When do women win in legally plural systems? Evidence from Ghana and Senegal

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Africa's plural legal systems are often doubly bad for women: reinforcing patriarchal threads in indigenous practices while layering male-dominated Anglo-European laws atop. While these systems generally work to their detriment, women are sometimes able to take advantage of them. Under what conditions are women able to 'win' in Africa's plural legal systems? I examine women's interactions with the plural colonial court systems in the Gold Coast and Senegal. Based on an analysis of original court records in each country, I argue that women are more likely to win in plural legal systems in areas of operational ambiguity where applicable legal principles are contradictory. Leveraging this ambiguity enabled women in the Gold Coast and Senegal to win rights around inheritance and divorce, respectively. These victories were codified post-independence, though women face social pressures against exercising them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-546
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Modern African Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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