be grounds for divorce.[68] In addition, in some households, women’s freedom of movement is restricted by husbands: 45% of women reported that their husbands would only allow them to visit friends and relatives with their permission.[69] 

Freedom of speech is protected by law in Benin, but the government has been known to disregard this.[70] In particular, libel is a criminal offence, and charges of libel have in the past been used as a tool to intimidate journalists.[71] In the 2006 DHS, 38.8% of women reported having no access to the media, compared to only 13.0% of men, indicating that gender may be a factor in gaining access information from outside the immediate community.[72]

The right to freedom of assembly is generally respected, and requirements for permits for demonstrations are often ignored. [73]

According to the 1990 constitution, women have the right to vote and to stand for election at municipal, parliamentary, and presidential level.[74] But in parliamentary elections held in 2011, just seven women were elected, out of 76 MPs (8.4 %).[75] According to the World Economic Forum in 2011, 13% of ministerial positions were held by women.[76]  The poor representation of women in the political sphere is explained in part by the fact that, as stated in the JICA country profile for Benin, ‘Women’s involvement in any activities, whether social, economic or cultural is subject to men’s decision’.[77] In addition to hostility towards women candidates, another factor cited by the country’s CEDAW committee in 2002 for the low level of women MPs was lack of access to funds to support a campaign.[78] There are no legal obstacles to forming civil society organisations,[79] and in contrast to the small number of women active in the formal political arena, there is an active and vibrant women’s movement, and many women are also active in other areas of civil society, such as trades unions.[80] Women’s groups campaign on issues such as violence against women, trafficking of women and children, and increased representation of women in municipal and national assemblies.[81] They were particularly active in campaigning to criminalise and eradicate FGM.[82] That said, even in the NGO sector overall, only 7.4 % of NGOs and 11.1 % of community-based organisations are headed by a woman, indicating that in this sphere, women’s power is limited, and negative social perceptions about women in leadership are evident even at the community level, where women tend to be most socially and economically active. [83] In 2007, only 27 percent of posts in public sector were occupied by women.[84]

Under employment law, women are legally entitled to 14 weeks’ maternity leave, and cannot be fired by their employers when they become pregnant; [85] in addition, national policies are in place to address gender discrimination in employment.[86] But lack of awareness among women hinders the successful implementation of these laws and policies.[87] Also, this legislation only applies to women working in the formal economy, where they make up 40.5 % of the workforce.[88] Those women working in the informal sector are not protected by this, or any other, employment legislation. The World Bank estimates that 67 % of women over 15 are economically active.[89] Time-use data collected in 1998 showed that while women’s participation in market economic activities was equal to men’s (16.3 %), women spent almost three times as much time undertaking domestic, care, and volunteer activities (14.4 % as opposed to 4.7 % for men).[90]

[67] CEDAW (2002) p. 30 [68] CEDAW (2002) p.81 [69] UNICEF (2007) p.20 [70] US Department of State (2010) [71] US Department of State (2010) [72] Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique (INSAE) et Macro International Inc. (2007) pp.40-41 [73] US Department of State (2010); Freedom House (2010) [74] CEDAW (2002) p.30 [75] Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.) [76] World Economic Forum (2011) [77] JICA (2009) p.16 [78] CEDAW (2002) p.31 [79] CEDAW (2002) p.71 [80] CEDAW (2002) p.33 [81] CEDAW (2002) [82] CEDAW (2005) p. 3 [83] UNECA (2009) pp.173, 175 [84] Amen Laboratory (2009) p.64 [85] CEDAW (2002) p.48 [86] UNECA (2009) p.145 [87] UNECA (2009) p.145 [88] UNECA (2009) p.130 [89] World Bank (n.d) [90] INSAE/PNUD (1998) ‘Enquête emploi du temps au Bénin, Méthodologie et résultats’, in UNECA (2009) p.129


Benin was a French colony between 1892 and 1960;[1]  French remains the official state language, although 17 other languages are also in common usage.[2] The three principal religions are Christianity (35 % of the population), animism (35 %), and Islam (just over 20 %); there are 42 different ethnic groups in the country.[3] Politically, the country is stable and has been considered to be a functioning democracy since the early 1990s.[4] Benin’s economy is under developed, and dependent on subsistence agriculture.[5]

Progress towards gender equality in Benin remains slow despite some promising developments, such as the introduction of a new family code, which outlaws many discriminatory practices, and a significant fall in the number of parents choosing to submit their daughters to female genital mutilation. But knowledge and enforcement of the new Code of Persons and Family is low, and customary law under which women are treated as legal minors continues to hold sway, justifying the continued existence of customs that harm women (even though they are now illegal).[6] Overall, persistent gaps mean that legislation fails to ensure non-discrimination against women.[7]

