ISSN: 2204-012X

Volume 9, Number 1, 2019

African Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies

 

HUMAN RIGHTS AND GENDER INEQUALITY IN AFRICA: THE NIGERIAN EXPERIENCE

 

1Usman Ismail, 2Wakil Ibrahim Mustapha, and 3Sheriff Bukar

1Department of Languages and Liberal Studies

2&3Department of Social Services

Ramat Polytechnic, P.M.B. 1070, Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria

 

ABSTRACT

The situation of human rights in Africa is generally reported to be poor, and it is seen as an area of concern and epidemic according to the UN, governmental, and non-governmental observers. Extensive human rights abuse still occurs in several parts of Africa, often under the oversight of the state. Most of such violations can be attributed to political instability, often as a 'side effect' of civil war. Human rights in Nigeria are protected under the most current constitution of 1999. Gender inequality in Nigeria is influenced by different cultures and beliefs. In most parts of Nigeria, women are considered subordinate to their male counterparts.There are many factors which are responsible for gender inequality in Nigeria today. They range from cultural practices, societal norms, conventions, biological make up/ municipal laws and conventions. What is more, most of those ugly cultural practices are fast becoming ancient and archaic. Giving women equal right of participation in the scheme of things will in no small measure engender a meaningful and sustainable national (and global) development.

 

Key Words- Human Rights, Gender, Inequality.

 

INTRODUCTION

Human rights as a legal concept are a relatively recent notion in Africa. The United Nations System, international law and the African Union have certainly all contributed to the establishment of a human rights system in Africa, which has positively and indispensably influenced the betterment of human rights and of justice. However, some of the promises made about such rights being guaranteed under global, continental, regional and national legal instruments have remained unfulfilled.

The situation of human rights in Africa is generally reported to be poor, and it is seen as an area of concern and epidemic according to the UN, governmental, and non-governmental observers. Extensive human rights abuse still occurs in several parts of Africa, often under the oversight of the state. Most of such violations can be attributed to political instability, often as a 'side effect' of civil war. Notable countries with reported major violations include, but are not limited to. The Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire reported violations include extrajudicial execution, mutilation, and rape.

Human rights in Nigeria are protected under the most current constitution of 1999. Nigeria has made serious improvements in human rights under this constitution though the American Human Rights Report (2012) notes areas where significant improvement is needed, which include; abuses by Boko Haram, killings by governmental forces, lack of social equality, and issues with freedom of speech. The Human Rights Watch's 2015 World Report states that intensified violence by Boko Haram, restrictions of LGBT rights and government corruption continue to undermine the status of human rights in Nigeria.

In the literature, however, researchers generally distinguish between the concept of sex and gender. When social scientists refer to sex, they are referring to the genetic and physical characteristics of persons that identify them as either male or female. Gender, in contrast is a

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African Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies

 

concept referring to the culturally accepted behaviors and ways of relating to others expected of the two sexes. In this sense, sex refers to the biological differences between women and men; gender relates to the normative expectative attached to each sexes. Gender is viewed, therefore, not as a trait inherent in an individual but as something that is socially constructed. Again, from this derived meaning it shows gender is learned, whereas sex is biologically given. Hence, it is within the normal expectation that male and female gender roles, from one society to another, varies significantly. Sexism has served through me ages because it embodies privileges that men are unwilling to surrender;these privileges are not only material but also sexual and psychological. Sexism will not die out unless people are conditioned and propagandized from childhood into anti sexist just as surely as the present system and previous generations were indoctrinated with sexism.

