Saturday, 21 April 2012

What Are The Fundamental Rights of Women To Be Protected?

Right to Life
No one can take a woman’s life except by a judgement of court. Therefore it is an abuse of a woman’s right to be killed by her husband or male partner. There are many cases of Male violence (wife beating, acid bath
or assault) within family relationship, which has resulted in the death of the women (femicide) and the men responsible are not brought to justice.

Traditional Rulers and the Police should treat reports of violence against women seriously before it escalates to the loss of life of the women. When a woman is killed such cases should be treated like murder cases of male victims. Those responsible for the loss of life of women should be arrested and prosecuted in the spirit of the Constitution.

Lawyers Magistrates and Judges should acknowledge and enforce the right of the woman to life as guaranteed by the constitution by ensuring that appropriate punishments are meted to those men be they family members who take the lives of women.

Recognize that the Supreme law of the Land the Constitution does not condone the killing of the wife by a husband or partner.

Human Dignity
The Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right to dignity of the human person;4 consequently no person should be tortured, put into inhuman or degrading position, or forced into labour or held in slavery or servitude. Women being humans are entitled to this right to Dignity equally as the men Similar protection of the dignity of women is contained in the African Charter, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Declaration on the Elimination of all forms of Violence against women (1993) and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR).

In practice Nigerian women suffer inhuman treatment and loss of dignity in many ways such as female circumcision or genital mutilation, dehumanizing widow hood practices, servitude, trafficking in women under exploitative and slave-like conditions, which are violations of human dignity. Some of the perpetrators of these degrading treatment are women as for examples the enforcement of de-humanising widowhood practices are women (e.g. “the Umuada” in the Ibo culture).

The recent introduction of the Sharia Islamic law by some States in the Northern part of Nigeria which permits sentencing of women to stoning for adultery, or awards corporal punishment of canning degrades the dignity of women and is contrary to the rights guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.

Traditional Authorities/operators and Religious leaders should ensure that the implementations of their traditional or religious practices and laws do not violate the rights of women to dignity guaranteed by the Supreme law of the Land the Constitution. Lawyers need to challenge some of these practices by taking the perpetrators to Court to redress the injustice to women and where appropriate to seek compensation for the violations of the women’s human right.

Judicial actors such as Magistrates and Judges should be bold in upholding the Constitution to protect the rights of women in their decisions on cases of infringement brought before them. Even where there are no specific provisions in the constitution, courts can use the African Charter which has been domesticated and through it the CEDAW and other international treaties and declaration.

Freedom and Security of Person
Women cannot be detained without trial or imprisoned without good reason. Torture is not allowed violence, cruel punishment or inhuman treatment is not allowed. This Provision should stop men abusing their wives or even parents abusing their children. Slavery, Servitude and Forced Labour are not allowed.

Personal Liberty – Some women are prevented by their husbands from going out to work. No woman can be deprived of her personal liberty. A woman may not be arrested and held without good reason. If charged with a crime, one has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Sec 35 Constitution

Right to Privacy
A woman cannot be searched or have her home or possessions searched without legal authority. Her correspondence, telephone conversations and telegrams are protected (Sec 37 Constitution, Art 12 UDHR, Art 17 Political Rights Covenant).

Freedom of Religion, Belief and Opinion
Every woman can believe or think whatever she wants. Follow any religion she chooses. State Institutions (like school) can follow religious practices but they cannot force her to participate in a particular religious practice. (Sec 38 Constitution; Art 18 UDHR).

Freedom of _Expression and Press
Women have the right to freely express themselves, that is, say what they want and the press can say what they want too. But they may be prevented by law from spreading hate or encouraging people to violence. This is the law, unfortunately by customs and traditions, a woman is to be seen not heard. Indeed a woman who is very vocal in public is viewed with degree of odium. (Sec 39 Constitution, Art 19 UDHR, Art 20 ICCPR, CEDAW).

Peaceful Assembly and Association
There is the right to gather peacefully and associate with others in public or private. No one can force anyone to join any group if she does not wish to do so. A citizen can only join a registered political party if he/she wants to participate in partisan politics, however, it is common knowledge that husbands forbid their wives to take part in partisan politics and make life difficult for them if they insist on doing so. In many cases, this leads to the marriage being broken.

Freedom of Movement
Everyone can go to or move about anywhere freely throughout Nigeria and to live anywhere they want in the country. One can even leave Nigeria if one wishes and come back at any time if one is a citizen. However the immigration insists that a married woman cannot obtain a passport without the written consent of the husband. Many women trade across borders and they must have valid traveling documents. Thus the action of insisting on the husbands written consent for a passport is a violation of the constitution and surely the fundamental right of women. (see Art 13 UDHR Art 12 ICCPR & CEDAW).

Freedom from Discrimination
The Constitution provides as a fundamental right equality of all persons irrespective of sex, ethnic affiliation, place of origin, and religious or political opinion. This Right to equality is very central to the promotion of other rights of women. International and Regional Instruments such as CEDAW, UDHR, ICCPR, and African Charter also guarantee this right to equality. Consequently women are guaranteed freedom from discrimination on account of their sex.

