Sep 2, 2020

African Feminism And Women’s Rights In Nigeria | Adeniyi Aderinboye



1.0.           INTRODUCTION

Women have been at a disadvantage since the beginning of the history of human race because of several prejudices and patriarchal order. Suffering of women created the concept of feminism as a gender based political and social movement[i]. This movement advocates for Social, Political and economic equality for but gender in any given Society.

The African women are very unique by their culture and location on the continent. Their experience and understanding about life and equality will necessarily be different from American women, or say European Women.  So when an African woman  or expresses a strong opinion or share her perspective within the feminism curve, such opinion might be extreme or moderate depending on the story behind such expression. African Feminism is a form of feminism that is developed by African women and specifically addresses the conditions and needs of continental African women.

The stories, forming the ideologies of African Feminism are not entirely the same even within Africa, as many women faces different social realities depending on the sub-region on the continent[ii].

This paper examines the uniqueness of African Feminism, through the lens of an African and the challenges and prospects of this School of thought vis-à-vis Women’s right especially in Nigeria. It will also reflect on the key and emerging issues affecting gender justice and the rights of contemporary Nigerian Women, and the possible legal panacea to these continuing challenges.

2.0.           WHAT IS FEMINISM

 

2.1.            The word “Feminist” is derived from the Latin word ‘femina’ which means woman. This Latin word was later adapted to the struggle and agitation of women all over the world for an egalitarian society. Feminism is a belief in the political, economic and cultural equality of women and the movement represents the long demand for the upliftment of the weaker or suppressed section of women or girls in the society.

 

2.2.           The Black’s Law Dictionary[iii], did not specifically define feminism, but it defines Feminist Jurisprudence as a branch of jurisprudence that examines the relationship between women and law, including the history of legal and social biases against women, the elimination of those biases in modern law, and the enhancement of women’s legal rights and recognition in society.

 

2.3.           Different Authors and commentators have described feminism in their own perspective.  A lot of women define it as the right of women to aspire politically while some limits it to women’s right over their body. Again some may argue that it is the right of women to independently own and acquire properties.

 

2.4.            However, Feminism is a movement for the rights of women against gender discrimination. It means that women should not have less political, economic, and civil rights merely because they are women. The essence of feminism is well reflected in the famous quotation of the publicist Mary Shire when she said: "Feminism is a radical view that a woman is a person[iv]." It is therefore safe to say that feminism stands for equal opportunity for both sexes without favouring one over the other.

 

2.5.            

 

3.0.           FEMINISM IN AFRICA

3.1.           Some have argued that Feminism is a western concept. That it is just another example of how uninformed society has become and how much we turn a blind eye to the struggles of women all around the world, in Europe, Africa and all around the world. Ascribing the origination of this movement to the West will amount to disrespecting the effort and memories of the fearless women who fought courageously for the emancipation of the women folks in Africa.

 

3.2.           Feminist activism has always being in Africa before a name was placed on it. While the name Feminism was not attached to the movement at the early stage, we have had brave African women standing against Gender discrimination and social injustice as far back as 19th Century.

 

3.3.           African Feminism is different from its Western Counterpart in a lot of respect; this is so because many of the challenges faced by an average African Women are largely non-existent in the Western World. These conditions include poverty, franchise, illiteracy, political inclusion, war, marriage et.c. Therefore, underpinning African Feminism, are cultural and social issues that pertains to and affect largely only African women while the Western Women may only share a part of it.

 

3.4.           Several Contributors have classified development of African Feminism into two; the Pre-Colonial Feminism and the Colonial Feminism[v]. In Nigeria Pre-colonial era, Nigerian very few Nigerian women actively participated in public life and had independent access to resources. However, social and political exclusion is worse with women from Hausa-Fulani in the Northern part of Nigeria. Their commercial activities and engagements were limited by Islam.  Only Women with a high position by birth had more rights regarding their decisions and their funds. The example is Queen Amina of Zazzau. In 1576, she became the famous ruler of Zazzau in Northern Nigeria. The Igala Kingdom, located in Northern Nigeria, was also founded by a woman Ebele Ejaunu[vi].

