Niger

Niger is ranked 72 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country was ranked 77 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

Niger has a Human Development Index score of 0.295, placing it in 186th place (out of a total of 187 countries ranked in the HDI). The Gender Inequality Index score is 0.724 which places Niger at 144 out of 146 countries. Niger is not ranked under the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Previously, a provision in Niger’s civil code stated that all matters pertaining to personal law and the family were to be governed by customary or Sharia law.[13] This has now been superseded by legislation in 2004, which states that customary law should only be applied if it complies with ‘ratified international conventions, the legislative provisions or fundamental rules concerning public order or personal freedom’.[14]  This new legislation provides better legal protection for women in theory, but given widespread ignorance of the law, and the ongoing influence of customary and Sharia law,[15] in practice, it is unlikely that the law will have much impact. As of 2006, a draft law on marriage and divorce was being considered, but it is unclear as to whether this has been passed, or what benefits it brings to women.[16]  

The Civil Code sets the minimum legal age for marriage at 15 years for women.[17]  It also stipulates that both parties must give their free consent, and that both civil marriages and customary marriages must be legally registered.[18]  Data from the 2006 Demographic and Household Survey (DHS) indicates that 60.7% of girls aged 15 to 19 years were married, divorced or widowed.[19]   By contrast, only 3.1% of boys aged 15-19, and 32.2% of men aged 20-24 were married, divorced, or widowed, indicating that girls are being married off to men who are significantly older than them.[20] This raises questions regarding young women’s relative inequality and lack of power within such relationships. Furthermore, the law is poorly respected: most marriages are conducted according to custom, proceed without the spouses’ consent and are never registered.[21]  In rural areas, families sometimes enter into an agreement whereby a young girl (aged between 10 and 12 years) joins her husband’s family under the guardianship of her mother-in-law.[22] There are also cases where girls are effectively sold into domestic and sexual slavery by their families, under the guise of an arranged marriage.[23]

 Information about the legal status of polygamy in Niger was not available. According to data from the 2006 DHS, 35.7% of women aged 15-49 were in polygynous marriages.[24]

Article 16 of the Nigerien Constitution grants equal rights for spouses in all areas of family life, including parental authority.[25]  But under customary law, men are considered the heads of families, however, and their wives are expected to obey them. Even after divorce or the death of their spouse, women can never obtain the legal status of head of the household.[26]  That said, if a man has more than one wife, he is only considered to be the head of the household that he establishes with his original wife; subsequent wives are considered to be the heads of their respective households, even though they have no legal status as such.[27] Husbands can divorce their wives unilaterally under the practice of repudiation: in theory, there are very specific rules governing the act of repudiation under Islamic law, but in practice, in Niger when a husband repudiates his wife, she is forced to leave the matrimonial home immediately.[28]

In the event of divorce or repudiation, under customary law, wives are usually granted custody of boys until they reach puberty and girls until they marry.[29]  But in some cases (and again under customary law), fathers are granted custody of their children from the age of seven (and sometimes younger). [30]

In Niger, inheritance is governed by customary (which varies between different ethnic groups) and / or Sharia law.[31] Sharia law stipulates that in cases where other arrangements have not been made for the division of property to be inherited, a woman’s inheritance is half that of a man’s.[32]  According to the Chronic Poverty Research Centre, 23.75 percent of widows inherited majority of assets after their spouses in 2006.[33]  In some regions, when a husband dies, his property and land pass back to his family, and the widow may have limited access to these.[34] In the dallols region, it is impossible for daughters to inherit land.[35] In situations of slavery (see below), when a husband dies, all the family’s property passes to the ‘slave’s’ owner.[36]