Religious laws also recognize the equality of men and women before God For instance the Holy Qur’an in Chapter 49:13 says; "O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God is Omniscient, …”

Again the Holy Qur’an declares equality of both sexes before the Almighty Allah in Chapter 2 verse 228 says “……And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them according to what is equitable.”

The rights of women were further emphasized when the Holy prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in his last sermon stated ‘O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women but they also have rights over you”.

Similarly The Holy Bible does not make a distinction between men and women when it narrates God’s creation of human being and gave them dominion over all creatures. According to Genesis 1 Verse 26-27particularly Verse 27 states as follows ; “So God Created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

In reality women suffer discrimination in almost all sphere of human endeavour. Most of the discrimination are due to age-long cultural practices and religious beliefs influenced by our perceptions in a male dominated society or partiachial system. Some of the Religious laws have been interpreted from our cultural background which makes them discriminatory to women.. Despite the fact that the Islamic Religion recognizes equality for work done as evidenced in Holy Qur’an 3:195which says:
"I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female—you are equal to one another.

Contrary to this provision the interpretations of the Holy Quaran contained in some of the Hadiths (Teachings of Islamic Scholars) sometimes contradict the equality guaranty for women. For instance an Islamic scholar Bukhari wrote as follows "Women are naturally, morally and religiously defective”. Unfortunately many prefer the teachings through the Hadiths because they are sometimes in consonance with the age long traditional practices and beliefs.

Adhering to the basic principles enunciated by the Holy Qur’an itself and examine the Hadiths from the historical background of the scholar will remove some of the contradictions since the Holy Qur’an does not permit any changes or deriving injunctions from any other source as stated in Chapter 18:27” “You shall recite what is revealed to you of your Lord’s scripture. Nothing shall abrogate His words, and you shall not find any other source beside it. Despite these Constitutional and Religious guarantee of equality of both sexes there appears to be direct or indirect discrimination against the women in the Constitution and the operation of laws, religious and cultural practices.

Discrimination against women under the Constitution, customary and religious Laws and practices Examining the Constitution itself there are areas of discrimination against women First the language of the Constitution indirectly discriminates against women by the use of the masculine term to describe both female and male.

The section on citizenship gives only men right to acquire citizenship for their foreign wives and no reciprocal right for women to pass on their citizenship to their foreign husbands. This negates the provision of the Constitution for equality as Women have the right to be treated as men.

Contrary to the Constitutional guarantee of freedom from discrimination, Women suffer discrimination under the guise of customs and religious practices. Women from birth throughout their lifespan until old age suffer various forms of discrimination. For example at birth the female child is not as welcomed as the male child because of the traditional preference for male children, resulting from the patrilineal system. This negates the Islamic injunctions which frowns at the rejection of birth of female children. The Holy Quran says; “To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills" (42:49).

The discrimination continues throughout the life cycle of the woman from childhood where she faces overwork in home, then at adolescent subjected to forced or early marriage. She is married out at early ages. Sometimes the married child bears children which may be injurious to her health making her have the health problem of Vesico Vagina Fitula (VVF) a condition which subjects a child to the lack of control of the victims urinary and excreting organs. As a result of which the young child drains uncontrollably of feaces and urine causing further health problems.

In the home the girl child is over burden with work doing household chores while her male counterpart is allowed to play. At marriage the woman faces physical and sexual assault in form of wife beating or domestic violence, rape including Marital Rape.

In the unfortunate death of the woman she suffers obnoxious widowhood practices. Some of which practices involve the shaving of the widow’s hair, the denial of basic hygienic practices for periods as sign of mourning, and in some places the forcible drinking of the water used to bath the corpse of the disease as proof of her innocence in the death of the husband.

At old age especially if the woman is childless she is branded a witch and may be stoned to death. At each stage the woman goes through experiences that diminish her humanity starting from rejection for being female to genital mutilation to lack of equal opportunity to education, heavy workload in the household and unequal treatment with male siblings.

In the religious participation the women are relegated to the background and are not permitted to take leadership roles. First women are denied entry into places of worship while menstruating by most Religions. Contrary to the express provision of the Holy Quran which does not state that women should not go to the place of worship when doing their menstruation, women are forbidden from going to the mosque when menstruating. The Holy Quran in fact stated as follows;
“O you who believe, when the Congregational Prayer (Salat Al-Jumu`ah) is announced on Friday, you shall hasten to the commemoration of God, and drop all business. This is better for you, if you only knew.

The Holy Quran did not say only men should go the place of worship to worship Almighty Allah.

Similarly the woman is considered “unclean” during her menstruation by the Christian Religion.

The Holy Bible provides: "When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Whoever touches her bed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whoever touches anything she sits on must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, he will be unclean till evening".

"As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."

The denial of the right to freedom from discrimination hampers women’s equal development with their male counterparts despite the fact that the women constitute about half the total population. The effect is a reduced development rate of the Country. Obstacles or traditions and practices, which promote discrimination, need to be removed by all stakeholders.