Through the ages, men have been and still are largely actively in control of the public life and political system in many countries including Nigeria. Aristotle’s assertion that man is a political animal seems to have been taken literarily the world over to mean that public office and other political activities are masculine affairs.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)affirmed the universal recognition of the inherent dignity, and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human rights family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. By it also, a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations was proclaimed with the goal of every individual and every organ of society stated as "to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance8. Of the several blind sports h: the development of the human rights movement from 1945 to the present, none is as striking as that movement's failure to give violations of women's (human) rights the attention, and in some respects the priority, that they require. It is not only that these problems adversely affect half of the world's population. They affect all of usfor a deep change in women's circumstance:- means corresponding change throughout social life. The fight for equality 10 and the emergence of women's rights discourse and movement is a philosophical inheritance of 19th Century liberalism. Women latched on to the democratic ideals of equality and liberty very early in Time as they found in them a coherent systematic body of doctrines from which to argue for women's rights". This, however, was in spite of the fact that ‘there was much in the theorizing of the founding fathers of democratic theory that stood in contradiction to feminist logic.

 

LITERATURE REVIEW

Universal Human Rights

The Universal Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948. Motivated by the experiences of the preceding world wars, the Universal Declaration was the first time that countries agreed on a comprehensive statement of inalienable human rights.

Human Rights in Africa

Human right as a legal concept is a relatively recent notion in Africa. The United Nations System, international law and the African Union have certainly all contributed to the establishment of a human rights system in Africa, which has positively and indispensably influenced the betterment of human rights and of justice. However, some of the promises made about such rights being guaranteed under global, continental, regional and national legal instruments have remained unfulfilled. The situation of human rights in Africa is generally reported to be poor, and it is seen as an area of concern and epidemic according to the UN, governmental, and non-governmental observers.

Extensive human rights abuses still occur in several parts of Africa, often under the oversight of

 

ISSN: 2204-012X

Volume 9, Number 1, 2019

African Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies

 

the state. Most of such violations can be attributed to political instability, often as a 'side effect' of civil v ar. Notable countries with reported major violations include, but are not limited to. the Sudan, and Cote d'Ivoire. Reported violations include extrajudicial execution, mutilation, and rape. Reproductive rights are limited in many countries by unavailability of family planning resources and restricted access to birth control in Africa. The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights is an international body which seeks to provide supranational monitoring and rights to citizens of Africa.

 

Gender Bias as a Global Phenomenon

Women relegation is a practice that manifests itself all over the world in varying, degrees. It is not only in Nigeria or Africa or any particular continent that female relegation is a problem, it is universal. While commenting on the situation of the American women in American politics, Mrs. Carter announced to Alcuin thus:

"What have I also women to do with politics. Even the government of our country, which is said to be the freest in the world, passes over women as if they were not. We are excluded from all political rights without ceremony. Law makers thought as little as comprehending as in their code of liberty, as if we were pigs or sheep.... I am conscious of being an intelligent and moralbeing  I see myself denied.... the existence of my own discretion, incapableof separate property, subject in all periods of my life to the will of another onwhose bounty, I am made to depend on for food, raiment, and shelter, I seemyself in my relation to society regarded merely as (sic) beast or an insect.... passed over in the distribution of public duties. They generously admit meinto the class of existence but affirm that I exist for no purpose than the convenience of the more dignified sex. that I am not to be entrusted with the government of myself, that to foresee, to deliberate and decide belong to others, while all my duties resolve themselves into this precept "listen and obey". It is not for me to smile at their tyranny or receive as my gospel, a code built upon such atrocious maxims".

According to Falana, women subjugation is a universal practice requiring universal approach to resolve. In Ancient Greece, women are regarded as less than human and were conferred no legal status as with slaves, children and the insane. The woman was a perpetual minor, the responsibility of either the father or the husband or such other male guardian. This perception of the woman was similarly shared in most other traditional cultures.

 

The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOS)

The NGOs both at National and International levels have also contributed immensely to the promotion and protection of the rights of Women. It should be noted that Nigerian women have not been entirely passive to their subordination. There is a history of women's resistance to injustice and discrimination in the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times. For instance, in 1914 and 1947 Egba Women protested against Colonial tax system this culminated in the formation of Abeokuta Women's Union in 1946 which composed of Egba women both elites and non-elites. Also, between 1925 - 1928 the women in Calabar,Owerri and Aba called the Dancing Women Movement resisted Cultural imposition, introduction of the Native Authority System and payment of tax by women. In 1953 the Nigerian Women Societies was formed and in 1959, the National Council for Women Societies w as inaugurated in Ibadan.

