Global Resources

The role of religion in women's movements: the campaign for the domestication of CEDAW in Nigeria

Author: O. J. Para-Mallam, B. Lanre-Abass
Publisher: International Development Department, University of Birmingham
Publication Date: Jan 2011

In 1985, the Nigerian government ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In 1998, following the return to democracy after 30 years of military rule, a movement of civil society organisations formed to promote the domestication of CEDAW into Nigerian law. In 2006, a bill was presented to the National Assembly, but was voted out the next year, ostensibly due to religious opposition. This report presents the findings of a study into the way in which the Nigerian women's movement engaged with religion during the course of this campaign, examining the key debates around CEDAW among the faith communities.

Following the introduction, the authors give an overview of the status of women in contemporary Nigeria, women's agendas for social change, and dialectics of women's rights and religion. Next, a brief history of the campaign for the domestication of CEDAW in Nigeria is provided. Then, an analysis of the actors, strategies and engagements with religion in the CEDAW campaign is detailed. The research involved a literature review and fieldwork with a qualitative approach to understanding the perspectives and experiences of secular and faith-based activists and religious leaders.

The study found that the net effect of both Christianity and Islam on the national-level CEDAW domestication bid was negative, yet religious groups exerted and continue to exert some positive influence, which may facilitate constructive engagements between future faith and women's rights agendas. The author highlights the following implications for future work in this area:

  • Secular and faith-based organisations believe that a more pragmatic approach to domesticating CEDAW might be to extricate its more contentious aspects and incorporate the remainder in a partial bill, or include them piecemeal in a variety of national laws; and focus on the African Union (AU) Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (2004) as a more acceptable alternative.
  • Campaigners need to identify potential sources of opposition to proposed legal reform, seek to address their concerns and solicit their support (including elected representatives, religious leaders and organisations, men and grassroots women's organisations).
  • Sensitisation workshops on CEDAW, the AU protocol and the National Gender Policy should be held to generate support for the campaign among media personnel.

This working paper is part of a series produced by the Religions and Development Research Programme Consortium, an international research partnership exploring relationships between major world religions, development in low-income countries and poverty reduction.