By Henry Ojelu & Onozure Dania
Nigerian women joined their counterparts across the world on Monday to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day. To mark the occasion, several programmes were held across the country to raise awareness on issues affecting women. In this edition, LAW & HUMAN RIGHTS sought the views of female lawyers and human rights activists on whether there has been any significant progress in terms of respect for the rights of women under the current administration. Those who spoke include Mrs Titilola Akinlawon, SAN, Prof. Chioma Agomo, Funmi Falana, Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Grace Ketefe, Onize Osho, Anwiri Chindah and Victoria Ogundipe-Peters.
No significant progress under current govt—Akinlawon, SAN
In her assessment, Akinlawon, SAN, said: “I do not think there has been any significant progress on the rights of women in the current administration even though women now hold some key positions but how many are they? International convention says 35 per cent positions should be given to women, I doubt that women have 20 per cent slot in this administration. Certainly, women as homemakers should be given more leadership roles in this administration.”
Things are getting worse for women—Prof. Agomo
Recently retired law lecturer, Prof. Agomo said: “It seems to me that things are getting worse. Look at one specific area – gender-based violence. There appears to be an increasing degree of violations of the rights of women of all ages. There is no day that you will not read a report or two in the newspapers of sex-based violence against the girl-child, against young women, against adult women, married and unmarried. It is heart-breaking. Domestic violence continues mostly under the radar.
“Respect for the rights of women in the workspace has received some measure of visibility because of the ground-breaking decisions of the National Industrial Court. It is, however, only in respect of the tiny proportion of such cases that get to the court. The majority of cases are unreported. There must be a political will to tackle the issue of the rights of women in all areas of human interactions. Such political will, in my opinion, is presently clearly lacking.”
Gender disparity still on increase—Falana
Funmi Falana said: “There is no progress at all; on the contrary, gender disparity is on the increase. Discrimination against women is rampant. Despite the 35 per cent requirement of the law provided for the inclusion of women in political appointments, we discovered that what we have is less than 15 per cent now. Again, of recent, a police officer was dismissed for becoming pregnant within the first three years of her enlistment in the Police Force, whereas her male contemporaries could impregnate several women without any sanction.”
This is the worst time for women in leadership — Akiyode-Afolabi
According to Akiyode-Afolabi, “A lot has happened with respect to the issue of women’s rights in Nigeria. Progress has been made though marginal. For example, if you compare it to how it was last year, there has been an improvement. In the last one year, the Governors’ Forum had declared a state of emergency on the abuses of women and girls.
“What that means is that it has come to their realisation that they need to do more. Between last year and now, several states have passed laws to deal with violence against women.
“However, one of the critical things that can make women’s right reality is the political will on the part of the government to support women, which include ensuring that we have systems and structures in place that can address the needs of women.
Presently, we don’t have some of that. We also don’t have a uniform standard operating protocol. We don’t have adequate police to respond to the issues of women and violence against women. Government is also not targeting budget or fund to make the rights of women a reality.
“There is also very limited effort by the government to ensure that women are in leadership positions. More than any other time, this is the worst time for women in leadership in Nigeria. At the National Assembly level, we have the lowest number in the last three administrations. We have three per cent of women participation at the National Assembly and seven per cent at the House of Representatives. So by implication, Nigeria happens to be one of the countries with the lowest representation of women. In terms of leadership, even the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 is not gender-sensitive. We have just one or two women in that team. We expected that since women bear the brunt of the challenges of COVID-19, they should have had good representation.”
Protection of women’s rights in snail-speed progress— Ketefe
Grace Ketefe said: “There have been lots of changes regarding women in political participation; there is instalmental increase but we can still do more. Nigerian women are still subjected to a lot of discrimination and exploitation. They still battle with a lot of cultural prejudices leading to subjugation and repression. The culture of domestic violence against women is traditionally tolerated with the resultant impunity, which ensures a perpetual tendency towards escalation.