[13] CEDAW (2007) p.25 [14] CEDAW (2007) p.25 [15] CEDAW (2005) pp.13, 21, 60 [16] CEDAW (2007) p.12 [17] US Department of State (2010) [18] CEDAW (2005) pp.64-65 [19] United Nations Population Division / DESA (2008) [20] United Nations Population Division / DESA (2008) [21] CEDAW (2005) p.64 [22] US Department of State (2010) [23] CEDAW (2005) p.28 [24] Institut National de la Statistique (INS) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.95 [25] CEDAW (2005) p.27 [26] US Department of State (2010); AFROL (n.d.) [27] Institut National de la Statistique (INS) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.19 [28] CEDAW (2005) p.63 [29] CEDAW (2005) p.64 [30] CEDAW (2005) p.64 [31] CEDAW (2005) p.63; FAO (n.d.) [32] FAO (n.d.) [33] Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) p.20 [34] FAO (n.d.) [35] CEDAW (2005) p.64 [36] CEDAW (2005) p.29

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

There is no legislation in place specifically addressing domestic violence, although perpetrators can be prosecuted under laws against battery.[37] Women can report violence to customary or official courts, but seldom do: many women are unaware of the laws in place, while others fear being stigmatised by society or repudiated by their husbands.[38]  Cases that do reach court are also often dropped in favour of customary dispute resolution mechanisms,[39] denying women access to legal justice. Families intervene to physically protect their daughters in the most severe cases.[40]  In regard to domestic violence against women, there are no reliable statistics as to prevalence rates.[41]

Rape is a criminal offence, although the law does not specifically recognise spousal rape; few cases are prosecuted.[42] Sexual harassment is recognised as a criminal offence, punishable by a fine or three – six months in prison.[43] 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practised by only a few ethnic groups in Niger,[44] and according to data from the 2006 Demographic and Household Survey (DHS), only 2.2% of women have been subjected to the procedure.[45]  Prevalence is higher among the Christian population than the Muslim population.[46]  The government is taking steps to eradicate the practice, which it considers to be a form of injury to children: in 2003, the penal code was revised to include provisions on establishing prison sentences and fines for those who perform the procedure.[47] Working with NGOs and international organisations, the government has also led campaigns raising awareness of the dangers of the practice, which have included travelling to different communities to talk about FGM.[48] Statistics suggest that FGM is declining. More than half (54.2%) of women questioned in the 2006 DHS who had undergone the procedure themselves said they had no intention of subjecting their daughters to the practice, and the percentage of women having undergone FGM appears to decrease as levels of education for women increase [49]

There is no legislation in place addressing trafficking,[50] and Niger is considered to be a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for forced labour and sexual exploitation.[51] In addition, even though there is legislation in place specifically prohibiting slavery, slavery-like practices continue in some areas of the country among the Tuareg, Djerma and Arab ethnic minorities, with estimates of the number of people living under what the CIA calls ‘conditions of traditional slavery’ ranging from 8,800 to 43,000.[52] In fact, slavery-like practices persist within most ethnic groups in various guises such as the trafficking of women into Nigeria[53] or pseudo-marriages to conceal the purchase of a slave and acquire unpaid labour (see above).[54]

Women have the right to access and use contraception and other reproductive health services, which are provided in theory by government health clinics and local NGOs.[55] But in practice, provision is inadequate, and it is difficult for many people to get information about contraception.[56] In rural areas, women may have to travel long distances to reach the nearest clinic, and in areas were women are confined to the home (see below), they may be unable to access health care facilities at all.[57] As a consequence, contraceptive use is very low: only 11% of women reported using any form of contraception (including so-called ‘traditional’ methods).[58] Abortion is only legal to save the pregnant woman’s life.[59]

[37] US Department of State (2010) [38] US Department of State (2010) [39] US Department of State (2010) [40] AFROL (n.d.) [41] US Department of State (2010) [42] US Department of State (2010) [43] US Department of State (2010) [44] US Department of State (2010) [45] Institut National de la Statistique (INS) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.280 [46] UNICEF (2005) p.10; Institut National de la Statistique (INS) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.280 [47] Act No. 2003-025 of 13 June 2003 (CEDAW (2007) p. 12) [48] US Department of State (2010); CEDAW (2007) pp.9, 20 [49] Institut National de la Statistique (INS) et Macro International Inc. (2007) p.283 [50] US Department of State (2010) [51] CIA (2010) [52] Freedom House (2010); CIA (2010); US Department of State (2010) [53] CEDAW (2005) p.22 [54] CEDAW (2005) p.28 [55] US Department of State (2010) [56] US Department of State (2010) [57] CEDAW (2005) pp.57, 61 [58] UNFPA (2010) p.97 [59] UNDP (2007)

