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Gender, Discourse, and Customary Law in Africa

67 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2010  

Johanna Bond

Washington and Lee University - School of Law

Date Written: April 27, 2010


Around the world, efforts by states to accommodate cultural pluralism vary in form and vigor. Some multiculturalist states cede to cultural minorities the authority to govern in certain substantive areas, such as family law. Not surprisingly, feminists have raised concerns that a state’s reluctance to govern in areas traditionally seen as “private,” and leaving those areas of law to customary legal systems, leaves women within those minority communities vulnerable to discrimination. Many women value cultural identity, even as they work to eliminate discrimination within their cultural communities. The international human rights community, however, has not always viewed women as committed, active members of their cultural communities. By viewing African women almost exclusively as victims of their culture, the international human rights community has historically undervalued the potential for African women to reformulate cultural policies within their communities. The two primary human rights treaties for the promotion of gender equality in Africa, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights are dismissive of culture and gender equality, respectively. The Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa attempts to remedy the shortcomings of CEDAW and the African Charter and offers new hope for promoting gender equality on the continent. In addition to strong substantive rights, the Protocol provides important procedural rights to ensure that women have a voice in the ongoing examination and reformulation of cultural practices and customary law.

Keywords: International Human Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Rights of Women in Africa

JEL Classification: K00, K33

Suggested Citation

Bond, Johanna, Gender, Discourse, and Customary Law in Africa (April 27, 2010). Southern California Law Review, Vol. 83, No. 425, 2010; Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 2010-1. Available at SSRN:

Johanna Bond (Contact Author)

Washington and Lee University - School of Law ( email )

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

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