May 25, 2024

Justice Denied: The Invisible Battle for Nigerian Women

FRN vs Ali Bello, 3 others: Court adjourns to May 27 for continuation of hearing

By Yvonne Momah

In the heart of Nigeria, a storm of controversy erupted around a planned mass wedding for 100 orphaned girls, a spectacle that quickly turned sinister amid allegations of child marriage.

The event, abruptly cancelled following a public outcry and a lawsuit from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, casts a stark light on the grim realities facing Nigerian women and girls in their pursuit of justice. Nigeria, a nation with a rich tapestry of culture and tradition, finds itself entangled in a complex legal web where women often struggle to assert their rights.

Despite laws prohibiting child marriage under the age of 18, enforcement remains a murky endeavor.
This recent debacle underscores the systemic barriers that women in Nigeria face daily. The World Bank highlights a troubling truth: gender disparities in Nigeria are not just prevalent, but entrenched. Socio-cultural norms, economic barriers, and discriminatory practices form an unholy trinity that impedes women’s access to justice. In the treacherous waters of divorce, inheritance, and spousal support, women find themselves particularly disadvantaged. The legal system, often opaque and convoluted, exacerbates their plight.

The United Nations’ reports on violence against women in Nigeria paint a dire picture. Survivors seeking justice are met with inadequate legislation, societal stigma, and ineffective enforcement, creating a perfect storm of obstacles. Enter FIDA Nigeria, a stalwart in the fight for women’s rights since its inception in 1964 by the formidable Ambassador Aduke Alakija.

This non-profit, non-political organization is a bastion of legal empowerment for women, offering a lifeline through its provision of free legal representation for indigent women and children, dismantling economic barriers to justice. The organization’s advocacy campaigns are relentless, pushing for policy reforms and better legal frameworks, aiming to reshape the landscape for women’s rights. One of the most insidious barriers is the lack of legal literacy. UN Women’s research reveals a staggering deficit: only 30% of Nigerian women have a rudimentary understanding of their legal rights. Addressing this gap is critical for empowering women to navigate their legal journeys.

Financial constraints are a harsh reality for many Nigerian women, often the primary deterrent against seeking legal recourse. Over 60% of women cite these constraints as the reason for not pursuing justice. FIDA Nigeria’s pro bono services are not just beneficial; they are essential. The labyrinthine legal system in Nigeria, plagued by delays and inefficiencies, compounds the struggle.

The World Justice Project notes that the average legal case drags on for over five years, a testament to the urgent need for judicial reforms to expedite justice.

The pursuit of justice for Nigerian women is not a solitary endeavor but a collective mission. Legal professionals, policymakers, and civil society organizations must converge, uniting their efforts to dismantle systemic barriers. Boosting legal literacy through comprehensive educational initiatives and vigorous advocacy for reforms to create a more equitable legal landscape are critical steps. Expanding free legal services to ensure justice is accessible to all, regardless of economic status, is paramount.

Since 2021, FIDA Nigeria has provided free legal representation to over 5,000 indigent women and children, a testament to the transformative power of their work. As the chorus of voices advocating for women’s rights grows louder, the hope is that the labyrinth of legal hurdles will give way to a pathway of justice. By breaking down these barriers and fostering an inclusive legal environment, Nigeria can forge a future where every woman stands equal before the law, unshackled by societal norms or economic constraints.

Yvonne Momah Programme Coordinator / Partnership Manager Women Leadership Institute