 

3.5.           For decades, African activists have rejected the notion that one can subsume all feminist agendas under a Western one. As far back as the 1976 international conference on Women and Development at Wellesley College, Egyptian novelist Nawal El-Saadawi and Moroccan sociologist Fatema Mernissi challenged efforts by Western feminists to define global feminism. In the drafting of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the All African Women’s Conference was one of six organisations and the only regional body involved[vii]

 

3.6.           In the early 20th century,  an emerging set of  African Women feminist  dominated the scene , with women like Adelaide Casely-Hayford, the Sierra-Leonean women’s rights activist referred to as the African Victorian Feminist who contributed widely to both Pan-African and feminist goals, Charlotte Maxeke who in 1918 founded the Bantu Women’s League in South Africa and Huda Sharaawi who in 1923 established the Egyptian Feminist Union to mention a few.

 

3.7.           In Nigeria, on the fore front of Feminist movement, we had Mary Ekpo and Funmilayo Ransom- Kuti . Also recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi among others. Mary Ekpo for instance, was a Women’s Rights activist and a Pioneering female politician in Nigeria’s first republic that played key role in the Country’s Male-dominated Nationalism movement. Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti on the other hand established in 1932, the Abeokuta Ladies Club (later renamed Abeokuta’s Women Union) which advocated political and social inequalities faced by Nigerian women at the time. The Union was famous for fighting unfair price controls and burdensome taxes imposed on Nigerian women at the time by the Colonial Masters. She is also regarded as the first woman to ride a car in Nigeria

 

3.8.            Chimamanda Ngozi’ Adichie is Novelist and one of the most prominent African Feminist of the 21st century. Adichie’s consciousness and feminist movement was built up after she relocated to the US on a Communication scholarship.  In 2013, her Popular lecture; “We Should All Be Feminists[viii] discusses the damaging paradigms of femininity and masculinity. She has since then expressed her opinion on issues inequality and the marginalization of women at various forum

 

3.9.           Although the Africa Feminist movement largely focuses on the Africa continent, many of its contributors also lived in the Diaspora[ix] . Therefore,  one’s inquiring minds should not be limited by a geographical location as the name would imply. The debates, agitations and practices are however largely pursued on the African continent.

 

 

4.0.           WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN NIGERIA

4.1.           In Nigeria, the idea of women’s right to equal treatment as their male counterpart is still not generally acceptable. The Country remains a patriarchy society that entrenches women’s subjugation through cultural, religious and Cultural validation. Up until the 1950s’ for the South and 80’s for the North, the Nigerian women had no right to vote or be voted for in  an election[x]and it has been argued that even though this right is now made available to them, the discrimination to being elected into a political office still never goes away.

 

4.1.1.     As far back as 1929, the Nigerian Women in the Eastern part of the Country led the Aba Women’s riot to protest the unfair tax regime levied on women. The protest saw participation of over 10,000 women[xi]. It is still regarded as the pioneer protest for enforcement of Women’s right in Nigeria. These women were reputed to have displayed strength, courage in their opposition to repressive colonial policies that violated women’s rights at the time

 

4.1.2.     The inequality and the unfair treatment melted out on women in Africa and in Nigeria are quite enormous and it ranges from undue disadvantage at birth to discrimination at workplace, social gatherings, Public institution and the list goes on.  It is common place to see job vacancies specifically exclude women and Political parties having only all men candidates for elections regardless of whether there are more competent women who could take the positions.  

 

4.1.3.     The presence of forced marriages and non-consensual sexual intimacy of women is still very prevalent. In some parts of Nigeria and largely the Northern part for instance, Women are largely still objectified sought of and are betrothed to the men to be taken as wives even when as Young as the age of 10[xii]. This inevitably denies female children of school age their right to the education for their personal development, preparation for adulthood and effective contribution to the future well-being of their family and society[xiii].

 

4.1.4.     Although, men also suffer from abuses, it is common place for women to experience domestic violence in their relationships from their male counterpart in Nigeria. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life[xiv].

 

4.1.5.     Sadly, domestic violence against women is hugely a social context in Nigeria, and is based largely on the patriarchal nature of our society where violence against a wife is seen as a tool that a husband uses to chastise her so that she improves her ways. It is therefore common, for a woman to lose her basic rights upon marriage, a challenge that is strange to the Western Feminists. This is because the man is given some sense of ownership then woman who mustn’t question his authority[xv].

 

4.1.6.     The percentage of women who suffers domestic violence in their matrimonial homes has continued to soar with increase in reported cases of husbands killing and maiming their wives in the media. According to a report[xvi], every fourth Nigerian woman suffers domestic violence in her lifetime and   25 per cent of women in Nigeria have to go through ordeal of domestic violence. The worst forms of them are battering, trafficking, rape and homicide.

