Reason laws against sexual discrimination fail in Nigeria

Continued from last week


The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in its 1998 and 2003 periodic report, confirm that discrimination is ingrained in the Nigerian culture and attitudes and being a traditional society, emphasis is placed on the role of women as that of a homemaker and baby factory. And while the Nigerian government has showed its commitment to eliminating gender discrimination in its society through the enactment of laws and ratifying international conventions that promote equality and protect the rights of women, years of legal provisions has in no way helped women who continue to be victims of discrimination and are underrepresented in all facets of society.

Also, provisions by the Nigerian government have proved inadequate to fight against sexual discrimination while different customary laws made by its over 250 ethnic structures are harmful and discriminatory towards women; female genital mutilation, harmful widowhood practices, wife inheritance, female disinheritance, failure to educate female children, early marriages etc.

Harmful widowhood practices still thrive despite government’s ratification and domestication of charters; women in some tribes are subjected to inhumane treatment in the guise of proving their innocence in the death of their spouses; they are forced to engage in primitive rituals like drinking the water used to wash the corpse, shaving their hair, sitting and sleeping on the bare floor to help ward off the evil spirit of their deceased husbands or sleeping with the corpse for a number of days to absolve them of guilt, with no thought for their mental health.

Atimes, they are stopped from going out, their movements are restricted and they are banned from economic activities and stripped of all properties without consideration that they had input in how such were acquired.  All these destabilise them and add to the burden of losing their spouse. Yet, legislation has not stopped these acts.

Further, many provisions in the Customary and Sharia laws negate the provisions of the law against discrimination enacted by the Federal Government and are more entrenched. The Penal Code gives power to a man to beat his wife for the purposes of correcting her. Most customary laws provides that land and landed property are inherited by male heirs thereby disinheriting women from their deceased husbands’ or fathers’ properties. The Sharia law punishes a woman for adultery but her co-adulterer can be let off if he swears an oath of innocence. And despite the fact that the court has ruled that a woman can inherit, specifically, the Court of Appeal in Mojekwu v Ejikeme struck down the customary law that disinherits a daughter from her deceased father’s estate as being repugnant to equity and natural justice, this act still thrives because of culture.

While the Nigerian nation ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991 and domesticated it in 2003 through the Child Rights Act 2003 (CRA) in a bid to make the obligations contained in the convention and the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child effective while prohibiting the betrothal and marriage of a child, child marriages persist especially in the northern part of the country and the provisions of Section 29 (4) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 that any woman of any age who is married to be of full age, has in no way made any difference to child marriage in the country.

Gender-based violence or violence against women is a major form of discrimination against women that is an offshoot of gender inequality. It hampers equal participation of women in social, economic and political activities both at home and in the society. It is reflected in form of various types of violence and women tolerate these acts of violence because they are expected to endure any vices in their marriages based on cultural and religious beliefs and instructions.

To curb this menace, the government passed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015 (VAPPA) which prohibits harmful traditional and widowhood practices, FGM and all forms of violence against persons and this act was domesticated in some states. But in spite of this, violence against women still thrives and is a major problem. This act is not effective for various reasons which include specifically, the nonchalant attitude of the police to investigate and prosecute. Often, law enforcement officers that should help engage in victim blaming that continue to silence women and encourage offenders.

The issues of inequality cuts across different spheres in the Nigerian society and tough there are some equality provisions within the Nigerian laws and policies; they are unlikely to have a profound impact in curbing sexual discrimination if there is no major shift in religious and cultural mindset of the people.


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