Some Civil Society organisations have resolved to petition the Supreme Court that is acting in lieu of the yet to be created Constitutional Council over laws that discriminate against women in Cameroon. The representatives of the organisations took the resolution during a round table discussion on the intersection of law and gender in Cameroon at the residence of the US Ambassador to Cameroon, H.E. Janet Elizabeth Garvey last week.
The meeting brought together the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon. Monjowa Lifaka, the Member of Parliament, MP, Hon. Hermine T. Ndam Njoya of the Noun constituency in the West Region, civil society leaders among others. In an introductory remark, the Ambassador appealed to the various stakeholders to eliminate all forms of discrimination against. She then gave way to Human Rights lawyer and gender activist, Barrister Elizabeth Atemnkeng who made a study on sex-discriminatory laws in Cameroon while studying in Georgetown University in the US.
While harping on the research she carried out, Barrister Atemnkeng said her initiative relates to litigation strategies to the several sex-discriminatory laws in Cameroon. She said the project was identified and carried out by the International Women's Human Rights Clinic in Georgetown Law at the initiative of Prof. Susan Ross, Course lecturer of International and Comparative law on Women's Human Rights in collaboration with some students.
To her, the spirit and the letter of such sex-biased laws are also found in article 74 of the civil status Ordinance. She also scorned the fact that another provision in the Cameroon penal code subjects wives to criminal adultery prosecutions whereas husbands are immune. The law equally denies wives the right to divorce for a husband's adultery when that right is easily available to a husband in section 361 of the Penal code.Getting into the nitty-gritty of the research, the lawyer said the legislation making the husband head household with the sole authority to manage family property and can even prevent is the wife from working is discriminatory. Such provisions, she remarked, are contained articles 213, 215, 223, 1421 and 1428 of the Cameroon Civil Code.
The lawyer also picked holes with the statute that prevents widows and divorced wives from remarrying for a period up to 300 days, while permitting widowers and divorced men to remarry immediately as provided by article 77(2) of the Civil Status Registration and articles 228 and 296 of the Civil Code.
She argued that domestic legislation that young girls marry at 15 while ensuring that boys will be adults of 18 before they may do so by dint of article 144 of Civil Code and article 52(1) of the Status Registration Ordinance. It after debating on these sex-bias laws that the civil society activists resolved to filed a petition before the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality and abrogate all the obnoxious laws.
Hon. Mrs. Ndam Njoya even added that the fact that the law provides for polygamy was marginalization against women. Many women identified loopholes in some of the laws, saying that they were tailored to marginalize women. Hon Monjowa Lifaka cautioned the women not to make draft proposals to the amendment of the laws that would put them at loggerheads with the men. While fighting against marginalization, she said, women should seek to maintain family cohesion and harmony.
While resolving to petition the Supreme Court, the activists argued that the institution has the authority to review the constitutionality of legislation. According to them, article 68 of the constitution further specifies that legislation that is "repugnant to this constitution" shall not remain in force.
They also beefed up their argument with article 45 of the constitution which provides that international treaties " override national laws" They held that government officials have stated to treaty-monitoring bodies that even individuals can bring actions to implement rights under both this provision and other constitutional rights.