 

4.1.7.     Inheritance to family property is another challenge peculiar to women in Nigeria, as it is still seen to a large extent as an exclusive preserve of the male children. Nigerian customary law of succession and inheritance is patrilineal, which does not allow women to inherit real property. The fact that a wife is not a blood descendant of her husband’s family deprives her of succession rights in that family. As regards her father’s place, a woman by culture is never allowed to come from her husband’s house to inherit her father’s property. In both cases the female loses, as she cannot inherit on either side[xvii]. This does not also exclude widows who jointly owned properties with their husbands while alive.

 

4.1.8.     Although Section 42 of the Constitution[xviii] provides for right to freedom from discrimination in Nigeria, Job discrimination against women is still also prevalent. Many employment opportunities are unwelcoming of the female gender. It is usual practice to see vacancies with the proviso that “a male candidate is preferable”. Some industries are open enough about this discriminatory policy while many hide it for the fear of being criticized, but even at that, the women never gets the job no matter how highly qualified.

 

4.1.9.     There are several discriminatory provisions against female Police Officers in the Nigerian Police Force Regulations as it is, worthy of mention is Police regulations under the Police Act[xix]. For instance, section 124 of the regulation provides:

 

 

“A woman police officer who is desirous of marrying must first apply in writing to the Commissioner of Police of the state police command in which she is serving, requesting permission to marry and giving the name, address, and occupation of the person she intends to marry. Permission will be granted for the marriage if the intended husband is of good character and the woman police officer has served in the force for a period of not less than three years”

 

4.1.10. It is shameful that an institution like the Nigerian Police Force can have such discriminatory regulation and policies in place, part of which its female officers will have to obtain permission to enjoy matrimony only after three years of service. More appalling it is that the Commissioner of Police may still choose to refuse such application.

 

5.0.           IMPROVEMENTS ON WOMEN’S RIGHT S AND ADVOCACY.

 

5.1.           There has been a lot of improvement in the social, economic and political atmosphere for women in Nigeria in the last decade. Although it is not yet time to celebrate, a lot of progress has been made in terms of advocacy and policies’ improvement towards giving equal opportunity to both genders in Africa and Nigeria.

 

 

5.2.           Remarkably, the Child Right Act was passed into law in 2003 in Nigeria. The law domesticated the International Convention on Rights of child and has very many commendable provisions that guarantees and protects the rights of the children, especially the female gender in Nigeria. Regrettably, so far, at least, 11 states in the North are yet to pass it into law in their respective states[xx].

 

5.3.           Under the Child Right Act, a Person under the age of 18 years is incapable of contracting a valid marriage and where such marriage is contracted, it is null and void[xxi]. This provision has therefore nipped in the bud, the challenges of early marriage for women and a plus for the Feminist movement in Nigeria. However, since most states in the Northern part of the Country where Sharia law is predominant has refused to domesticate the law, the challenge of child marriage still persists.

 

5.4.           Also, worthy of mention is that the Child Right Act[xxii] provides that every child, both male and female has a right to free, compulsory, universal primary education and all parents and guardian must ensure their children of both gender attends and completes both primary and secondary education. This provision helps to put an end to the discriminatory policies in many homes where the female children are made to stay at home while their male counter-part are sent to school instead.

 

5.5.           Also, for a longtime in Nigeria, there has been an age long tradition among the Igbo culture, to the effect that women has no right to inheritance to their parents’ properties on the account of their sex and gender. However, by a judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2014, in the case of UKEJI V.UKEJI (2014) LPELR-22724(SC) , the court invalidated the Igbo customary law that discriminates against female children’s right of inheritance to their late fathers’ property. According to the judgment of the apex court, the Igbo customary law, aside being contrary to natural justice, equity and good conscience, also violates sections 42 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). By this Landmark decision, the age-long discriminatory succession rights against the women under the Igbo customary law declared anachronistic  has been expunged and laid to rest once and for all.

 

5.6.           It is also commendable to mention the pass into law of the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015[xxiii]  which extends its coverage to acts normally regarded as cultural and created offences such as domestic violence against women, harmful traditional practices, psychological violence, sexual violence and socio-economic violence. The Act expanded the scope of rape, prohibits female genital mutilation[xxiv], harmful widowhood practices, partner battery, stalking, domestic violence, among others. It is also now an offence to forceful ejection a woman from home.