Son Bias: 

Overall, under-five infant mortality rates in Niger are amongst the highest in the world (in 4th place, according to a UNICEF report published in 2007), but mortality rates for girls are slightly higher (173 per 1000 as against 171 per 1000 for boys).[60] School enrolment rates are also unequal: 65% of boys against 51% of girls are enrolled in primary school, and 14% of boys and just 8% of girls are enrolled in secondary school.[61] This could reflect parental decisions to prioritise boys’ education, and to keep girls at home to work, rather than allowing them to enjoy their right to education.[62]  Taking these factors into consideration, it would appear that Niger is a country of some concern in regard to son preference. 

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.[63]

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

[60] UNICEF (2007) p.101; Amnesty International (2010) p.245; UNFPA (2010) p.103 [61] UNFPA (2010) p.97 [62] US Department of State (2010); CEDAW (2005) p.22 [63] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Women have limited rights to ownership or possession of land and other forms of property, because as with matters pertaining to marriage and divorce, inheritance and ownership are governed by customary law.[64] The Nigerien government has introduced new legislation to provide women with greater financial independence, but some discriminatory practices prevail.

According to the new Rural Code, women are free to buy, own and sell land, but in practice they rarely have access to land, as ownership is most often passed on through inheritance, and under customary laws, women rarely inherit land.[65]  Even if women farm land, they rarely own it, as the right of ownership is reserved for the head of the family, i.e. a man.[66] Rather, women have access to land on a usufruct basis.[67] Under the civil code, husbands have the right to manage and administer property belonging to their wives.[68] The Commercial Code permits women to have an independent activity (such as a commercial or craft business) without their husbands’ consent.[69]  They can also enter into contracts and acquire goods. [70]  However, many women are unable to exercise their rights because of the strength of stereotypes regarding acceptable gender roles, poverty and the difficulties they encounter in obtaining loans.[71]

There are no legal restrictions on the right of women in Niger to access bank loans.[72] In practice, despite women playing an increasingly important role in society as entrepreneurs, it is very difficult for them to access credit, as they are unable to provide collateral or do not have experience of accounting or business planning.[73] It is more common for women to participate in tontines (informal group saving schemes) to cover certain expenses.[74]  In addition, government schemes have been established to provide support to women entrepreneurs, including access to credit, and to provide micro credit to women through grassroots women’s organisations.[75]

[64] FAO (n.d.) [65] CEDAW (2005) pp.19, 60; FAO (n.d.) [66] CEDAW (2005) p.59 [67] FAO (n.d.) [68] FAO (n.d.) [69] CEDAW (2005) p.53 [70] CEDAW (2005) p.61 [71] CEDAW (2005) p.53 [72] CEDAW (2005) pp.53-54 [73] CEDAW (2005) pp.53-54 [74] CEDAW (2005) p.59 [75] CEDAW (2007) pp.9, 22

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

In Niger, married women do not have the legal right to choose where to live; rather, according to the civil code, this is to be decided by the husband, and the wife has no choice but to follow her husband.[76]   At the family and community level, women’s freedom of movement is restricted in the east of the country, which is home to the Hausa and Peul ethnic groups. Women in these communities are rarely allowed to leave their homes without a male escort.[77]  In the north of the country the entire population is subject to government restrictions on freedom of movement, in response to the ongoing conflict with Taureg rebel groups.[78]

Freedom of speech is not respected, with legislation banning the release of information deemed to ‘endanger state security or public order’ used to intimidate and justify the arrest of journalists who speak out against the president and the government.[79] In 2009 several independent media outlets were also shut down.[80]

The Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of assembly and association, but this is not always respected.[81] According to Amnesty International, political demonstrations in 2009 against attempts made by President Tandja to change the Constitution were repressed and several opposition leaders and human rights activists were arrested.[82]

