Human right issues and women's experience on demanding their rights in their communities: the way forward for Nigeria
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How does the experience of Nigerian women relate to the growing global agenda of promoting and enshrining universal human rights? Since the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, through the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and beyond, the enlightenment ideals of human rights have continued to be written into law, and to permeate global thinking. However, when it comes to providing these rights in a Nigerian context, the protections in the Constitution have largely failed to translate into enforced federal law, and continue to contradict traditional and cultural practices which discriminate against women and minorities.
This paper seeks to outline the extent to which these protections are being ignored, emphasising that the courts have already set a precedence on the justiciability of the Nigerian Constitution. The authors show in detail the ways in which the Constitution provides for the right to freedom from discrimination, including in Chapter II concerning socio-economic rights, before going on to show how the enforcement of these rights is constrained.
Some life experiences of real women are offered by way of example of how discriminatory Nigeria’s political, social, and economic environment can be. One woman, upon the death of her husband, was persecuted by his family who sought possession of the inheritance, despite her caring for their one year old son. Helped by the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), she was able to take possession of her husband’s property. Another woman, violently abused by her step-son, reported the matter to their kinsmen which only resulted in another beating from the offender. With cultural barriers inhibiting her rights, the woman turned to FIDA where she was promptly helped.
The authors identify five distinct but inter-related key constraints facing women in the exercise of their rights:
Poverty: a lack of access to resources, unequal economic opportunities, the inability to satisfy basic needs, and a lack of representation in decision-making are all factors contributing to the gendered nature of poverty in Nigeria. Furthermore, women in poverty can find themselves trapped through financial dependence on abusive partners.
Illiteracy: inequalities in access to education leads to inequalities in female participation in the formal sector. Access to education is a basic human right, and a prerequisite for effective human development.
Fear of relatives: it is endemic in Nigeria for women to be ostracised, or regarded as an “enemy for life”, should they report in-laws or their husbands to the police.
Lack of political will: generally, the authorities show little political will for supporting women’s rights. This situation is not helped by corruption that can divert funds for social purposes into private bank accounts.
Stifling government policies: the more free the economy, the more opportunities there are for women to participate, to the benefit of all. In Nigeria, economic repression, corruption, and the degradation of the rule of law conspire to disempower women who are already buttressed by cultural and religious constraints.
In conclusion, there are a number of actions suggested to move progress forward:
Laws, positive policies, and other efforts should be made to empower women economically, socially, and politically.
Nigeria should reflect upon its efforts to achieve the MDGs, especially in relation to gender equality.
Given the high rate of corruption in the country, the authors call for the justiciability of the Socio-Economic Rights in Chapter II of the Constitution.
International instruments to which Nigeria are signatories, particularly the Convention of the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), must be domesticated in the form of legal enforcement in the country.
All cultural and traditional practices that are harmful to women should be eradicated.