The post-independence efforts by women to redress socio-economic and political disabilities led to the formation of various women associations. Women who are excluded from politics now have their voices in NGOs at various levels - grassroots, national and international levels. NGOs handle issues such as violence against women, women's rights to productive health

 

ISSN: 2204-012X

Volume 9, Number 1, 2019

African Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies

 

and bring them to the mainstream of policy debate. The following are some of the NGOs in Nigeria today; The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) which provides free legal services to poor women. Some NGO provide essential services to women in their communities, ensure greater participation of 'women in decision making at all levels, some are oriented towards empowering women at all levels for example the women in Nigeria (WIN), Women Law andDevelopment (WLD), the Country Women' s Association of Nigeria (COWAN), National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH). At the international level is Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNR). It should be noted that many local women NGOs are affiliates of major international agencies and belong to international network.Women NGOs usually have different areas of focus that deal with different aspects of women issues, religion, education, health, advocacy, development and professional interest

 

GENDER INEQUALITY IN NIGERIA

Gender inequality in Nigeria is influenced by different cultures and beliefs. In most parts of Nigeria, women are considered subordinate to their male counterparts, especially in Northern Nigeria. It is generally believed that women are best suited as home keepers.Feminism hadn’t appeared in Nigeria much until roughly 40 years ago, due to a woman named FunmilayoRansome-Kuti. She was born in Nigeria, and was educated through the British schooling system. She supported and fought for women's rights, as well as for women having a larger impact in the Nigerian government. She was a part of the WIDF (Women's International Democratic Federation), which helped more women to gain government positions, furthering what she wished to accomplish with women in Nigeria. Ransome- Kuti died in 1978. One of Nigeria's well-known newspapers referred to her as "a progressive revolutionary'' and "a Pan-African visionary.

 

FACTORS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RELEGATION OF WOMEN

There are many factors which are responsible for gender inequality as against the women today. They range from cultural practices, societal norms, conventions, biological make up/ municipal laws and conventions. They shall be examined once after the other.

Cultural and Religious Restraints

Culture being the way of life of a people is usually difficult to change! . In Nigeria, it has been observed that women and daughters in some tribes are discriminated against when it comes to inheritance of property (i.e. succession). Nigeria being a patrilineal of society the right of inheritance ischiefly by male descent20. There are of course some parts of the country where women can inherit from their father's estate e.g. the Yoruba speaking area; in most part of Igboland women are excluded from inheriting the property of their father.In Yorubaland wives' rights and interests are compromised.

In Akinubi V. Akinubi, the court has this to say: it is a well settle rule of native law and custom of the Yoruba's that a wife could not inherit her husband's property. Indeed, under Yoruba customary law. a widow under intestacy is regarded as a part of the Estate of her deceased husband to be inherited and administered by the deceased family, she could neither be entitled to apply for a grant of letters of administration nor appointed as co-administratrix. The patriarchal structure of traditional society enables men to dominate women.

Through the patriarchal system, Nigerian women are socialized into a culture of female subordination. This is a structure of gender inequality/ discrimination and its persistence in the face of National and International initiatives on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. A Nigeria woman is born into a culture of male supremacy. There is the general

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African Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies

 

preference for a ‘“male child" while girls leave home at marriage to become their husband's property. Within the traditional African Social Structure, the basic division of labor was often based on "age and sex". The traditional subsistence economy prompted a pattern of division of labor, which encouraged co-operation rather than competition between sexes. The inequality does not generate competition between sexes for a woman derived status from the success of her husband and sons. The division of sex role with men holding the majority of the skilled and supervisory work in towns and women in the unskilled and subservient jobs is often perceived by both men and women as "natural”

There are also widowhood rites which to say the least are degrading to the womanhood which some have to go through during the funeral of their deceased husbands. Female circumcision is still carried out in some communities together with tribal marks and deprivation of women and children from eating certain food which are taboo for them. While some of these customs may make sense in the past, but now, with education and modernization they are no longer relevant in fact they have become a clog in the wheel of progress.