Women in Niger have the legal right to vote and to political participation, although in reality, they may face resistance and hostility in the event of standing for office.[83] Since 2002 a quota has been in place, requiring political parties to allocate 10% of their elected positions to women.[84] In addition, 25% of senior government positions must be occupied by women.[85] These quotas would appear to be having some impact on the numbers of women in positions of power. As of 2009, there were 11 women in the 113 member national assembly (as opposed to one in 1999), and seven female ministers in the 32-member cabinet.[86] There is a vibrant women’s movement, which campaigns on a range of issues – from women’s economic empowerment to FGM, slavery, and child marriage – as well as providing support services to women.[87] As in many other national contexts, these groups are hampered by lack of funds and capacity.[88] In 2009, women’s rights NGOs were active in a campaign to raise awareness about violence against women, working in partnership with the Ministry of Women’s Promotion and Children’s Protection, and international organisations.[89]

Pregnant women in Niger are entitled to 14 weeks paid maternity leave, and cannot be fired as a result of their pregnancy.[90] Gender discrimination in employment is prohibited under the labour code, although there are potentially discriminatory prohibitions on women taking on work that ‘exceeds their strength or damages their moral character’.[91] The World Bank considers 38% of women over 15 to be economically active in Niger.[92] But given that it is estimated that over 95% of the population work in subsistence agriculture or the informal economy, very few women are able to benefit from this legislation.[93]

[76] CEDAW (2005) p.61 [77] Freedom House (2010) [78] US Department of State (2010) [79] Amnesty International (2010) p.245; US Department of State (2010) [80] US Department of State (2010); Amnesty International (2010) p.245 [81] Freedom House (2010) [82] Amnesty International (2010) p.245. See also US Department of State (2010) [83] CEDAW (2005) pp.19-20, 31 [84] CEDAW (2005) p.26; Freedom House (2010) [85] US Department of State (2010) [86] US Department of State (2010); CEDAW (2005) p.32 [87] CEDAW (2005) pp.24, 34; US Department of State (2010) [88] CEDAW (2005) p.24 [89] US Department of State (2010) [90] ILO (2009); CEDAW (2005) p.49 [91] CEDAW (2005) pp.19, 48 [92] World Bank (n.d.), labour force statistics [93] Freedom House (2010)

Background: 

Niger, a predominantly Muslim country, was a French colony until 1960.[1] After 30 years of military and single-party rule,[2] democratic elections were held for the first time in 1993, but since then, the political climate has remained unstable.[3] Attempts by President Mamadou Tandja to alter the constitution to enable him to stand for a third term in office resulted in a military coup in February 2010.[4] Classed as a low-income country by the World Bank, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, with minimal state infrastructure and services and a struggling economy reliant on subsistence agriculture.[5] Parts of the country have also been affected by ongoing clashes between the security services and the rebel Nigerien Movement for Justice, dominated by the Tuareg ethnic group, and between nomadic herders and sedentary farmers over land rights and access to grazing areas.[6]

Living standards in Niger are among the lowest in the world and women live under particularly harsh conditions, particularly in rural areas (where the majority of the population live).[7]  A complex set of customary social rules, roles, and hierarchies that are different for each ethnic group exert a heavy influence and Nigerien women have little legal protection.[8] In Niger, the lack of social infrastructure leaves all women highly vulnerable.

Article 8 of the 1999 Nigerien Constitution grants equal rights regardless of gender.[9] Niger has ratified both the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (in 1999), and the Optional Protocol on violence against women (2004).[10] Niger has signed but not ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.[11] A Ministry of Social Development, Population, Advancement of Women and Protection of Children has been in place since 1998.[12]

[1] CIA (2010) [2] Freedom House (2010) [3] CIA (2010); CEDAW (2005) p.13 [4] CIA (2010) [5] CIA (2010); CEDAW (2005) pp.12-13;  World Bank (n.d.) data: Niger [6] CIA (2010); US Department of State (2010) [7] US Department of State (2010); CEDAW (2005) p.57 [8] CEDAW (2005) pp.61, 63 [9] FAO (n.d.); CEDAW (2010) p.15 [10] United Nations Treaty Collection (n.d.); Africa for Women’s Rights (2009) [11] African Union (2010) [12] CEDAW (2005) p.17

