The state of the rights of women in Benin has improved markedly since the restoration of democracy and the ratification of the Constitution, and the passage of the Personal and Family Code in 2004, both of which overrode various traditional customs that systematically treated women unequally. Still, inequality and discrimination persist. Polygamy and forced marriage are illegal but still occur. Enforcement of the law against rape, the punishment for which can be up to five years in prison, is hampered by corruption, ineffective police work, and fear of social stigma. Police incompetence results in most sexual offenses being reduced to misdemeanors. Domestic violence is widespread, with penalties of up to 3 years in prison, but women are reluctant to report cases and authorities are reluctant to intervene in what are generally considered private matters.
Female genital mutilation has been described as “the worst substantial human rights violation in Benin.” About 13 percent of women and girls have been subjected to it (over 70 percent in some regions and tribes), but the law against it is rarely enforced. Prostitution, especially child prostitution, is also common, with the clients often being sex tourists. Sexual harassment is also common, with many female students being abused by their teachers. Although it is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison, enforcement is slack. Local customs which are unfavorable to women no longer have the force of law in Benin, where women enjoy equal rights under the constitution, including in matters related to marriage and inheritance. Still, they experience a great deal of social and employment discrimination owing to traditional attitudes about sex roles, and have a much harder time obtaining credit and when widowed do not have the right to manage their own property. Women in rural areas play subordinate roles and do a great deal of hard labor.
Women who have experienced discrimination or abuse can seek assistance from Women in Law and Development-Benin, the Female Jurists Association of Benin (AFJB), and the Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative through Care International's Empower Project. A 2012 U.S. report commended Benin for establishing the National Council for the Promotion of Gender Equity and Equality.