The last elections in Benin took place in 2011 when President Thomas Boni Yayi was re-elected in March with 53% of the vote, the first time a presidential candidate had won in the first round of voting without the need for a run-off. In the parliamentary elections the following month the FCBE won 41 seats, almost obtaining a parliamentary majority. Since 2006, Yayi was the subject of more than one failed assassination attempt. Although the elections were deemed as free and fair by international observers, the opposition heavily criticized the electoral process and protests resulted in demonstrations forcefully repressed by police. In August 2010 Yayi was accused of being involved in a Ponzi scheme stealing money through an investment firm from 100.000 people and consequently the National Assembly called for his impeachment. Nevertheless, majority for an impeachment was not reached, although his reputation was undermined since his electoral campaign had been centred around promises of transparency and a hard line on corruption.
The current National Assembly, which holds the legislative power, has 83 members who are directly elected through a system of party-list proportional representation and serve five-year terms. In Benin, the president is both head of state and head of government, the case of a presidential representative democratic republic.
Women’s Political Participation
Women in Benin have limited access to public office, most ordinary women lack access to educational institutions and many experience unequal treatment under traditional laws and customary behavior. After the 2011 elections, women hold only seven of the total 83 seats in the National Assembly, down from nine in the previous Assembly. According to the world classification of women in national legislatures, Benin ranks 122nd, namely among the worst performers globally.
The Quota Project, who tracks women’s political representation worldwide, reports that Benin does not have quotas for women. In fact, in 2010 the National Assembly adopted a law that set the statutory quota for women to 20% in lists for parliamentary elections. However, the same year the Constitutional Court took back the provision stating that the quota for women candidates would represent a violation of the principle of gender equality guaranteed by the Constitution. First Lady Chantal de Souza Yayi resigned bringing the number of women in Parliament from eight to seven.
A family code promulgated in 2004 improved women’s inheritance, property, and marriage rights, and prohibited forced marriage and female genital mutilation. The problem here, with high corruption rates of the judiciary, lays in the enforcement of these laws. Moreover, women are reluctant to report abuses and Judges mostly do not intervene in sexual violence matters considering them internal family matters. Sexual harassment by teachers is common based on the 2010 Human Rights Report. Also, as FreedomHouse reports, human trafficking is widespread in Benin, making it the world’s seventh-highest prevalence of enslaved people per capita based on the Walk Free Foundation’s 2013 Global Slavery Index. Most victims are girls coming from rural areas and, while a law outlawing human trafficking of children passed in 2006, there is still none regarding adults.
Even if Benin successfully undertook the transition to democracy, it still lags behind in the enforcement of women’s rights. More female leaders could definitely make a positive impact in these terms, but without the establishment of a quota system for party lists this is unlikely to happen in the near future. There is also a need for more political will for the inclusion of women in the political sphere. This has not been reflected so far in the actions of the government and overall, the human rights of women and girls need to be realised in the country.
Women’s Representation Statistics
Women’s Political Representation
As of 2011
As of 2015
Female Members of Parliament
Seats 83/9 Women (10,8%)