Guinea-Bissau is ranked 45 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country’s Human Development Index score for 2011 is 0.353 (176th out of 187 ranked countries). UNDP has not recorded its Gender Inequality Index rating for 2011, and the country is also not included in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Under the civil code, women and men are granted equal rights within marriage, and customary and Islamic law is not recognised as legally binding.[12] 

Though customary law is not a formal source of law, it is still used and in some areas has a greater power than the statutory law due to the absence of legal courts. The article 25 of the Fundamental Law staples the principles of equality between men and women, however, many provisions of the Civil Code and Family Code, inherited from the colonial period, continues discrimination against women. For example, Article 1674 of the Civil Code says that husband is a head of family and this status gives him a right to represent his wife and take decisions of behalf of all family. According to Article 1686 woman cannot run a business without husband’s consent unless she is an owner of all household’s property or if couple has a separate property. Article 1678 of the Civil Code establishes that the couple’s assets belong to husband but woman can take them over in case for some reasons husband is unable to do so.[13]

Under civil law, women have the right to choose their spouse, but in many rural communities where customary law is followed, women do not enjoy the right to chose when and who to marry, and most marriages are not registered.[14] The legal age of marriage in Guinea-Bissau is 17 for women and men, but there are no penalties in place to punish those who force children into marriage.[15]  Multiple Cluster Indicator Survey data from 2006 indicates that 21.7% of girls aged 15-19 were married or in union.[16] There is also evidence of the practice of buying and selling child brides in some areas.[17]

Polygamous marriages are not legally recognised.[18] The 2009 report to the CEDAW committee states that polygamy is a common practice in rural areas.[19]  According to 2006 MICS data detailed in the 2009 report to the CEDAW committee, 48.8% of women are in polygamous marriages.[20] No information has been found that would indicate the extent to which the practice is accepted by society in general.

Under civil law, both parents have equal parental responsibility within marriage and following divorce.[21] However, the civil code also states that the husband is considered to be the head of the family.[22]  Under civil law, both spouses have the same right to divorce, and property should be divided equally between the two.[23]  In practice, it appears that in cases of divorce, women retain custody of underage children, but lose any right to the family property, and seldom appeal to the courts for assistance in securing financial assistance from their former partners.[24]  It is estimated that in urban areas, female-headed households may make up 13% of all households.[25] No data was found indicating how women headed households are treated by others in the society.

In regard to inheritance, the customary laws that govern some ethnic groups are discriminatory in that they prohibit women from inheriting property.[26]  Some communities practice widow inheritance, whereby a widowed woman is forced to marry one of her husband’s male relatives.[27]  If she refuses, she and her children are evicted from the family’s land.[28]  In regard to inheritance, property is passed to the male heir.[29]

[12] CEDAW (2009a) p.73; ECOSOC (2003) [13] FIDH (2009) [14] CEDAW (2009a) pp.33, 74, 75 [15] CEDAW (2009a) p.75; CEDAW (2009b) p.32 [16] United Nations Population Division / DESA (2008) [17] US Department of State (2010) [18] CEDAW (2009b) p.32 [19] CEDAW (2009a) p.75 [20] CEDAW (2009a) p.25 [21] CEDAW (2009a) p.75 [22] CEDAW (2009b) p.28 [23] CEDAW (2009a) p.74 [24] CEDAW (2009b) p.31 [25] CEDAW (2009a) p.55 [26] CEDAW (2009a) p.31 [27] CEDAW (2009a) p.55 [28] CEDAW (2009b) p.31 [29] CEDAW (2009a) p.29

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

A draft law on domestic violence was under discussion, as of 2009,[30] but in the current absence of any legislation to prohibit it, domestic violence is widespread and often considered an acceptable expression of male authority over women and a means of settling family disputes.[31] The police are reportedly willing to intervene if they are requested to do so, but this rarely happens, as women are reluctant to report abuse because of the stigma that this could provoke, and because of lack of financial independence.[32] Moreover, the authorities seem unwilling to address the social pressure that prevents victims of violence from filing complaints.[33]  According MICS data included in the 2009 report to the CEDAW committee, 51.5% of women questioned felt that husbands were justified in beating their wives for at least one of five different ‘reasons’ presented.[34] 

Rape (including spousal rape) is a criminal offence, but a lack of resources makes it difficult to apply the legislation.[35]

