Saturday, 21 April 2012

Advocacy for a Better Implementation of Women’s Rights in Nigeria

The struggle for women’s rights has gained momentum during the past two decades. Beginning with the 1975 International Women’s Year (IWY) World Conference and the IWY Tribune in Mexico City, continuing through the women’s world conferences and NGO Fora of 1980s (Copenhagen) 1985 (Nairobi) and the
series of agenda-setting UN World Conferences and NGO fora of 1990s that culminated in the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Women have developed and discovered new skills and tools that they are now using to leverage for change on behalf of women’s rights at global, country and community levels.

Unfortunately a large proportion of women themselves are ignorant of many of their rights and the laws, which protect them. Yet, the knowledge of these Instruments is perhaps the most powerful tool. Society has already stereotyped gender roles, which hinder the recognition and enforcement of women’s rights.

The issue of gender inequality has of recent come to the fore in the struggle for women’s empowerment and emancipation in Nigeria. Nigeria is a mainly patrilineal society where gender relations are based on the patriarchal point of view.

The traditional role of a woman is that of a child bearer, home keeper, comforter, and cook for her husband, children and larger family. This pre supposes the propagations of the male as the superior sex for purposes of inheritance, marriage and family relations, political participation and power relations including family and social decision- making. Social values, which regard women as inferior to men, are the critical factors in shaping behaviours to women.

Traditional practices regarding widows and the female child lend weight to the marginalisation of women. Domestic violence is accepted as a way of calling erring women to other. Societal values and perception, which regard women as inferior to men, are the critical factors in shaping behaviors to women.

Over the years and with civilization not much has changed. The capitalist economic system acquired during colonization equally adversely affected the status of women because women were disadvantaged in entering the changing economic market due to the dominant role of men in public affairs. The patriarchal system and societal stereotype of the woman as solely for domestic or home keeping has reduced the influence of women and their role in public affairs and decisions which will affect their life’s and well being. It goes without reasoning that those who make policies and make decisions that are predominantly men, will do what is more beneficial to them. In reality the practice of early marriage household work and child bearing within the communities hinder women’s contribution on economic and political spheres. In many societies the women carry out those activities which can be seen as an extension of their services in the home such as care for the sick (nursing), feeding and processing of food, petty trading, agriculture and sewing.

In effect, women cannot actualize their rights themselves, without the active support and participation of other stakeholders in the society such as the Police, Magistrates, Judges, the lawyers, the community leaders, the traditional rulers and medical Doctors who can play various roles in the promotion and enforcement of women’s rights. These roles sometimes complement each other.

The police for instance are usually the first official point of contact of a victim whose rights have been violated consequently they need to appreciate gender equality and handle women’s complaints with the same seriousness as they do their male counterparts. Lawyers on the other hand need to understand the laws available for the protection of the rights of women and provide necessary assistance for the enforcement of women’s rights bearing in mind their economic conditions. Judicial officers have a vital role in the promotion of women’s rights consequently they need to understand the laws and decided cases which support the rights of women.

In order to achieve maximum enjoyment of women’s rights however, the traditional rulers who are the custodians and gatekeepers of customs and traditions need to be educated and sensitized to those customs and practices, which deprive women from actualizing their rights. Harmful and obnoxious traditional practices need to be reformed to conform the human rights of women.

Furthermore medical practitioners who also play significant roles especially in cases of violence against women need to complement the work of law-enforcement officials to ensure that justice is done to redress the human rights abuses against women and promoter the rights and well being of women.

This article is therefore directed not only at women but also at all the other stakeholders as a training, reference and advocacy Document. The Document will be used to develop the capacity of the stakeholders in improving the effectiveness of women’s rights and thus close the gap between the theory and actual implementation of human rights that women should enjoy. This Manual, aims to encourage and inform the continuing struggle for women’s human rights.

There are three main sections beginning with rights guaranteed by International Instruments and the Nigerian Constitution since the Constitution is the basic law of the land from which all other legislation derive their legality; followed by rights in family law, in particular rights under marriage; then, rights under criminal law which will include violence against women and finally the gender dimensions to women’s rights cutting across all sections.

The roles of each of the specific stakeholders mentioned will be clearly highlighted as a guide in their day-to-day activities to promote and enforce the rights of Women. This Manual will also serve as reference and tool for women and the various actors in the society towards the better implementation of women’s rights in Nigeria.

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