Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime and punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment; the law does not address spousal rape. Police generally investigated reports of rape, but victims often did not file reports due to cultural barriers and fear. According to human rights NGOs, rape occurred frequently. Although the government prosecuted rape cases during the year, no statistics were available on the number of cases reported or prosecuted. Several organizations counseled rape victims, including Roman Catholic and Protestant missions, the Association of Women Jurists in Burkina, the Association of Women, and Promofemmes (a regional network that works to combat violence against women).
Domestic violence against women occurred frequently, primarily in rural areas. No law specifically protects women from domestic violence, and cases of wife beating usually were handled out of court, unless victims were severely injured. Victims seldom pursued legal action due to shame, fear, or reluctance to take their spouses to court. For the few cases that went to court, there were no available statistics on prosecutions, convictions, or punishment. There were no government-run shelters in the country for victims of domestic violence, but there were counseling centers in each of the 13 regional “Maison de la Femme” centers. The Ministry of Women’s Promotion sometimes acted as a counseling center, housing and assisting abused women. Between January and July, for example, the ministry assisted 20 victims of domestic violence, 10 of whom were referred to attorneys for possible legal action against perpetrators.
The Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity, which has a legal affairs section to educate women on their rights, and several NGOs cooperated to protect women’s rights. During the year the ministry organized a number of workshops and led several sensitization campaigns to inform women of their rights.
Harmful Traditional Practices: On occasion elderly women without support, living primarily in rural areas and often widowed, were accused of witchcraft by their neighbors and banned from their villages. Such women were accused of “eating” the soul of a relative or a child who had died. According to Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity records, nearly 600 alleged witches forced to flee their villages since the 1960s were housed by the Delwende center in Ouagadougou, operated by the Roman Catholic Church. Victims seldom took legal action for fear of repercussions to their families and sought refuge at centers run by governmental or charitable organizations in urban centers. During the year the Delwende Center supported 299 women accused of witchcraft. A similar government-run center in Ouagadougou’s Paspanga area housed approximately 100 women.
The government and traditional authorities worked together during the year to stop the persecution of suspected witches. The Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity initiated specific awareness programs with ethnic Mossi villages and assisted with mediation efforts between suspected witches and village elders.
On March 24, the Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity adopted a 2012-16 Action Plan to fight the social exclusion of women accused of witchcraft. In collaboration with NGOs such as the Peace and Justice Commission and Women’s Rights for Development, the ministry’s plan provides for financial, legal, and psychological support for suspected witches.
One of the three witchcraft cases filed in 2011 remained pending at year’s end; the victim in the second case dropped charges after an amicable settlement, and a court cancelled the third case because the statute of limitations had passed.
In November 2011 the High Court of Ouagadougou imposed a collective fine of 1,500,000 CFA (3,018) on Rakiswende D. and three of his accomplices for the 2009 assault and battery of Nopoko D., one of the Delwende Center’s residents.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): (see section 6, Children).
Sexual Harassment: The labor code explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, which is punishable by 50,000 to 600,000 CFA ($101 to $1,207) and prison terms varying from one month to five years. The government was ineffective in enforcing the law, in large part because sexual harassment was considered by many as culturally acceptable. There were no available statistics on the number of cases reported, prosecutions, or convictions.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals are legally entitled to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. They have the right to access reproductive and family planning information and may do so without facing discrimination, coercion, or violence. Government and private health centers were open to all women and offered reproductive health services, skilled medical assistance during childbirth (essential obstetric and postpartum care), and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. However, remote villages often lacked these facilities or did not have adequate road infrastructure or transportation to permit easy access. According to the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey, 95 percent of women received prenatal care from skilled personnel, 67 percent of births were attended by skilled personnel, and 15 percent of women who wanted to space their pregnancies had access to modern birth control methods. Cultural norms that left decisions regarding birth control to husbands also contributed to the limited use of contraceptives. The relatively high maternal mortality ratio of 341 per 100,000 live births was attributed to lack of access to health care in rural areas. Amnesty International (AI) said maternal deaths were also a result of inadequate training of health workers.
According to an AI report, during the year there was progress in accountability of medical personnel. In September 2011 two health officials were dismissed for “serious professional misconduct” in Bobo-Dioulasso following the death of a pregnant woman who had been locked in a maternity ward without any supervision. In October 2011 both officials were sentenced to prison terms, and reparations were awarded to the family of the victim.
Discrimination: Women continued to occupy a subordinate position in society and often experienced discrimination in education, jobs, property ownership, access to credit, management or ownership of a business, and family rights. Polygamy is permitted, but both parties have to agree to it prior to marriage. A wife may oppose further marriages by her husband if she provides evidence that he has abandoned her and her children. Each spouse may petition for divorce, and the law provides that custody of a child may be granted to either parent, based on the child’s best interest. In practice the mother retained custody until the child reached age seven, at which time custody reverted to the father or his family. Women represented approximately 45 percent of the general workforce in the formal sector and were primarily concentrated in low paid, subservient positions. Although the law provides equal property and inheritance rights for women, land tenure practices emphasized family and communal land requirements over individual ownership rights. As a result, women were often denied the right to own property, particularly real estate. This was exacerbated by the fact that 75 percent of marriages were defined as common law unions (religious or traditional ceremony) and not legally binding. For example, in rural areas, land owned by a woman becomes the property of the family of her husband after marriage. Many citizens, particularly in rural areas, clung to traditional beliefs that did not recognize inheritance rights for women and regarded a woman as property that could be inherited upon her husband's death.
The government continued media campaigns to change attitudes toward women. The Ministry of Women’s Promotion is responsible for increasing women’s awareness of their rights, and was working to facilitate their access to land. The government sponsored a number of community outreach efforts and awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights. From September 13 to15, the ministry held its biennial National Forum for Women, during which women from the 13 regions met to discuss their concerns with government officials, including the president.