Also, in certain parts of Northern Nigeria, particularly Benue State, it is their culture to make their wives sleep with their special guests as a form of entertainment and appreciation. This is a harmful traditional sexual practice which is compelled by forces outside individual control and consequently amounts to violation of the women's human and reproductive rights. Every woman should have the right to determine her sexuality and sex partner at any point in time. Religious restraint also constitutes a serious clog on the wheel of women liberation and equality campaign. Non-compliance with the internationally recognized human rights norms is therefore justified on the ground of culture.

 

Political Restraints

Essentially, politics is a game of intimidation. Dominant ethnic groups intimidate some smaller ones; men intimidate women and so on. In Nigeria, women’s participation in politics in the first, through the second, third, fourth and the present Republic has been very minimal, they have been relegated to the background as far as active participation in politics is concerned. Several prejudices and socio -cultural practices have inhibited and undermined their contribution to national development through politics. This is in spite of the fact that gender equality is embodied in the democratic principles of this country.

The plight of Nigerian women is similar to the plight of other women around the world. Even though the}' make up half the world’s population, they account for only 5-10 percent of formal political leadership positions worldwide. There is no country’ in which women have equal political status, access or influence with men. As a gender, they are underrepresented in the governance of the Nigerian. Obviously, there are inhibitions on women's way to progress in politics. These inhibitions are varied but all have their roots in the interplay of "power" (men’s dominant preserve) and "powerlessness" (women's dominant preserve), which is what politics is largely all about. The power of the powerful rests, after all on the powerlessness of the powerless.

A major problem of women active participation in politics is that arising from family relationship, which includes bearing children, cooking and taking care of the routine needs of the family. The women are therefore naturally unassertive, docile, and submissive. The man after all is the head of the family and his authority cannot be compromised.

Political system is therefore seen as a battlefield not so much between the competent and incompetent but largely between men and women. Most women in Nigeria are poor. Politics everywhere, but particularly in Nigeria is a game of money and influence, the kind of money and influence the vast majority of women do not have.

ISSN: 2204-012X

Volume 9, Number 1, 2019

African Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies

 

Another problem hindering women participation in polities is the organizational structure of most of the political parties. The Executive Council being the decision-making arm of any political party rarely has a woman as member. Since the executive council decides the allocation of seats for election, it is not surprising that only few women are nominated for elective offices which much fewer ever win elections. Also, political activities are generally conducted in a manner more suitable for men.

In other words, political arena is made more men -friendly, for instance, the venues and circumstances of most caucus meetings do not favor women because of their roles as mothers and wives. This in itself constitutes a hindrance to women's effective participation in politics. The relegation of women to the background and the appellation of the "weaker sex" often attached to them has resulted in a strong inferiority complex in most women. They have come to accept that lie that men are better suited for politics than they are.

Women participation is also hindered by the problem of political violence, thuggery and intimidation. Politics is popularly referred to as a dirty game and there is no doubt that it is really very dirty here in Nigeria, Looking around us, reading the papers and listening to the news daily, one is appalled by the level of violence, thuggery and intimidation witnessed in the political arena both on individual or group levels. Politics seems to have become a do or die affair. Incidences of assassination and attempted assassination of political opponents abound. Only very few women can stand such level of violence, thuggery' and intimidation giving flesh to the belief that politics is too rough a game for women. There have been various allegations of discrimination against female aspirants by the men.

The truth is that in Nigeria, political participation by women has so far been more through appointment rather than through election! 01. Nigeria, therefore, has a percentage of 32 female representations in governance as against the present world average of 13 percent and Africa average of 10 percent 102. Nigeria position is so bad that it is even below the Arab world average; which is put at 3.4 percent. Obviously, men still predominantly occupy the political arena in Nigeria 104. While within the past three decades, women have been elected president or prime-minister in a number of countries. No woman has ever become a Governor or President in Nigeria history. The concomitant of the foregoing points put together constitute restraints on women's political freedom and participation.

