Liberia is ranked 62 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country was ranked 87 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

Liberia’s Human Development Index score of 0.329 puts its ranking at 182 (out of 187 countries). The country’s Gender Inequality Index score is 0.671 which places Liberia at 139 out of 146 countries with data. Liberia is not ranked in the Global Gender Gap Index.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Civil and customary law are both recognised in Liberia. The latter results in the continuation of many practices that are discriminatory towards women, although the 1998 Equal Rights of the Customary Law does in theory criminalise acts such as compulsory marriage of a widow to her deceased husband’s relative, and forced marriage.[15] 

Under civil law, the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 years for women and 21 years for men.[16]  In reality, data from the 2007 Demographic and Household Survey reports that 20.2% of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed.[17] 

Liberia’s civil law prohibits polygamy but customary law allows men to have several wives.[18] According to 2007 DHS data, 16% of women aged 15-49 were in polygnous relationships in Liberia.[19] Rates of polygyny were higher for older women (over 35) than for younger women, [20] giving some indication that the practice may be declining. 

Under civil law, both parents have equal parental authority, but according to customary law, married women have no right to parental authority and no right to custody of their children in the event of the father’s death.[21]

Under Liberia’s civil law on inheritance, married women can inherit land and property. The 2003 Inheritance Act gives women married under customary law the same right to inherit.[22] But in practice, there is little awareness of this law and under customary law, married women are themselves treated as property, and cannot inherit from their spouses.[23]  There is no information available on the inheritance rights of daughters.

[15] CEDAW (2008) p.21-2 [16] CEDAW (2009) p.16 [17] United Nations Population Division / DESA (2008) [18] US Department of State (2010) [19] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.78 [20] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.78 [21] ECOSOC (2003) p.71 [22] CEDAW (2008) p.77 [23] CEDAW (2008) p.77

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

Women’s physical integrity is not sufficiently protected in Liberia. There is no specific law in Liberia dealing with domestic violence, although a National Gender-Based Violence Plan of Action was adopted in 2006.[24]  In 2007, 33% of women who were married or cohabiting reported having experienced at least one incident of violence at the hands of their husband or partner, and sadly, it appears that many women take such violence for granted.[25] When presented with a list of five different ‘reasons’ for a man to beat his wife in the 2007 DHS questionnaire, 59.3% of women agreed with at least one of them.[26] Interestingly, when the same questions were asked of men, the figure was much lower (30.2%).[27]  There are some government-run women’s refuges, but most support services are provided by women’s rights NGOS.[28]

In 2006, the government promulgated a new law that recognises rape as a crime (although does not recognise spousal rape), and imposes harsh penalties for perpetrators, particularly in cases of gang rape and where the victim is under 18.[29] The law is not effectively enforced, and where cases are brought, they are often settled out of court.[30] The new legislation was in response to the systematic use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war throughout the civil conflict, by rebel and government forces.[31] Assessments carried out by the World Health Organisation and the Ministries of Gender and Health estimated that in the regions worst affected by the conflict, 93% of women and girls had been subject to some form of sexual assault.[32] Many cases of rape go unreported, and the survivors do not seek help, because of the stigma surrounding sexual violence.[33]  In addition, health facilities do not have the equipment, resources, or expertise to provide the assistance needed.[34]

There is no law prohibiting female genital mutilation (FGM) in Liberia, although the current government has run nationwide campaigns to discourage the practice.[35]  FGM is thought to be quite common particularly among ethnic groups in the north, west and centre of the country, and more generally in rural areas.[36]  It is very difficult to ascertain accurate figures for the number of women who have undergone the procedure, because it is often carried out during initiation rituals into women’s secret societies or so-called ‘bush schools’.[37] Based on the numbers of women who say that they are members of such societies – and hence, are likely to have undergone FGM – it is estimated that 58.2% of Liberian women aged 15-49 have undergone FGM.[38] The instability brought about by the civil war led to a decrease in FGM at the end of the 1990s, but the practice has since resurfaced.[39]

An Anti-Trafficking Act was passed in 2006, but as of 2008, no prosecutions had been made under this act.[40] There are some reports of people being trafficked to, from, and within the country for domestic work.[41] Young children are said to be at particular risk of being trafficked, and also of engaging in transactional sex in order to secure goods or income.[42] As of 2008, the country’s only refuge for victims of trafficking was run by an NGO.[43]