“We are happy with some states that have passed laws prohibiting gender-based violence. We want more of the child right laws passed in those states where none exists. Some states have passed gender-sensitive laws to effectively protect all and improving employment opportunities for women. There is still an appreciable degree of discrimination against women in the workplace.
“Over 90 per cent of the Chief Executive Officers of Nigeria’s top 100 companies are men. On the political front, women have not fared better, all we have is a snail’s speed progress. The 1999 Constitution itself contains some provisions that are gender-biased.
“An example of such explicit gender-biased provision could be gleaned in sections 26 and 29, which make differential provisions for both men and women on the issue of acquisition and renunciation of the Nigerian citizenship, with men being given a far better deal than women.”
There is little progress now—Osho
Onize Osho said: “Based on my research, my opinion is that, under the current administration, there has been little or no significant progress for the rights of women in Nigeria. Women are still under-represented politically, to the extent that the number of female ministers reduced during the current administration’s second term. Nigerian women still earn far less than men and live below the poverty line. Also, fewer women are business owners than men.
“Women are still raped and captured without any recourse to the proper investigation or their rehabilitation as seen in the Chibok girls situation and Leah Sharibu case. Sexual harassment in the workplace and in general is still very rampant as seen recently in the ENDSARs protests and many uncovered stories about male lecturers propositioning female students.”
Nowhere is safe for our women—Chindah
Anwiri Chindah said: “I think the disregard for women’s rights is on the rise with females both young and old, still being raped on a daily basis. For instance, we had the case of the 22-year-old Miss Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, a 100-level UNIBEN student who was gang-raped and clubbed to death inside a church in May 2020 and later died after being in a coma for 18 days.
“Women are harassed daily by men both old and young who feel entitled to a woman’s body with no regard to the fact that they are crossing boundaries, invading their privacy and making them uncomfortable. It is also worse when according to their judgment, you are considered to be scantily dressed. Nigerian women still experience sexual assault/harassment in workplaces. It is more like nowhere is safe for a lady and that the Nigerian system is set up against her.
“We need to do more in terms of educating the society that women have rights, understanding the concept of consent, privacy and respect for boundaries. Kudos to the agencies and individuals who are already advocating women’s rights, we #ChoosetoChallenge the status quo not just for today but forever to ensure the younger generation are well protected.”
Laws against rape not adequate— Ogundipe-Peters
Ogundipe-Peters said: “There has been an alarming increase in reports of rape cases across the country in recent times. The advent of social media has further exposed this terrible vice against girls and women. Though there are laws that criminalise rape in different states in Nigeria, many victims of rape choose to be silent because of the stigma that goes with reporting the crime and perpetrators. It is indeed quite unfortunate that victims are sometimes blamed and shamed for being raped.
“The laws that deal with the offence of rape in Nigeria, in my opinion, are not quite adequate. For instance, the Criminal and Penal Code Laws, applicable in the Southern and Northern states of Nigeria respectively do not recognise marital rape. The fairly recent Violence Against Persons (Prohibition)Act, VAPP is an improvement over the Criminal Code and Penal Code, though the law, VAPP also has its own limitations. VAPP was enacted in 2015 but is yet to be domesticated in many states across the country almost six years later. The failure or refusal to adopt the law in the states is a clear indication of the reluctance of our society to tackle the issue of violence decisively.
“Generally, though the legal regime is existent, my assessment is that the law has not been effective in securing convictions and serving as a deterrent to the degree that we desire. Information obtained from the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, website indicates that there have been only 65 rape convictions between 1973 and 2019 in Nigeria. This number is inconsequential considering the number of reported cases of rape in the country. We need to as a matter of urgency, do more in this regard.
“Another related issue worthy of mention is the assault of women who have been tagged prostitutes by men of the law enforcement agencies. Women are randomly arrested especially at night, profiled as prostitutes and subjected to all kinds of undignified treatment including arrest and torture.
“There is no law which suggests that women seen on the streets at midnight or anytime thereafter, are necessarily idle persons or prostitutes. But many women have been arrested under this pretext.
“The law enforcement agents and the general public should stop profiling girls and women based on the way they choose to dress. This is discriminatory against women.”