The Legal Framework For The Protection Of Women’s Rights In Nigeria

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The Legal Framework For The Protection Of Women’s Rights In Nigeria


Chapter One


1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background of Study

Men and women are entitled to the full protection of their rights because they are human beings. At its most basic level, ‘human rights’ are safeguarded prerogative granted because a person is alive. A right is therefore a claim to something (by the right of the holder) that can be exercised and enforced under a set of grounds or justification without interference from others.

The question of the ‘universal’ or relative character of the rights declared in the major instruments of the human rights movement has been a source of debate and advocacy. The contests between these positions took on renewed vigour as the human movement slowly developed and reneged on making specific provision on gender issues, significant development emerged over the decades between claims related with cultural relativism on one hand, and universalism on the other hand, as they relate to gender in different territories.

The international human rights literature have conceptualized the problem of discrimination of women as involving self-determination. This research considers discrimination as resulting from creation, maintenance and perpetuation of structures of inequality against women as opposed to men. It also argues that the Nigerian government and human rights activists, by being more responsive to the international regimes of human rights, do not pay sufficient attention to indigenous philosophies, traditions and socio-cultural factors which hamper the effective actualization of rights to all human beings .

In Africa, the treaty that cursorily provides for the protection of reproductive and sexual rights is the African Charter on Human and People’s rights and the protocol to the African charter situates sexual health and rights within the recognition of women’s reproductive rights as human rights. The adoption of the protocol signified a renewed commitment to the advancement of women’s rights as human rights in African region and reinforces international law on women’s equality.

The ACHPR, since its ratification by the National Assembly in 1983 has been given binding effect by the constitution and has been recognized as almost inviolable, due largely to the fact that from it stemmed both the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, regarded as Chapter II rights which though non-justiciable in nature, cannot be overlooked, as well as the fundamental rights located under Chapter IV of the extant Nigerian constitution which are justiciable.

By virtue of this protocol, Nigerian women are guaranteed the right to dignity, the right to life, integrity and security of persons, freedom from harmful practices which negatively affect the human rights of women, equal rights in marriage, equal rights in cases of separation, divorce and annulment, the right to equal protection and benefit of the law, the right to participate in political and decision making process, the right to education and training, equal opportunity in career and work advancement, the rights to health including sexual and reproductive rights, the right to food and security, the right to adequate housing, right to a positive cultural context, right to a healthy and sustainable environment, right to sustainable development, widow’s rights, right to equitable share in inheritance, right of elderly women to special protection and freedom from violence, right of women in distress to special protection, and a right of remedy to any woman whose rights or freedom have been violated.

Consequently, all women (as men), all girls (as boys) are entitled to the enjoyment of all human rights affirmed, as such gender, custom or law cannot be used to validly deny this.

Nigeria being a multi-ethnic nation had the challenge of recognizing the rights of women; this due to inherent varied cultures of her people, such cultures, with the effect of laws allowed for women to be treated as chattels which could be inherited but was prohibited from inheriting properties as well as being educated (in most parts); promoted and subjected them to various forms of discrimination and violation.

With the emergence of the Democratic constitution of 1960 which enshrined the fundamental rights which were to be enjoyed by every Nigerian subject to some derogation, women were accorded such rights by virtue of being human (even though the customs prevalent in rural areas still existed). Consequently, the 1999 constitution brought with it the inclusion of the right to own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria, making women partakers of the right which is termed as a fundamental right by the Nigerian constitution.


1.2 Statement of the Problem

In Nigeria, women still suffer infringements on their human rights. There are National and International legislation that aim at protecting and safeguarding women’s rights, but the problem lies in implementation and lack of political will on the part of government to pursue policies and programmes advancing women’s rights to their logical conclusion.

The statement of the problem in this research will show the factors which have strongly mitigated against the successful realization of the protection of women and their rights in Nigeria. Such problems include:

  1. Are the laws concerning women’s protection adequate and up to the task?
  2. How effective are the implementation of the laws vis-à-vis the prevalent challenges?
  3. How these challenges to the effective actualization of women’s rights can be curbed?
  4. How the issue of gender can be replaced with equality?

1.3 Purpose of the Study

  1. To examine the platform provided under the Nigerian law for the protection of women’s rights as well as to study the extent Nigeria has been able to measure up to international standards;
  2. To evaluate the enforcement and implementation of such rights;
  3. To explain how socio-cultural practices contribute to the abuse of women’s rights;
  4. To examine the challenges affecting human rights of women in Nigeria as well as to recommend relevant suggestions for future protection of such rights.

1.4 Scope of the Study

This research primarily cuts across Nigeria as a nation. It focuses on the Nigerian law and International conventions applicable in Nigeria for the protection of women’s rights. It further examines the effect of negative socio-cultural practices prevalent in the different Nigerian societies and other challenges affecting the rights of women in Nigeria.


1.5 Significance of the Study

This research will show the rights which accrue to women in Nigeria and the effectiveness of the law in the protection of these rights. This research will review the international statutes as well as the Nigerian constitution as it pertains to the rights of women and the development, acceptance and adherence to such statutes in Nigeria.

This research is also necessary to show that socio-cultural practices like female genital mutilation, negative widowhood practices, child/early marriages as problems that violate women’s rights and therefore, women need protection by application, enforcement and implementation of legislations and policies on the issue.


