Several former French colonies in West Africa have witnessed major struggles over the content of “family codes” and “personal status laws,” statutes that deal with marriage, divorce, inheritance, and related matters. These struggles have pitted ostensibly secular governments (influenced by legacies of French secularism or laicite) against constituencies from what you might call “Muslim civil society.” One such struggle occurred in Senegal in the 1970s, while another broke out in Mali from 2009 to 2011.
In 1990, Burkina Faso* implemented a “Code for Persons and the Family,” the text of which I have been unable to locate. Recently the country’s Ministry for Women’s Advancement commissioned a study (French) on amending the Code. A new debate concerning this law has begun. It will be important to see who joins the debate and how it proceeds. Here are two perspectives from the Burkinabe press:
One author (French) says, “Even though perceived as being an advance in favor of the rights of women, it is noticed more and more that this text includes clauses that discriminate against women and girls” with regard to inheritance, property, and other matters. She goes on to cite discrepancies between the Code and the international statutes on women’s rights that Burkina Faso has ratified. The article, quoting an official from the Ministry for Women’s Advancement, suggests that the age of marriage may be a key focus of debate.
Another commentator (French) focuses on the renewed debate in the country concerning polygamy, which remains legal. The author questions whether such a debate is “opportune” for the country at a time when “the worries of Burkinabe women are far from this [issue].” Women have more pressing material and economic concerns than polygamy, the author continues. “How can one find this debate on polygamy opportune when female circumcision, obstetrical fistulas, and the weak attendance at maternity wards are still a reality?” The author goes on to discuss the issue of indigenous versus foreign cultural values, suggesting Burkina Faso must rely on its own values.
The portions of the Burkinabe press that are accessible online give us only a limited glimpse into popular opinion in the country. But it is noteworthy that neither of the linked articles discusses religion at length, focusing more on questions of national culture and its interaction with international norms. We will see if Muslim associations and constituencies (or Christians and other non-Muslim groups!) begin to put forth arguments with a specifically religious character.