Evolution and Impact of Upholding Women’s Rights against Harmful Marriage Customs/Traditions in the Western Grasslands of Cameroon Since 1948

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Lukong Mathilda Yenla


Upholding women’s rights against harmful customs/traditions of marriage in the western Grasslands of Cameroon, to ensure empowerment and autonomy to improve on their political, economic and health status has walked along distance, but is still far from reaching its intended destination. Data obtained from empirical, primary and secondary sources show that even though Cameroon has made key strides over the years towards women’s empowerment, through major international commitments, including the convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and others reviewed, customary laws were still very much preferred tantamount to women’s rights violation, especially in rural areas in the  Western Grasslands of Cameroon. This was going on despite measures provided for by the Cameroon government constitution that enshrine gender equality. As such many ills stemming from customs/traditions of marriage such as marital rape, continuation of child marriages, domestic violence, breast ironing and so on, are still being experienced. To reach gender parity, gender mainstreaming already earmarked by international norms has to be the watch word of every sector, be it in the traditional or public sectors of the whole Cameroonian societies.

Women’s rights, Western Grasslands, harmful customs/traditions of marriage.

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How to Cite
Yenla, L. M. (2020). Evolution and Impact of Upholding Women’s Rights against Harmful Marriage Customs/Traditions in the Western Grasslands of Cameroon Since 1948. Asian Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, 3(4), 47-62. Retrieved from https://journalajl2c.com/index.php/AJL2C/article/view/30132
Original Research Article


The Western Grassfields in Cameroon is made up of the Western Grasslanlds of the North West Region, the Bamiléké country and the Bamoum kingdom of the present West Region.These regions from a socio-anthropological point of view form a geographical as well as a cultural continuum. Also see J.-P.Warnier, Échanges, développement et hiérarchies dans le Bamenda pré-colonial (Cameroun), Stuggatt, Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GMBH, 1985, p.3; P.N. Nkwi and J.-P. Warnier, Elements for a History of the Western Grassfields, Yaoundé, Publication of the Department of Sociology, The University of Yaounde. 1982;6.

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Because of the bride wealth institution which stipulates that once it was paid, women become property of the husband’s family.

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This was the case of some Kom elites such as Hon. Jua who is now controlling the hotel his late father started building when he was alive in Bamenda.

Wam DI. Retired Custom, Aged 70, Bamenda, 8th May; 2016.

This attitude was noticed with nearly most Kom and Aghem elites.

Many educated women from these areas get confuse due what they have been observing and only hope time will change things in their favour.

Kum F. Teacher, Aged 46, Bamenda, 8th March; 2016.

Samah AA. Nation Building, Government, Politics, Human Rights and Gender, for Institutions of Higher Learning in Cameroon, Wisdom House Production, Yaounde, Cameroon. p.133.


The situation of workers in Cameroon has gradually been improving better than in other areas of concern.

Provided a lady is above 40 years of age according to the Land Tenue law of Cameroon.

Though the Cameroon Parliament intervened in some years back, we are not sure that it has been eradicated completely, and like some marital customs and traditions, there are still many problems to be resolved.

The side effects of breast ironing were not pronounced as those of FGM, though all were against Women’s Rights.

This was so because some women equally thought that obedience in marriage was all that was needed from a woman and all would be well as far as her up keep was concerned. But time proved them wrong and the result was self-awareness which went a long way to meet but resistance from some men.

Some men who boosted to their wives discovered that the meager salaries their wives were earning was not enough and wished it could be more.

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An alliance of world nations established in 1920 after the First World War to promote world peace and cooperation.

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As lofty as these ideas were, only very few African Women could understand for many were still to gain primary level of education.

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Hence, our constitution shows the Cameroon government’s efforts in implementing some of these International conventions. But problems arose only at rural areas where illiteracy was still very high and hampered level of awareness by both men and women.

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The Women Ministry in Cameroon attended seminars Organized by the Common Wealth such as that mentioned above and it benefited women in many ways. Yet women in all parts of Cameroon were still suffering from many problems which the CW hoped to resolved such as HIV/AIDS, poverty etc.

For example it observed elections in Cameroon in 2007 to ensure that they should be no fraud.

African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, OAU Doc, CAB/LEG/75/3, rev 5th may 3016, (Hereinafter Banjul Charter)

The OAU’s formation was inspired by the ideals of Pan Africanism, the model of the UN and the need to cooperate. Hence independent African states came together in the early 1960s to form it. It later served as a diplomatic forum, deployed peace keeping forces and worked with international agencies on issues such as economic development and others.

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The creation of this court was yet to be in Cameroon.

Since all local remedies had to be exploited, first it continued to encourage those guilty of violation and for this simple reason victims never had the means to exploit local remedies not to mention international.

The multiplicity of sources of law in the African Continent did not make things any better, for people became confused as to which law was reliable. The learned on their part stayed as if there was no cause for concern while the ignorant languished.

For example, in Cameroon the Customary law has been noted for its repugnancy as this study proves.

See article 18 (3) of the Banjul Charter in Africa, (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted on June 27, 1981, OAU, Doc, CAB/LEG/67/3Rev,5, 21,I, L.M. 58(1982) which entered into force on Oct. 21,1986.

Onoria, “Introduction to the African System” in Wolfgang & al (eds) Human Rights of Women, p.231.

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The State shall ensure the elimination of all discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.

This was however to our own view a kind of duplication because almost all the convention on human rights had similar connotations.

Which state that: 1., The family shall be the natural unit and basis of society. It shall be protected by the State which shall take care of its physical health and moral. 2., The State shall have the duty to assist the family which is the custodian of morals and traditional values recognized by the community.

Makau wa Makau in Onoria,’s “Introduction to the African System” in Wolfgang & al (eds) Human Rights of Women, p.234.

It is only of late that witches have been known to be convicted in our law courts. But many at times victims flee for their dear lives as they would do everything possible to avoid the rafts of witches and wizards should they perceived being haunted.

Serious issues implicating dictators who had emerged in Africa then, such as Idi Amin Dada in Uganda and the genocide which ensued in Ruanda and Burundi were frightening and no state men were concerned about domestic matters and so it was as if no human rights violations could come from such avenues.

Customary courts were and still continue especially in rural areas of this study to preside over cases emanating from customary marriages.

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Magdalene Quasinyu, 53years, House wife at Nkambe on the 12th July 2016.

Meldred Jam, 54years, a Trader at main market Bamenda on the 10th Dec 2016.