There is no legislation restricting the right of women to access contraception and other reproductive health services.[44] Access to sexual and reproductive health services is provided free of charge at health facilities run by the government and International NGOs (INGOs).[45] According to the 2007 DHS, knowledge of at least one method of contraception is high among Liberian women – 86.8%, but actual usage is low: only 13.3% of women reported currently using any form of contraception (including ‘traditional’ methods).[46] Women living in urban areas are more likely to used contraception (18.8%) than those living in villages (7.7%).[47]  Overall, healthcare services and infrastructure were severely affected by the 14-year conflict, limiting women’s access to reproductive and general health services, particularly in rural areas.[48] Abortion is legal in cases or rape or incest, foetal impairment, or if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk.[49]

[24] CEDAW (2009) p.8; CEDAW (2008) p.22 [25] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.233 [26] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.215 [27] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.215 [28] CEDAW (2008) p.38 [29] CEDAW (2008) pp.16, 28; Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.225; UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL (2007) p.9 [30] US Department of State (2010); UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL (2007) p.9 [31] CEDAW (2008) p.34; ECOSOC (2003) p.72 [32] CEDAW (2008) p.34-5 [33] CEDAW (2008) p.36 [34] CEDAW (2008) p.36 [35] CEDAW (2008) p.34 [36] CEDAW (2008) p.34 [37] CEDAW (2008) p.34 [38] CEDAW (2008) p.67; Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.241-242 [39] ECOSOC (2003) p.72 [40] CEDAW (2008) p.38 [41] US Department of State (2010) [42] CEDAW (2008) p.38; UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL (2007) p.10 [43] CEDAW (2008) p.39 [44] US Department of State (2010) [45] CEDAW (2009) p.13 [46] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) pp.58, 62 [47] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.63 [48] CEDAW (2008) p.60; CEDAW (2009) p.14; US Department of State (2010) [49] UNDP (2007); CEDAW (2008) p.63

Son Bias: 

The Ministry of Health identifies son preference in relation to care in infancy and early childhood as a harmful practice that affects women and children, and provides training to community leaders and women’s groups in how to address this.[50]  However, this concern is not actually borne out in the statistics: vaccination rates for infants are higher for girls than boys (42.4% against 36.1%), and infant and child mortality rates in Liberia are slightly higher for boys than girls.[51] The same is true of malnutrition rates.[52] In terms of access to education, the discrepancy between male and female school attendance rates at primary level is not very large, with 41.1% of boys and 38.6% of girls attending primary school.[53] Secondary school attendance rates for boys and girls are both low - 21.3% for boys and 17.9% for girls.[54]  Again, this does not indicate marked son preference in relation to access to education. 

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.[55]

Liberia does not appear to be a country of concern in regard to missing women, or son preference.

[50] CEDAW (2008) p.66 [51] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) pp.107, 126 [52] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.137 [53] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.14 [54] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.14 [55] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Liberian legislation grants equal ownership rights to men and women, but discrimination based on tradition persists.[56] The law provides men and women with the same rights regarding access to land, and access to property other than land.

Under Liberian law, women have the right to access to bank loans.[57]  In practice, it is often difficult for women to access credit because they are illiterate, or because they cannot meet the requirements needed to take out a loan.[58] Micro credit programmes are provided by NGOs and the government, and women are the main beneficiaries.[59]

[56] CEDAW (2009) p.7 [57] CEDAW (2008) p.69 [58] CEDAW (2008) p.69 [59] CEDAW (2008) p.70

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

Liberian women’s civil liberties are guaranteed by law, but have been severely restricted as a result of the civil war, which led to widespread population movement. As of 2003, women and children comprised the majority of displaced people living in refugee camps (70%).[60] In addition, women’s day-to-day movement may be restricted by partners and husbands: in 2007, 26.2% of women aged 15-49 questioned reported that their partner would not let them visit female friends, and 12.6% that their partner limited their contact with their family.[61]  

The media is generally free in Liberia, although in 2009, several journalists were arrested for criticising the president in their work.[62] In the 2005 DHS, 45% of women reported having no access to the media (press, radio, or television) at all.[63]

Freedom of association is respected in Liberia, although there have been cases of police violently dispersing demonstrations.[64]

Liberia elected Africa’s first woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in 2005.[65]  At the elections in 2005, attempts were made to encourage more parties to field women candidates, but these met with limited success, in part because fear of violence and intimidation made women reluctant to stand as candidates.[66]  Other factors included hostility to the idea of women speaking out in public, and women’s poor economic status, meaning that few had the necessary funds to run for office.[67] As of 2009, there were six women cabinet ministers.[68] Only eight women were elected to the House of Representatives in 2005, against 56 men.[69] In contrast to the low number of women in formal politics, women’s rights organisations have been at the forefront of campaigns to enhance women’s rights, such as changes to the rape law, eradication of FGM, and awareness raising on trafficking.[70] But even in the NGO sector, women are in the minority.[71] At the community level, it is reportedly difficult for women to found and be active in community-based organisations, due to resistance from men.[72]