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is currently legal in Guinea-Bissau, although as of 2009, a law criminalising the practice was under discussion in the National Assembly.[36] In the mid-1990s, the government of Guinea-Bissau established a National Committee against Harmful Practices to run a national awareness campaign about FGM.[37]  Five years later in 1995, parliament rejected a law that would have prohibited the practice.[38] Based on MICS data, UNICEF estimates that 45% of women aged 15-49 have undergone FGM.[39] Of these, 35% had a least one daughter who had also been subjected to FGM. [40]

Draft legislation to combat trafficking was under discussion in the National Assembly, as of 2009.[41] Trafficking primarily affects children, who are trafficked within the country and to other parts of West Africa to work as domestic servants or forced agricultural labourers, or for sexual exploitation.[42]

Women and men have the right to access reproductive health information and services.[43] A National Reproductive Health Programme was launched in 2004.[44] Government-run health centres provide access to reproductive health services, but use of contraception is very low – only 10% of women reported using any form of contraception.[45] In part, this may be due to lack access to health facilities, as in some rural areas, people have to travel great distances to reach clinics.[46] Abortion is illegal in Guinea-Bissau, except to save the mother’s life.[47]

[30] CEDAW (2009b) p.14 [31] CEDAW (2009a) p.34 [32] CEDAW (2009a) p.35; US Department of State (2010) [33] US Department of State (2010) [34] CEDAW (2009a) p.35. Data source not provided. [35] US Department of State (2010) [36] CEDAW (2009b) p.13 [37] ECOSOC (2003) p.66 [38] ECOSOC (2003) p.66 [39] UNICEF (n.d.). Data collected during MICS carried out between 1996 and 2001.[40] UNICEF (n.d.). Data collected during MICS carried out between 1996 and 2001. [41] CEDAW (2009b) p.14 [42] US Department of State (2010); CIA (2010) [43] US Department of State (2010) [44] CEDAW (2009a) p.56 [45] CEDAW (2009a) p.56; UNFPA (2010) p.95 [46] CEDAW (2009a) p.71 [47] UNDP (2007)

Son Bias: 

No gender-disaggregated data is available as to early childhood mortality, vaccination, and nutrition rates, meaning it is impossible to judge whether son preference is an issue in terms of infant and early childhood care. There is a marked discrepancy between male and female attendance rates at primary and secondary school – 53% to 37% at primary level, and 11% to 6% at secondary level.[48]

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 0.95.[49]

There is no evidence to suggest that Guinea-Bissau is a country of concern in regard to missing women, but that son preference is marked in regard to access to education.

[48] UNICEF (2007) p.119 [49] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Legally, women have the same rights as men to ownership.[50] But several factors undermine women’s ownership rights in Guinea-Bissau. In certain ethnic groups, women have no access to land, largely because of discriminatory customary laws relating to inheritance.[51]  

Legally, women have the same rights as men in respect of accessing bank loans and other forms of credit.[52] There are various micro credit schemes available directly targeting women, run by NGOs.[53] In practice, women’s access to property other than land and their access to bank loans are also heavily restricted in that, as heads of households, men hold sole authority over most family matters.

[50] CEDAW (2009a) p.76 [51] CEDAW (2009a) p.55 [52] CEDAW (2009a) p.68 [53] CEDAW (2009a) p.68

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

While there are no legal restrictions on women’s freedom of movement inside or outside the country, no data is available as to day-to-day restrictions on women’s movements.[54] Freedom of speech is protected by law, but in reality, the media is restricted in Guinea-Bissau, with journalists who report on sensitive issues such as drug trafficking receiving death threats and being subjected to police intimidation.[55]

The right to freedom of association is protected in law, and is generally respected by the government, although permits are required for all demonstrations and public meetings.[56]

The right of women to participate in political life is recognised in the Constitution of Guinea-Bissau.[57] There is currently no legislation in place to ensure the more equal representation of women in politics (although as of 2009 a bill was under discussion), and women are underrepresented in decision-making positions in Guinea-Bissau: only 10% of delegates to the National Assembly are women.[58] There is also no active women’s movement in the country, according to the report submitted to the CEDAW committee in 2009.[59] That said, the same report notes that women’s rights NGOs have been active in campaigning for the eradication of FGM, and that more women-headed civil society organisations have emerged in recent years.[60]

The World Bank estimates that 60% of women in Guinea-Bissau are economically active.[61] Pregnant women are entitled to 60 days paid maternity leave, and discrimination on the basis of gender is banned under employment legislation.[62] This legislation only applies to those working in the formal economy, and hence, does not benefit the majority of women, who work in agriculture.[63]