1.6 Research Methodology

The methodology for this research is doctrinal. Primary and secondary sources of information are used in this research. The primary sources of the doctrinal research includes International Conventions, the Nigerian Constitution, the Penal Code, the Labour Act, the Marriage Act, the Child Rights Act. The secondary sources includes texts, journals, law reports, articles and the internet.


Chapter Five


5.0 Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1 Summary

In this research, efforts have been made to examine the rights of Nigerian women as provided primarily by the constitution, local legislations, and under the international and regional instruments. Likewise, the protection provided primarily under the Nigerian law has been examined side by side with international standards. It is evident from this research that Nigeria’s protection of women’s rights yet reach the international standards as stipulated by CEDAW and other instruments protecting women’s rights.

This research has also analyzed certain factors that hampers the rights and development of women in Nigeria. This is in spite of the existing laws and series of attempts made by various regimes to improve the status of women in Nigeria. This research has established that socio-cultural practices operate as a challenge to the human rights of women in the society. Likewise, it has established that discrimination against women is not only imbedded in our cultures but also in the body of our laws.

It also examines the judicial response to the rights of women in Nigeria which has shifted from being discriminatory to recent enforcement of women rights irrespective of discriminatory cultural traditions. In the same vein, it has identified illiteracy, poverty, corruption and delay in the judicial system as factors that impede the effective enforcement of rights of women via the judiciary.

5.1.1 Findings

The following findings have been made in this research;

  1. That Nigeria has not measured up to international standards and practices with respect to rights of women in its legal system.
  2. Nigeria is a signatory to a number of international conventions providing for the protection of women’s rights, but has not domesticated these Conventions to making them applicable in Nigeria.
  3. Culture based practices contribute majorly to the abuse of rights of women in Nigeria.
  4. That some of our laws are discriminatory against women. Thus, some facets of discrimination against women are allowed by the state.
  5. Challenges to litigation such as poverty, illiteracy and corruption impede the effective actualization of women’s rights.

5.2 Conclusion

The African woman is first of all a human being and thus, her fundamental human rights needs to be protected. The African woman can be described as the most endangered specie of our world. Cultural and social conditions have subjected her to a life of submission and subservient against her natural inclination for freedom and self -determination.

Having discussed the various legal frameworks for the protection of women rights in Nigeria, and the rights of women as provided there under, it is clear that a plethora of human rights instruments exist at international and regional levels to promote and protect women’s rights. The question then is how adequate are these laws and instruments in the protection of women’s rights.

However, the challenge in this area does not lie in the adequacy of these laws but the actual realization of these rights at national and local levels. The slow pace of advancing the rights of women in Nigeria is indicative of a lack of political and economic will on the part of the government to implement numerous international treaties it has ratified that establish the principle of equality and non-discrimination.

The status of women in Nigeria is affected by predominance of cultural stereotypes prejudicial to women. It is apparent that patriarchy is at the heart of discrimination of women and infringements to her human rights. It needs be noted that women rights are human rights thus, the essence of the protection of women’s rights to the growth and development of a state cannot be overemphasized.

Unfortunately, infringements on women rights are still perpetuated in different spheres of our polity. There is still a yearning gap between what is and what ought to be. There is minimal improvement on the status of women in Nigeria as there are large numbers of factors militating against women which are prevalent in Nigeria.


5.3 Recommendations

Women’s rights have been established as human rights, thus, it should upheld. In view of the findings made in this study, the following recommendations are suggested:

  1. The National Assembly should take steps to incorporate international treaties that Nigeria has ratified into our domestic legal system in order for them to be enforceable.
  2. Government should develop and promote pragmatic policies for the protection of women rights, and equality between the sexes.
  3. Continuing advocacy and judicial activism should be encouraged in this area.
  4. Law reforms should be conducted to review and expunge legislations that are discriminatory.
  5. Negative cultural practices that infringe on women’s rights should be outlawed. Thus, the criminal and penal code should be amended to criminalize these practices.
  6. Women should be empowered through education, employment, provision of credit facilities, and good health services.
  7. Legal Aid fund should be set up by the ministry of justice through the Legal Aid Council to provide effective redress to women whose human rights have been violated.
  8. Enlightenment and sensitization of the public by the media, civil society and human rights advocacy groups.

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Frequently Asked Questions


What are the human rights of women in Nigeria?

By virtue of the protocol, Nigerian women are guaranteed the right to dignity; the right to life, integrity and security of persons; freedom from harmful practices which negatively affect the human rights of women; equal rights in marriage; equal rights in cases of separation, divorce and annulment;

What is the gap between law and practice in Nigeria?

A study of the Nigerian workplace has revealed that ‘…gap is identified between law and practice with wide patterns of protection resulting in some women enjoying good benefits, while others are wholly or partly unprotected within the Nigeria workplace’ Women still have a higher unemployment rate than men.

Are Nigerian women’s lives improving?

Despite the provisions of the protocol recognising and guaranteeing rights and the obligation of the Nigeria government, the lives of Nigerian women is yet to attain a commensurate level of improvement. Women rank lower than men in all indices of development in the country.

What is the women’s Human Rights Protocol?

The protocol was adopted on 11 July 2003 by the AU to strengthen the promotion and protection of women’s rights. The preamble highlights several considerations necessitating the protocol. These considerations include a recognition of Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which enshrines the principle of non-discrimination. 

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