AnalysisNewsSexual Violence

What Nigeria Should Learn From Other African Countries On Gender Laws

Despite significant progress in reducing inequality, women continue to face prejudice, which is worsened by variables such as culture, religion, social norms, and discriminatory laws.

Gender inequality has continued to be a global societal issue that affects women and is a hindrance to human growth. 

Despite significant progress in reducing inequality, women continue to face prejudice, which is worsened by variables such as culture, religion, social norms, and discriminatory laws. In the various forms of prejudice that Nigerian women encounter, culture and religion have been prominent. 

Certain tribes in Nigeria viewed men more favourably  in terms of economic empowerment and inheritance. When it comes to distributing land or other assets, a tribe in Nigeria, for example, does not include women or girls in their wills. Women are regarded to be suitable for cooking and farm work. As a result, they are reliant on and obedient to their male counterparts.

Nigeria was placed 139th out of 153 nations in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for 2021, the lowest level since 2006.

The World Bank attributed the current score to the limited progress made on legal reforms recorded by “Women, Business and the Law over the last 50 years.”

Nigeria passed the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, which aims to eliminate all forms of violence in both the private and public spheres—and includes the right to housing and other social assistance for victims of violence. Till date, the law is still struggling to be domesticated in 17 states, majority of which are in the northern region of Nigeria, as parts of the Act contradicts their existing Penal Code.

Women protesting at the National Assembly for gender equality bill. Photo credit: Azeezat Adedigba/HumAngle

HumAngle reported how the absence of the Equal Rights Bill from the country’s parliamentarians’ modification of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution provoked protests by various women’s and civil rights organisations. The equality bill was originally submitted in the 8th Senate in March 2016, and has been rejected for the third time in five years. 

One of the bills attempted to offer citizenship to the husbands of Nigerian women who were born outside the country. A Nigerian man’s foreign-born wife can already become a citizen of the country.  Another proposal intended to allot 35 per cent of political seats to women based on appointment. Separate legislation was also enacted to create special seats for women in the National and State Assemblies. Following a protest on Tuesday, March 8, the country’s House of Representatives rescinded its decision on indigeneity, citizenship, and 35 percent affirmative action for women.

Passing these bills is a step ahead in ending all forms of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) against women and girls in Nigeria.

Recently, Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), said it received 158,517 complaints of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against women and children in 2021.

Nigeria’s Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill is yet to become law, despite the fact that some African countries are implementing new legislation to promote economic equality.

Gabon, Togo, Angola, Benin, and Burundi, according to a recent World Bank’s report on “Women, Enterprise and The Law 2022” have passed and implemented extensive legal reforms to create greater economic equality for women.

The yearly report examines laws and regulations affecting women’s economic involvement in eight areas: mobility, workplace, salary, marriage, motherhood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pensions. It covered changes that took place between Oct. 2, 2020, and Oct. 1, 2021 globally. 

Trend

Nigeria has a score of 63.1 out of 100 in the World Bank’s gender report for 2021, putting it below African peers Gabon (82.5), Togo (81.9), Benin (80.6), Angola (79.4), Burundi (76.3), and Sierra Leone (72.5). Egypt had a score of 50.6, an increase from the previous year. 

Nigeria’s rating was the same in 2020 compared to the previous year, whereas Gabon, Benin, Angola, Burundi, Sierra Leone, and Egypt improved from 57.5, 75.5, 73.1, 73.1, 69.4, and 45.0 in 2019. Togo has dropped from a high of 84.4.

According to the World Bank research, women in Nigeria experience economic inequity as well as barriers to exercising their voice and agency.

What Gabon and others did differently 

The report highlighted some of the reforms other African countries took to improve gender equality. 

Gabon stands out with comprehensive reforms to its civil code and the enactment of a law on the elimination of violence against women. The world bank report revealed Gabon’s score went up from 57.5 per cent to 82.5 per cent after the reforms.

HumAngle reported how Gabonese reforms allow women the same rights as males in terms of deciding where to live and finding work without the husband’s permission.

Women are no longer required to obey their husbands as a result of reforms. Gabon also granted housewives the same rights to property ownership as men, as well as administrative responsibility over marital property. 

The Gabon government also passed legislation to protect women from domestic violence, as well as other measures that allow women to open bank accounts in the same way as men and prohibit sex-based discrimination in financial services.

Other African countries also reformed their legislation. For instance, Egypt passed legislation to protect women from domestic violence and to make it simpler for women to obtain credit by barring gender-based discrimination in financial services.

Angola passed legislation making sexual harassment in the workplace illegal. Benin lifted prohibitions on women working in construction, allowing them to perform all of the same tasks as males. Burundi established a policy of equal pay for equal effort.

Sierra Leone made it easier for women to get credit by outlawing gender discrimination in financial services. Togo has enacted new legislation that makes it illegal to fire pregnant employees. 

What must be done

Onyeka Okongwu, in an International Journal of Discrimination and Law publication said discrimination against women in Nigeria will continue to be a problem until religious and cultural ideas that favour  male gender superiority are altered through education and awareness. 

Okongwu said the equality bills will continue to face considerable opposition since the legislature is made up of persons who hold deeply unfavourable opinions about women’s roles in society and are unwilling to change. 

The scholar said change must begin at the grassroots level, and the government must demonstrate its commitment to this change by supporting it through education and public awareness campaigns.


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Azeezat Adedigba

Azeezat Adedigba is an Assistant Editor/ Lagos Bureau Chief for HumAngle. She is also an investigative journalist and the winner of the 2019 Female Reporters Leadership Program (FRLP) organised by Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ). Azeezat is passionate about gender and children advocacy. She has a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Jos.

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