Liberian employment law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender.[73] Pregnant women have the right to three months paid maternity leave.[74] But these regulations only apply to women working in the formal sector, and according to the 2008 report issued to the CEDAW committee, 90% of women are employed in the informal sector.[75] The World Bank considers 67% of women in Liberia to be employed.[76] 

[60] ECOSOC (2003) p.72 [61] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.232 [62] US Department of State (2010) [63] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.35 [64] US Department of State (2010) [65] CEDAW (2008) p.18 [66] CEDAW (2008) p.31 [67] CEDAW (2008) p.40 [68] US Department of State (2010) [69] Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.) [70] CEDAW (2008) p.36, 39; CEDAW (2009) p.9 [71] CEDAW (2008) p.57 [72] CEDAW (2008) p.74 [73] CEDAW (2008) p. 56 [74] CEDAW (2008) p.57 [75] CEDAW (2008) p.57 [76] World Bank (n.d.), ‘Data: labour participation rate’


Liberia is a predominantly Christian country,[1] which has only recently emerged from 14 years of civil conflict that ended officially in 2003.[2]  Some 16 different ethnic groups inhabit the country, and while English is the official language, other languages are also spoken.[3]  Women disproportionately bore the brunt of the 14 year conflict, given that sexual violence was systematically used as a weapon of war. In addition, women and young girls were forcibly recruited as ‘sexual servants’ into military groups.[4]  While the conflict has officially ended, the security situation remains fragile, and the process of rebuilding the country continues.[5]

The position of women in Liberia varies according to region, ethnic group and religion. Customary laws are a major contributing factor to inequality[6]. Women who are married according to customary law are considered to be legal minors, and have few rights in regard to parental authority and inheritance, as well as highly limited capacity to contribute towards decision-making within the household.[7]  This also shapes women’s opportunities to take an active political and social role outside the home, as doing so often prompts hostility and condemnation. In 2005, Liberia became the first African country to elect a woman, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as president.[8] While her election is extremely symbolic, thus far it appears to have had little impact on the day-to-day lives of Liberian women.

The Constitution of Liberia prohibits discrimination at Article 11.[9]  However, there are no specific laws against gender-based discrimination.[10]  Liberia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1984, but has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol on violence against women.[11] The country ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2008.[12] In 2001, the government created a Ministry for Gender and Development, and a National Gender Policy is in place.[13].

Liberia is classed as a low income country by the World Bank.[14]

[1] Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services et al (2007) p.29 [2] CEDAW (2008) p.18 [3] CEDAW (2008) p.10 [4] CEDAW (2009) p.8 [5] CIA (2010) [6] CEDAW (2008) p.33 [7] CEDAW (2008) p.77 [8] CEDAW (2008) p.18 [9] CEDAW (2008) p.19 [10] ECOCSOC (2003) p.71[11] United Nations Treaty Collection (n.d.); CEDAW (2008) p.16 [12] African Union (2010) [13] CEDAW (2008) pp.25, 27 [14] World Bank (n.d.) data: Liberia


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)

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2010) World Factbook: Liberia, online edition, (accessed 29 October 2010)

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at  (accessed 9 March 2012)

Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (2008), 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 of States parties Liberia, CEDAW/C/LBR/6, New York, CEDAW. (accessed 29 October 2010)

CEDAW (2009), ‘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 Liberia’, CEDAW/C/LBR/Q/6/Add.1. New York, CEDAW. (accessed 29 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.

ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), (n.d.), country profile: Liberia, (accessed 29 October 2010)

Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.) ‘LIBERIA House of Representatives’ (accessed 31 October 2010). 

Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) [Liberia], Ministry of Health and Social Welfare [Liberia], National AIDS Control Program [Liberia], and Macro International Inc. (2008) Liberia Demographic and Health Survey 2007. Monrovia, Liberia: Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) and Macro International Inc.

UNDP (2010) Human Development Report 2009 Liberia, online edition, (accessed 6 December 2010)

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

UN Human Rights Council (2007), Implementation of General Assembly Resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006 entitled ‘Human Rights Council’, Report of the Independent Expert on Technical Cooperation and Advisory Services in Liberia, Charlotte Abaka, A/HRC/4/6, UN, New York, NY.

United Nations Development Programme (2006) World Population Prospects_2006, downloaded from (accessed 1 November 2010)

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

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

United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (n.d.) United Nations Treaty Conventions: Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. (accessed 31 October 2010)

US Department of State (2010) ‘2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Liberia’, (accessed 31 October 2010)

World Bank (n.d.) ‘Data: Liberia’, (accessed 29 October 2010)

World Bank (n.d) ‘Data: Labor participation rate, female (% of female population ages 15+’, (accessed 29 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: 
Prevalance Of 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: