Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape was a widespread problem. It is punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison, depending on the circumstances and age of the victim. Most rape cases went unreported due to victims’ fear or shame. According to the prime minister, surveys in 2010 on gender-based violence showed that at some point in their lives 43.2 percent of women nationwide had experienced physical violence, and 28.3 percent experienced sexual violence.
The law does not explicitly recognize spousal rape, and authorities seldom prosecuted it. Victims often sought to deal with the rape within the family or were pressured to do so, and many victims did not report spousal rape due to fear of retribution or loss of economic support.
Domestic violence against women was reportedly widespread, although reliable statistics were not available regarding numbers of incidents, prosecutions, or convictions. Husbands commonly beat their wives.
While the law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, a woman may sue her husband or lodge criminal charges for battery, penalties for which range from two months in prison and a fine of 10,000 CFA francs ($17) to 30 years’ imprisonment. The government tried with limited success to enforce these laws, and courts prosecuted cases of domestic violence when they received complaints. Charges stemming from family disputes often were dropped in favor of traditional dispute resolution mechanisms. While women have the right to seek redress for violence in the customary or formal courts, few did so due to ignorance of redress offered by the legal system and fear of spousal or familial repudiation, further violence, or stigmatization. Through several events such as International Women’s Day (March 8), National Women’s Day (May 13), and International Day of the Girl (October 11) that received wide media coverage, the Ministry of Population, Women’s Promotion, and Children’s Protection, international organizations, NGOs, and women’s organizations conducted public awareness campaigns on violence against women and the legal recourse available to them.
On National Women’s Day, the government renewed its commitment to combating violence against women by empowering them. The minister of population, women’s promotion, and children’s protection listed the actions initiated by her ministry, including the development of a national women’s leadership program, a national strategy to fight gender-based violence, and capacity-building efforts. The ministry’s strategic plan for 2012-15 includes infrastructure building, provision of tools and equipment for women, and the insertion of gender in the local development plans of 39 communes and in the training curricula of various vocational schools.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: The law prohibits FGM/C, which is punishable by six months to three years in prison. If an FGM/C victim dies, the practitioner may be sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. There were no reports of FGM/C perpetrated on women age 18 and over. FGM/C was practiced on young girls, with clitoridectomy the most common form. Dangouria, a form of FGM/C found only in Niger, was also common. It consists of cutting away the hymen of newborn girls by traditional barbers known as wanzam. Certain ethnic groups practiced FGM/C, predominantly the Peuhl and Djerma in the west. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the FGM/C rate nationwide decreased from 5 percent in 1998 to 2.2 percent in 2006. Among girls and young women ages 15-19, the rate decreased to 1.9 percent in 2006. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of excisors traveling to perform FGM/C on Nigerien Gourmantche girls.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There continued to be serious stigma associated with being the descendant of a slave.
The practice continued of taking a “fifth wife,” or “wahaya,” in which girls and women are sold into physical or sexual slavery. Polygamy is legal and widespread.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by prison sentences of three to six months and fines of 10,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($17 to $173). If the violator is in a position of authority over the victim, the prison sentence is three months to one year and the fine is increased to 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($35 to $347). Sexual harassment was common. Courts enforced applicable laws in the small percentage of cases reported.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health; however, information regarding reproductive rights was not readily available. There were no restrictions on the right of access to contraception, skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, and emergency health care. Under the guidance of the Ministry of Public Health, clinics and local NGOs could disseminate information on family planning freely.
The government provides free health care for children up to five years of age, leading to increased access to health centers for women’s general and essential obstetric and postpartum care, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Due to a shortage of skilled health professionals and limited resources, many women used traditional midwives during childbirth and were referred to hospitals only when the mother or child suffered health complications. According to the 2012 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 30 percent of births took place in health centers, and skilled personnel attended 29 percent of births. The maternal mortality ratio (the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) was 630 in 2013, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 20. Major factors influencing maternal mortality included lack of prenatal care, high rates of adolescent pregnancy, diseases during pregnancy, infections after birth, malnutrition, and lack of access to emergency obstetric care. According to the country’s 2012 DHS, only 6 percent of girls and women ages 15-19 and 12 percent of those ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception nationwide.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equal legal status and rights regardless of gender, women do not have the same rights as men under family law, which customary courts usually adjudicate. In customary law legal rights as head of household typically apply only to men. Customary law does not consider a divorced or widowed woman, even with children, to be a head of household. Traditional and religious beliefs resulted in discrimination in education, employment (see section 7.d.), owning or managing a business, credit, and property rights. Discrimination was worse in rural areas, where women helped with subsistence farming and did most of the childrearing, cooking, water- and wood-gathering, and other work. In the absence of a formal will stating otherwise, a woman’s share is half the size of a man’s share of a deceased parent’s property. In the east there were reports some husbands cloistered their wives and prevented them from leaving their homes unless escorted by a male relative, usually even then only after dark.
The Ministry of Population, Women’s Promotion, and Children’s Protection and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security implement the government policies against discrimination (see section 7.d.).
The government had programs to provide women microcredit, access to clean water, and access to health services.