Sources: 

Africa for Women’s Rights (2009) Map / Carte ratifications http://www.africa4womensrights.org/post/2009/01/23/Carte-des-ratifications (accessed 22 November 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). http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/Documents/Treaties/List/Protocol%20on%20the%20Rights%20of%20Women.pdf (accessed 15 October 2010)

Afrol News (n.d.), Gender Profile: Niger, www.afrol.com/Categories/Women/profiles/niger_women.htm (accessed 22 November 2010)

Amnesty International (2010) Amnesty International Report 2009, State of the World’s Human Rights, London: Amnesty International. http://thereport.amnesty.org/sites/default/files/AIR2010_EN.pdf (accessed 8 November 2010)

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2010) World Factbook: Niger, CIA, Washington, D.C., online edition, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ng.html (accessed 12 November 2010).

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2018.html (accessed 9 March 2012)

Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) Widowhood and asset inheritance in sub-Saharan Africa: empirical evidence from 15 countries, available at http://www.chronicpoverty.org/uploads/publication_files/WP183%20Peterman.pdf (accessed 7 March 2012)

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2005), ‘Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Niger, Initial and Second Reports of States Parties’, CEDAW/C/NER/1-2, CEDAW, New York, NY, available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/cedaws38.htm (accessed 12 November 2010)

CEDAW (2007) ‘Responses to the list of issues and questions with regard to the consideration of the initial and second periodic reports of Niger’, CEDAW/C/NER/Q/2/Add.1, CEDAW, New York, NY. (available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/cedaws38.htm: accessed 12 November 2010)

Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)(n.d.) ‘Gender and land rights database: Niger’, (in French) http://www.fao.org/gender/landrights/report/ (accessed 12 November 2010)

Freedom House (2010) Freedom in the World Country Reports: Niger, online edition, http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=22&year=2010&country=7889 (accessed 12 November 2010)

International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/travail/travmain.home

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), (n.d.), country profile: Niger, http://ilga.org/ilga/en/countries/NIGER/Law (accessed 12 November 2010)

 Institut National de la Statistique (INS) et Macro International Inc. (2007), Enquête Démographique et de Santé et à Indicateurs Multiples du Niger 2006, INS et Macro International Inc., Calverton, MD. http://www.measuredhs.com/pubs/pub_details.cfm?ID=660&ctry_id=29&SrchTp=ctry&flag=sur&cn=Niger (accessed 12 November 2010)

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2006) World Population Prospects_2006, downloaded from http://www.devinfo.info/genderinfo/ (accessed 8 November 2010)

United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Complete.pdf (accessed 29 February 2012)

UNDP (2007)’World abortion policies’, data downloaded from http://www.devinfo.info/genderinfo/ (accessed 21 October 2010)

UNDP (2010) Human Development Report 2010: Niger, online edition, http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/NER.html (accessed 14 November 2010)

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) (2005), Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Statistical Exploration, UNICEF, New York, NY. Available at http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/FGM-C_final_10_October.pdf (accessed 11 October 2010)

UNICEF (2007) State of the World’s Children: the Double Dividend of Gender Equality, New York: UNICEF http://www.unicef.org/sowc07/docs/sowc07.pdf

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United Nations Treaty Collection (n.d.): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-8&chapter=4&lang=en (accessed 12 November 2010)

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Data
Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
113
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
0.8409
Legal Age of Marriage: 
0.5
Early Marriage: 
0.6066
Parental Authority: 
0.5
Inheritance: 
1
Data
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
70
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
0.4431
Violence Against Women (laws): 
0.5
Female Genital Mutilation: 
0.022
Reproductive Integrity: 
0.158
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
0.701
Data
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
17
Son Bias Value 2012: 
0.37886
Missing Women: 
0
Fertility Preferences: 
0.4619
Data
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
81
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
0.5071
Access To Land: 
0.5
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
0.5
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
0.5
Data
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
92
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
0.7462
Access To Public Space: 
1
Political Participation: 
0.13274
Political Quotas: 
0.5