Traditional and religious authorities should promote the respect of the right of women to freedom from discrimination through the reformation of laws and practices that are discriminatory against women.

Lawyers should test cases of the infringement of women’s fundamental right to freedom from discrimination in court through free legal Aid where needed. Judges and Magistrates should be vigilant and exercise their judicial powers to ensure that women’s rights under the Constitution are enforced. Previous supportive cases decided in the Competent Courts in the Country should be used in enforcing women’s rights in the constitution and International Instruments.

Right to Property One’s property can only be taken away by the government if:
• the law dealing with this applies to everyone
• it is going to be used for a public purpose or in the public interest and if so, is entitled to adequate compensation. Sec 43, 44.

Fair Trial for Arrested and Accused Persons This section sets out the rights, which people have who have been arrested and accused of committing a crime. They include the right:
! to keep silent:
! not to be forced to make a confession;
! to be taken to court within 24 hours of your arrest;
! to be released, either on warning or on bail;
! unless there is a good reason to keep you in jail;
! to have a lawyer of your choice

If the government gets evidence against a citizen by going against one of these rights, this evidence will not be allowed in court if it would be unfair, or if it would damage the administration of justice.

The Constitution guarantees the right to Education, regardless of whether male or female. This constitutional guarantee is re-iterated in the Convention for the Rights of the Child which has been ratified by Nigeria. A female child should not be denied education merely because she is a female. Parents should not deny the girl children from acquiring education merely because they will get married and move to their husband’s house. It is a violation of the rights of the girls-child which will hamper the development of such children.

The Government has a program for the provision of basic literary Education for all both boys and girls and this opportunity should be available for the female children. People can set up their own schools, universities or technical colleges at their own expense. These cannot discriminate against students.

Language and Culture
Everyone can use the language and follow the culture that they choose but they must respect others’ human rights when they do so. The recognized official languages are English, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa for the time being.

Political Participation and Governance
Women have a right to take part in the government of the country. Women can vote and be voted for so long as they are adults and not disqualified according to law. An adult is anyone above the age of 18 years. (Art 21 UDHR CEDAW 7 & 8 )

In reality women do not take part in decision-making in the families, private and public sectors as a result of the patriarchal and male dominated societal values. In the public life the woman is denied equal participation in decision and policy-making bodies. Above all the socio –economic status and the customs and traditional practices hamper the women’s equal participation in the development process.

On the political arena for instance, women represent less than 4% of the elected officials and are indeed more marginalised in decision-making process at all level both private and public.

Statistically, although Nigerian women are almost 50% of the population, out of a total of 36 elected State Governors none is a woman, only one female deputy Governor in the whole country, from a total of 765 Local Government Chairmen only 9 are women. Out of 867, Councillors Nationwide 143 are women. From a total of 978 State House Assembly members 12 are women. From a total of 106 senators only 3 are women and from 347 members of the House of Representatives only 13 are women.

Men dominate the Governance of the country contrary to the Constitutional guarantee for equality in Political participation. Although women form the higher number of voters at elections they do not stand for elections because of their level of poverty, violence and societal perception of women as inferior to men and stereotyped to stay in the Home and not public.

Religious practices such as purdah and Traditional practices are used as the reasons for denying women from equal participation in politics and Governance. However a lot of Landmark strategies have been put in place to redress this discriminatory situation. One of such is the Beijing Declaration which enjoins all States Parties including Nigeria to ensure that there is at least 30% representation by women in political posts as an affirmative action. This affirmative action has been adopted by the Nigerian Government in the National Policy for women. NGOs are clamouring for the full implementation of the affirmative action in the representation of women in political posts, both in party hierarchy and elective posts. Women also clamour for representation on policy-making bodies in all sectors of the society.

Some of our traditional institutions recognise the vital role of women in the decision making of the Traditional Bodies For Instance the Yorubas have positions for women in the traditional Councils some of which are very powerful like the post f the “IYALODE”. It is therefore not contrary to Nigerian culture to allow participation of women in decision making bodies. Traditional and religious authorities should support the participation of women in traditional, religious and government institutions.

Do People Have To Obey Only These Provisions?
The fundamental human rights work to stop the government from abusing the rights of the people. Sometimes the provisions say which rights work between the government and the people and which rights work between people as well. For example, the section on Equality clearly says that people cannot discriminate against one another. If the provision does not say this, it is usually left to the courts to decide which rights work between people.

Who Can Take A Case Involving Fundamental Rights To Court?
Anyone can take a case involving the fundamental human right infringement. The woman whose rights are violated, someone else related to the woman can bring actions to enforce the rights of the victims. Organizations Or Group can also take the case of the violation of the fundamental right of others to Court.

Lawyers are very vital to the enforcement of human Right because the filing of such cases in Court is technical and needs special expertise that only lawyers can provide. Lawyers should take cases on the violation of women’s fundamental Rights to Court. The cases on Fundamental human rights violation are to be filled in State High Courts in the Country. The constitution further provides10 that financial assistance should be provided for indigent citizens whose fundamental rights have been infringed for legal Aid Lawyers should use this provisions by Government for free legal assistance to women victims of violation of their human rights.

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