The 1990 Constitution of Benin prohibits discrimination based on race, sex and religion, and grants men and women equal economic and social rights as citizens. Article 26 establishes the general principle of equality between men and women, and Article 6 proclaims the equality of Beninese citizens of both sexes.[8] In 1992, Benin ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.[9]  In 2011 the Parliament has passed the Law No. 2011-26 on Prevention and Punishment of Violence against Women.[10]  The country has also ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (in 2005).[11]  A National Policy for Gender Promotion was adopted in 2009, which aims to reduced gender-based disparities by the end of 2025; previous national policies concerned with promoting gender equality and women’s rights have been hampered by lack of funding and poor implementation.[12]

Benin is classed by the World Bank as a low-income country.[13] 

[1] CIA (2010) [2] CEDAW (2002) p.4 [3] CEDAW (2002) p.4 [4] CIA (2010) [5] CIA (2010) [6] CEDAW (2002) pp. 12, 18 [7] UNECA (2009) p.48 [8] CEDAW (2002) p.7 [9] UNECA (2009) p.1 [10] Law No.2011-26 on Prevention and Punishment of Violence Against Women, Republic of Benin (2011) [11] African Union (2010) [12] JICA (2009) p. 23 [13] World Bank (n.d.) ‘Data: Benin’


African Union (2010) ‘List of countries which have signed, ratified/acceded to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa’ (as of 27 August 2010). (accessed 17 April 2012).

Amen Laboratory (2009) Women of Benin in the Heart of Social Change Dynamics, available at, (accessed 7 March 2012).

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2010) The World Factbook: Benin, Washington, DC: CIA, online edition,, (accessed 1 November 2010).

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at, (accessed 29 February 2012).

Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) Widowhood and asset inheritance in sub-Saharan Africa: empirical evidence from 15 countries, available at, (accessed 7 March 2012).

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2002), ‘Consideration of reports submitted by States Parties under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Combined initial, second and third periodic reports of States parties: Benin’, CEDAW/C/BEN/1-3, CEDAW, New York, NY ( - accessed 1 November 2010).

CEDAW (2005) ‘Concluding Comments of the Committee: Benin’s, 22/07/2005.A/60/38, CEDAW, New York, NY ( - accessed 1 November 2010).

Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique (INSAE) [Bénin] et Macro International Inc. (2007) Enquête Démographique et de Santé (EDSB-III) - Bénin 2006, Calverton, Maryland, USA : Institut National de la Statistique et de l’Analyse Économique et Macro International Inc. ( - accessed 4 December 2010).

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), (n.d.), country profile: Benin,, (accessed 11 October 2010).

Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.) ‘BENIN Assemblée Nationale (National Assembly)’,, (accessed 11 October 2010).

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) ‘Country Gender Profile (Benin)’, Cotonou: JICA Bénin., (accessed 17 October 2010).  

Law No.2011-26 on Prevention and Punishment of Violence against Women, Republic of Benin (2011)

United Nations Development Programme (2006) World Population Prospects_2006, downloaded from, (accessed 8 November 2010).

United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at, (accessed 29 February 2012).

UNDP (2010) Human Development Report 2010: Benin, online edition,, (accessed 4 December 2010).

UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) (2009) African Women’s Report 2009: Measuring Gender Inequality in Africa: Experiences and Lessons from the African Gender and Development Index, Addis Ababa: UNECA., (accessed 15 October 2010).

United Nations Population Division / DESA, World Marriage Data (2008). Available to download at, (accessed 11 October 2010).

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2005a) ‘Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Statistical Exploration’, UNICEF, New York, NY. Available at, (accessed 11 October 2010).

UNICEF (2005b), “Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting”, Innocenti Digest,

UNICEF (2007) State of the World’s Children: the Double Dividend of Gender Equality, New York: UNICEF

US Department of State (2010) ‘2009 Country Reports on Human Rights: Benin’,, (accessed 1 November 2010).

World Bank (n.d.) ‘Data: Benin’,, (accessed 17 October 2010).

World Bank (n.d) ‘Data: Labor participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15+’,, (accessed 17 October 2010).

World Economic Forum (2010) ‘The Global Gender Gap Index 2010 rankings’,, (accessed 22 November 2010).

World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at, (accessed 2 March 2012).

Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: