Low human development and high gender inequalities are major characteristics of most countries in the West African region. According to International Rescue Committee, Sexual and Gender Based Violence is the biggest threat to West African women.


Malnutrition is still a major problem in West Africa. About 35% of children under five years of age are stunted, 28% are underweight and about 10% of children are wasted1. Micronutrient deficiencies especially vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc are also of public health significance in the region.  High food prices contribute to a reduction in household spending on health and education among the poor; further undermining good nutrition and health.

Empowerment: Education, employment and participation in public life

  • Though youth literacy rates have improved due to high primary school enrolments2, literacy rates in the region are the poorest in the continent3.
  • Youth and female unemployment are higher than male unemployment rates in West Africa 2.
  • West Africa has high rates of vulnerable unemployment at 79.6% for both female and male. However, the rate of women engaged in vulnerable employment is much higher at 86.9% than 74.1% for men2.
  • Transition to paid employment is much more difficult for girls than boys due to low educational qualifications and skills, conditions of work, family responsibilities and cultural barriers2
  • There is a unanimous increase in the number of women involved in parliament in the sub-region2.

Maternal Health

  • Maternal Mortality Ratio is still high in the sub region.  Contributory factors include:
    • low contraceptive prevalence rates, 
    • low proportions of births attended by skilled health personnel, 
    • high adolescent birth rates, 
    • limited antenatal care coverage, and 
    • high unmet need for family planning.
  • Unmet need for contraception is highest in West African Countries among young married women aged 15 – 24. Adolescents 15-19 years of age in the region not only have lower use of contraception but also high levels of demand for contraception that is unsatisfied4.
  • Teenage Pregnancy, already high in West Africa, is on the rise. West Africa is home to 5 countries with the highest prevalence and total numbers of adolescent pregnancy in the world4.

Child Health

  • Despite the significant reduction in under-5 mortality rates in the region, West Africa trails behind other regions in Africa. Many countries still have high under 5 mortality.
  • Early child marriage is still practised in the sub-region.


  1. Samuel F, Avezdi H. M. 2014. The Nutrition Situation in West Africa. African Nutrition Matters.
  2. MDGs progress report 2015: Assessing progress in Africa towards the Millennium Goals
  3. world inequality database in education: WID
  4. UNFPA 2012: Marrying too young; End Child Marriage

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