Gender discrimination and feminism in Nigeria
Women are under-represented in almost every sphere of social and political life in Nigeria, including politics, commerce, agriculture, industry, military, and educational institutions. Furthermore, gender discrimination remains highly pervasive, from biases in the constitution, right down to workers rights, legal protections from abuse, and inheritance and land rights. This paper, published in the International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management, discusses the extent of gender discrimination in Nigeria from a feminist perspective. In doing so, it is hoped that the paper will conclusively answer the question: does Nigeria need feminism?
The author begins by contextualising gender discrimination in a historical and global context, noting the many conventions and conferences, and the national and regional progress on reducing gender equality. Next, the paper elucidates on what feminism is, both as a concept (a tool, or process, for reducing inequality) and as a theory (a sociological framework for analysis). A literature review is conducted, which shows that Nigerian women are both amongst the most productive and the most marginalised in the world. Regressive and discriminatory cultural practices are discussed, such as infanticide, harmful traditions relating to female widowers, and the status of ownership some men hold over their wives. The review then examines different sectors and institutions, showing just how broad gender discrimination is in the country, and placing it within the context of a discriminatory global economic system.
Prior to the recommendations, the author goes into more depth on the feminist theory used in the paper, and discounts the views of functionalists who posit that there are inherent and logical reasons for labour and social divisions between genders. The author notes that such ideas cannot account for the changing status of women around the world. Further development of women cannot occur within the context of such gender discrimination, injustice and socio-economic under-development. In order for this situation to be addressed, there are a number of actions that must be taken:
The government should put an end to all forms of gender discrimination in both public and private sectors, including in education, employment, housing, and property and inheritance rights. Additionally, anti-discrimination legislation and affirmative action should be pursued, and there needs to be legal protection for the fundamental rights of the girl child on religious, social, and economic life.
Gender mainstreaming is required throughout all government policies, programmes, and interventions, in an inclusive way that incorporates the experiences, concerns, and knowledge of both women and men, at all levels.
The structures that prop up patriarchy by giving men ascendency in inheritance, authority, and decision-making should be discouraged through education, enlightenment, and national awareness.
In order to emancipate women in education, the government should provide education and relevant training for all girls and women, including those with special needs, the gifted and handicapped, nomads, women in purdah, widows, single parents, market women, and career women. Also, the government must forbid, under threat of legal sanction, the removal of girls under 18 years of age from school for reasons of marriage.
To improve women’s status in agriculture, the government should remove obstacles to women’s access to land, credit, water, extension services, training, and technology. Customary rural practices that harm women’s rights must also be discouraged.
Party structures should be reformed to create a more level playing field for women to contest as electoral candidates, including the implementation of minimum quotas.
The author concludes by highlighting how feminism, and the global campaign for gender equality, has led to widespread recognition of the unethical nature of gender discrimination. Every country is making strides to ensure men and women share equal opportunities, and Nigeria is no exception. Yet this is not an easy task; entrenched social and religious values mean there are women anti-feminists who believe it is not in their own interests to press for gender equality. Such challenges dictate that feminism is still very much needed in Nigeria, and that it needs to be inclusive of both men and women. It is incumbent on researchers, activists, and politicians to move beyond the question of whether discrimination exists, to an action footing that advocates and legislates against the marginalisation of women and minorities.