 [54] US Department of State (2010) [55] Amnesty International (2009) p.162; US Department of State (2010) [56] CEDAW (2009a) p.41; US Department of State (2010) [57] CEDAW (2009a) p.39 [58] CEDAW (2009a) pp.29, 40, 43; Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.) [59] CEDAW (2009a) p.29 [60] CEDAW (2009a) pp.36, 40 [61] World Bank (n.d.) Data: labour force participation rate [62] International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2009); CEDAW (2009a) p.41 [63] CEDAW (2009b) p.6


Guinea-Bissau’s independence from Portugal in 1974 was followed by a long period of civil conflict that lasted until the mid-1990s.[1] Since then, the country has remained volatile and unstable, partly due to role drug trafficking plays in economic and political life. [2] The period 1997-2008 saw ten different heads of government.[3] Most recently, Malam Bacai Sanha was elected in an emergency election held in June 2009.[4] 

Women have suffered as a result of this ongoing instability, in particular because it has limited the government’s capacity to enforce what legal provisions do exist to promote gender equality and women’s rights. [5] As such, the low position of women in society and within families in Guinea-Bissau has gone largely unchallenged, evidenced in practices such as female genital mutilation, early marriage, polygamy, and widespread acceptance of violence against women.[6]

Articles 24 and 25 of the 1984 Constitution of Guinea-Bissau prohibit all forms of discrimination on the grounds of gender, race or religion.[7]  The country ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1985, and the Optional Protocol on violence against women in 2009.[8]  Guinea-Bissau ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2008.[9] In practice, there is a lack of legislation in place that would enable the realisation of these national and international commitments.[10]

Guinea-Bissau is classed as a low-income country by the World Bank.[11]

Overall, there is a lack of detailed data regarding gender-related indicators in Guinea-Bissau, no doubt a reflection of ongoing instability in the country. 

 [1] CEDAW (2009a) pp.10-11; CIA (2010)[2] Amnesty International (2009) p.161-162 [3] CEDAW (2009a) p.9 [4] CIA (2010) [5] See CEDAW (2009a) pp.10-11, 28, 30 [6] See CEDAW (2009a) pp.10-11, 28, 30, 34 [7] CEDAW (2009a) p.28 [8] United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (n.d.); Africa for Women’s Rights Campaign (2009) [9] African Union (2010) [10] CEDAW (2009a) p.29 [11] World Bank (n.d.) Data: Guinea-Bissau


Africa for Women’s Rights (2009) ‘Map of ratifications’. (accessed 20 October 2010)

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 15 October 2010)

Amnesty International (2009) Amnesty International Report 2009, State of the World’s Human Rights, London: Amnesty International.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), World Factbook: Guinea-Bissau, online edition, (accessed 21 October 2010)

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at (accessed 5 March 2012)

Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (2009a), ‘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, third, fourth, fifth and sixth periodic reports, Guinea-Bissau’, CEDAW/C/GNB/6, CEDAW, New York. (accessed 21 October 2010)

CEDAW (2009b) ‘Responses to the list of issues and questions with regard to the consideration of the combined initial, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth periodic reports, Guinea-Bissau’, CEDAW/C/GNB/Q/6/Add.1, CEDAW, New York. (accessed 21 October 2010)

ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council) (2003), Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women, E/CN.4/2003/75/Add.1, UN, New York, NY.

FIDH (2009), L’Afrique Pour les Droits des Femmes: Ratifier et Respecter!, available at (accessed 19 March 2012)

International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, (accessed 21 October 2010).

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), (n.d.), country profile: Guinea-Bissau, (accessed 21 October 2010)

Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.) Parline Database: GUINEA-BISSAU Assembleia Nacional Popular (People's National Assembly), (accessed 1 November 2010)

UNICEF (n.d.) Guinea-Bissau: statistics. (accessed 1 November 2010)

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

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (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 (2007)’World abortion policies’, data downloaded from (accessed 21 October 2010)

UNDP (2010) Human Development Report 2010: Guinea-Bissau, online edition,

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

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (2010), The State of World Population 2010, UNFPA, New York

United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (n.d): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. 

-          CEDAW: (accessed 26 November 2010)

-          Optional Protocol: (accessed 26 November 2010)

US Department of State (2010) ‘2009 Country Reports on Human Rights: Guinea-Bissau’, (accessed 21 October 2010)

World Bank (n.d.) ‘Data: Guinea-Bissau’, (accessed 1 November 2010)

World Bank (n.d) ‘Data: Labor participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15+), (accessed 25 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: