and access to more employment. Revisions to the country’s 1972 Civil Code allow women to be the official head of household, choose where they live, and own and manage property in the same way as men. They can also open a bank account independently of their husbands and apply to a broader range of jobs. Married women should no longer be legally bound to the duty of wifely obedience. Amendments to the Criminal Code protect women from discrimination based on gender in accessing credit.
The new legislation is the result of Gabon’s 2020 strategy to promote women’s rights, spearheaded by the First Lady and key women leaders: the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Social Affairs and Women’s Rights. Additional efforts at reform to reduce gender inequalities followed: a new Labor Code was adopted two months later with the aim of improving women’s labor rights and opportunities. Among other improvements to the previous 1994 Labor Code, the new law guarantees equal remuneration for work of equal value and allows women to access employment in all jobs and sectors.
According to Pepecy Ogouliguende, a leading women’s rights activist and head of the Malachie NGO, the elimination of provisions that enshrined and reinforced women’s inferior position in the home and economy, is a huge victory for women: “The reforms are an important exponential in terms of equality in rights and of advancing women’s economic empowerment; and close a nearly 30-year gap in implementing the country’s commitments made under CEDAW [the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women], which it ratified in 1983.”
Women in Gabon are key drivers of socioeconomic growth but, despite some progress in recent decades, the disadvantages they face in terms of finding work and accessing other economic opportunities also limit their ability to contribute fully to Gabon’s development potential.
Existing data reflect these gender-based inequalities by pointing to lower female financial inclusion, with only 30% of women having access to a bank account against 38% for men (FINDEX, 2017). Similarly, large gender gaps exist in employment. According to ILO data, in 2019, women’s labor force participation in Gabon stood at 45%, as opposed to 64% for men, with even lower employment in industry, at 2.72% for women against 14.1% for men. Unemployment was 28% for women compared to 14.1% for men.
Before the new laws were put in place, opportunities for women in Gabon were further constrained by legacy legislation rooted in French colonial labor laws initially intended to protect women further. This outdated legislation imposed formal constraints on what hours women could work, which jobs they could apply for, and which sectors they could work in, as well leaving them without equal pay.
Similar restrictions in family laws had the knock-on effects of reducing their decision-making and household bargaining power and failed to protect them from gender-based discrimination and violence.
The content of these legislative reforms to the Civil, Criminal and Labor Codes, aimed at promoting legal gender equity for women’s empowerment, was supported by World Bank Group technical assistance teams using both IFC and IBRD resources. The Business Regulations for Gender Equity program is committed to helping governments level the gender playing field by supporting reforms for women’s economic inclusion. A 2021 World Bank Group report on the introduction of targeted laws and regulations shows the impact of reforms as significant, although supporting evidence was stronger in some areas than others.