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The existence of plural legal systems in Commonwealth Africa presents both challenges and opportunities for women’s rights activists in the region. Because statutory, customary, and religious laws operate as parallel systems of law in many countries, women enjoy different rights within each system of law. Customary law is dynamic, often unwritten law that governs in some countries in certain areas of law, such as family law matters. In a few cases, customary law has evolved to reflect human rights norms of gender equality. In other cases, courts have invalidated customary laws that discriminated against women. In many other cases, customary law continues to impinge on women’s rights to equality within family law. This chapter will assess the extent to which international and regional human rights treaties may prove useful in the ongoing effort to reform customary law so that it conforms to internationally recognized gender equality norms.
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