Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Strategies to Combat Discrimination and Abuse of Women’s Rights in Nigeria

All hands must be on deck
• Government must proceed to domesticate and practicalise all international treaties which Nigeria has signed. This is because the Nigerian constitution in section 12 requires domestication before international treaties are
adopted as part of Nigerian law. The process of domestication involves all state houses of assembly and the National Assembly.
• Government at all tiers should ensure affirmative action in all appointments to positions at state and national levels.
• Government should provide adequate educational and healthcare services at villages, towns and cities. The services should be geared towards assisting women improve their health and that of their families.
• Having established the ministry of women’s affairs and adopted a national policy for women, these initiatives should be seen to be making the needed impact.
• Our national laws should be strengthened and enforcement mechanism improved to take care of those areas where lapses exist in our laws.

The role of traditional rulers and religious authorities
Traditional and religious doctrines are usually the excuse for violence and discrimination against women.
• Practices like female genital mutilation, widowhood practices, religious and cultural discrimination and societal perceptions which encourage the dehumanization and low status of women should be identified and discarded. • The issue of death penalty for adultery by women as practiced by the sharia religious courts should be outlawed and denounced for being against our constitution, international human rights treaties and natural justice, equity and good conscience.
• The rights of women to divorce and custody as well as inheritance should be recognized and enforced.
• The practice of male preference, women disinheritance and wife beating should be discouraged.

Traditional rulers and religious leaders should utilize their wise support and followership to effect positive changes in their communities. They should work with the police, NGOs and government to promote and protect women’s rights. They must understand and appreciate the provisions of and the importance of CEDAW for the promotion of women’s rights.

THE ROLE OF DOCTORS
Doctors have an important role to play especially in the area of health and violence against women. Most sexual offences under our laws require corroboration in order to establish guilt. Most require the attention and report of a medical doctor. There is a time limit during which this medical report can be useful. For example, it will be no use to perform medical examination of a rape victim one week after the act of rape as there will be no value attached to such a medical report. The same applies to a medical report regarding an assault occasioning harm or battery if it is made after the wounds and swellings have healed and subsided.
• Medical practitioners should show sympathy for the plight of victims and de-emphasize money.
• They must realize that such women, having suffered physical and psychological injuries require attention and health.
• They may also require counseling and shelter as well as security for her person.
• Doctors should be available to testify in court when needed as their testimony is material to successful prosecution of cases.
• Medical reports should be short, clear and explicit using simple language.
• Victims should be promptly admitted in hospitals and where the closest doctor is not a government doctor, he or she should as soon as practicable refer the patients to a government doctor with a detailed report

THE ROLE OF THE POLICE
The police is usually the first place of contact and hope for victims of violence.
• They should show sympathy and listen to complaints. And ensure that complaints are recorded promptly
• Assaults and abuses within families within families should be accorded the same importance with those emanating from outside the family.
• Victims must be given the full protection of the law and complaints should be taken and responded to even where the reporter is not the victim of violence.
• Spouses should have no protection for spousal assaults.
• Investigation must be thorough and the scene of the crime should be visited by the investigating police officer.
• Witnesses should be interviewed and their statements recorded.
• Interviews should be conducted separately to ensure privacy and confidentiality and victims should be told their rights under the law.
• The police should provide of arrange transport of the victim to the nearest hospital or medical facility and provide protection to the reporter of violence.
• The suspect should be arrested immediately or removed from the scene of crime if it is within the household.
• All communications with the victim should be in a language she understands and she should be assisted if she needs a protective order from a court.
• The police and court registrars must serve all court processes emanating from the case.
• During prosecution, police prosecutors and witnesses must be diligent and show a great sense of responsibility in furthering the ends of justice and public interest.

THE ROLE OF LAWYERS
Lawyers should be ready to assist all persons in the establishment and protection of as well as defence of their human rights. This is particular necessary for women who are generally vulnerable, poor and defenceless. They may be unable to pay high legal fees and this should be taken into consideration in taking on cases involving women.
• Lawyers should consider the special position of women even when they are defence lawyers in cases of rape and sexual assault.
• Cross examination should not be geared towards causing embarrassment of the witness but at bringing out the truth.
• It should always be remembered that legal assistance and confidential communication with counsel is a right and should be ensured.
• Lawyers and professional associations of lawyers have a vital role to play in upholding professional standards and ethics, protecting their members from persecutions and improper restrictions and infringements, providing legal services to all in need of them and co-operate with government and other institutions in furthering the ends of justice and public interest.
• Lawyers should advise clients as to their legal rights and obligations and as to the workings of the legal system in so far as it is relevant to the legal rights and obligations of clients assisting clients in every appropriate way and taking legal action to protect their interest.
• Assisting clients before courts, tribunals or administrative authorities where appropriate.
• Lawyers should always loyally respect the interest of their clients and in doing all the above lawyers in promoting the cause of justice, shall seek and uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by national and international laws and shall at all times act freely and diligently in accordance with the law and recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession.

ROLE OF JUDICIAL OFFICERS
Judicial officers have a central and vital role in the promotion of human rights. They should first of all be familiar with the legal provisions and divided cases relating to offences committed against women.
• They must ensure that women are not intimidated by the aura of the court.
• The laws must be dynamic and it is in the role of Judges to make it so.
• Specific National Legislation and international treaties should be given a liberal interpretation to accommodate offences against women.
• Technical procedures in the laws should not be a barrier to the enforcement of criminal justice as this has the adverse effect of undermining the confidence the public in the judicial system. Non lawyers cannot understand why such technicalities should stand in the way of apparent justice. They should only be enforced where breach of technicalities may also lead to miscarriage of justice. Rules of criminal procedure should not be so rigid that their breach can automatically lead to acquittal. The provision of section 382 of the criminal code is important for this aspect. It says “Subject to the provision herein before contained, no finding, sentence or order passed by a court of competent jurisdiction shall be reversed or altered on appeal or review on account of any error, omission or irregularity in the complaint summons, warrant, charge, public summons, order, judgment or other proceedings before or during the trial or in any enquiry or other proceedings under the criminal procedure code unless the appeal court or reviewing authority thinks that a failure of justice has in fact been occasioned by such error, omission or irregularity”. This provision is worth of universal adoption. It has been applied in the case of humble US State resulting in the sustenance of the conviction even though plea was not taken after an amendment conversely in Nwafor Ukaegbu and a retrial order made became fresh plea was not taken on amendment of the charge of murder.

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