 

5.7.           In 2019, a bill was presented to the Senate to end the existing discriminatory policies against female officers in the Nigerian Police Force[xxv]. The bill sought to expunge all the discriminatory regulations in the Police Act against women. This covers several gender issues which encompass various spheres of policy and practice, ranging from language, recruitment, training and posting; to marriage, pregnancy and childbearing. This Bill is still going through the parliamentary procedures and appears to be receiving a lot of support from members of the national assembly. When eventually passed into law, it will put an end to all the bias against women in the Nigeria Police Force.

 

6.0.           CONCLUSION

 

6.1.           In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “We should all be Feminist” and the statement is quite agreeable. Both male and female should be given an equal opportunity to fly. We have seen what women are very capable of achieving when given the chance to be expressive without any prejudice. All across the world, women have distinguished themselves in various sector of the economy. Lately we saw what Jacinda Ardern[xxvi] has done as the Prime Minister of New Zealand and how honorably she handled and still handling the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in her country. This is one out of the many brave women worthy of mention all around the world. Women in Africa have also set new standards for women’s political leadership globally. For instance, Rwandan women today hold 62% of the country’s legislative seats, the highest in the world. 

 

6.2.           Conclusively, in recent times, there has been a lot of social media advocacy for equal opportunities for women and Men in the society. The new generation of African women and by extension Nigerian women appears to be very conscious of their right and it is refreshing to see. On Twitter for example, it is now common place to see various trending feminist hash tags like; “Feminarchy, Feminazy, The Feminist Coven, Masculinist Feminista, Angry Feminist” and the likes. The journey for women’s liberation has been tough and a rough one, however, it gives respite to see improvement over the years in way of support for women and their social inclusion in Policies.

 

 



[i] Muhammed Burak Zenbat, An Analysis of The Concept of The Theory of Feminism And Historical Changing and Developments of Feminism

[ii] According the the United Nations, there are five sub-regions in Africa and they are; West Africa, East Africa, North Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa.

[iii] Black’s Law Dictionary (10th Edition) Bryan A. Garner 2014, Western Publishing Co.

[v]  Pre Colonial Femnism is a movement happening in the period before the White rule and control of Government In Africa, while Colonial Feminism will mean the period of foreign control of Government in Africa.

[vi]  A brief history of African Feminism, available at https://www.msafropolitan.com/2013/07/a-brief-history-of-african-feminism

[viii]  “ We should all be feminist” was a presentation by Chimamanda Adichie on the popular Tedx Talk in 2017.

[ix] A brief History of African Feminism op.cit

[x]  Voting rights-The journey of Nigeria’s women, available at https://thecraterlibrary.com/2020/04/07/voting-rights-the-journey-of-nigerias-women

[xi] The protest took place in Abia State Nigeria and lasted for two months. The struggle also led to the death of over 51 Women

[xii]  Many Schools of thought fix the age of Puberty at 10 if the child has attained puberty see Ruxton F.H. Maliki Law (Luzac and Company London) 93

[xiii] Early Marriage, Child Spouses”(Innocenti Digest No 7 March 2001)

[xiv] General Assembly Resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993

[xv]  The payment of bride price in the Nigerian traditional marriage ceremony signifies the handing over….

[xvi] This a report according to Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri a mental health physician and psychologist

[xvii] The Concept Of Gender Justice And Women’s Rights In Nigeria: Addressing The Missing Link, Ngozi O. Odiaka, published on Afe Babalola University: Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy Vol. 2 Iss. 1 (2013), pp. 190-205

[xviii]  Section 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides for freedom from discrimination based on gender, community, ethnic group, place of origin, religion or political opinion.

[xix] Cap P19, L.F.N, 2004

[xx] These states include Bauchi, Yobe, Kano, Sokoto, Adamawa, Borno, Zamfara, Gombe, Katsina, Kebbi, and Jigawa while Kaduna has its own child right law.

[xxi] Section 21 of the Act.

[xxii]  Section 15 of the Child Right Act.

[xxiii] Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 was signed into law on the 25th of May 2015.

[xxiv] Section 6 Supra

[xxv]  The Bill was sponsored by Ezenwa Onyewuchi, a Senator from Imo State.

[xxvi]  Jacinda Ardern is the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand.

 

 

ADENIYI ADERINBOYE, LL.B (Hons) B.L

(adeniyiaderinboye@gmail.com)

 


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