 

Citizenship Theory

In the words of Marshall, citizenship is a status bestowed on those who are full members of a community. All who possess the status are equal with respect to the rights and duties with which the status is endow ed. The present condition of citizenship reflects the sex inequality of the society. According to Pateman, citizenship is a patriarchal category.This patriarchal category has assigned greater value, status or prestige to that which traditionally has been identified as "male" than 10 that which traditionally has been identified as "female". It is this patriarchal definition of citizenship that feminist find mind boggling. The feminist considers such patriarchal category as essentially oppressive. Who a citizen is and what a citizen does and gets in the systematic order of things within a given political society are all rendered with full implications in the masculine image. Even in cases where' citizenship, formally, has been granted to women in some liberal democracies such as USA and Britain, it is to be noted, according to Pateman, that such formal recognition of citizenship to women were all won and still bargained in the light of existing structure of patriarchal powers in which women's tasks and qualities are still devalued. In trenchant terms, the ideological foundation of patriarchy, more or less is rooted in the ideology that biology -is -destiny. In its implied form, the biology - is - destiny ideology gave credence and birth to the separate sphere ideology. Under the theory, a woman's identity was naturally and

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African Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies

 

automatically fused or united with that of the husband,, her legal identity was submerged under that of the husband, which means the woman is civilly dead.

One crucial element of citizenship disorder in Nigeria has to do with the emergent view that not all Nigerians are equal, even though this is not supported in the constitutional sense. This emergent conception centers on the view that, by certain conventional and official practices, social ethos etc there are first class citizens and second-class citizens. Not all can enjoy the fruit of citizenship. The implication of this conception is the lingering conflict between the demands of constitutionalism and the restrictions of oligarchic regulations and standards. In essence, however, one common area of concern often neglected in political discourse on citizenship in Nigeria and even in many African countries, is that of gender. In general terms, the gendered implication of citizenship in Nigeria is to the effect that citizenship in Nigeria is a patriarchal category, and the definition of who is a citizen of Nigeria, what he does, and the arena within which he acts have all been construed in the masculine image.

 

Colonial Rule

According to Reuben Abati, the colonialists treated w-omen as subservient to men. He noted particularly that:

"The Nigerian Society is largely rigged against women who are treated as second-class citizens. The Victorian era colonialists did not consider women to be anything other than housewives, and ornaments of the society. The local elites in colonial and post-colonial times have also treated women as if their entire project in society is to be good wives and good mothers. The Nigerian women, before colonial rule, played major roles in the various societies in the age grades, chieftaincy councils, and in maintaining the overall peace and stability of the community. Traditional African Countries operate on the principle that every individual, male or female is an important member of society, with an assigned place and role in the chain of being which is not in any way inferior but rather important for the survival of the community and the race .... Colonial rule truncated the evolution".

 

Poverty

Most women in Nigeria are poor. The Beijing Conference (in China) organized by the United Nations in September 1995acclaimed as one of the biggest and most successful conferences of Women in the 20th century indicated that 70% of women all over the world live in poverty. In fact, women and poverty ranked the foremost and major concern considered by the Beijing Conference. Hence, the role of women in the development of the country either as participants or beneficiaries of the process has been below expectation. Poverty is a relative term and it does not mean the same thing in every place. But generally speaking, it is the word used to describe the conditions under which poor people live. The task of eliminating poverty7 is enormous and complicated. This feminization of poverty is yet another spoiler for women hence their relegation in the scheme of things.

 

Illiteracy and Ignorance

The low level of education of women and their consequent exclusion from wage earning economic activities is another factor that has contributed to their low level of participation in politics, economy etc. and consequently their relegation. Female participation in technology, modern science and technologically based occupations has been limited. Due to illiteracy, a large proportion of women live in ignorance. They are even ignorant of their fundamental rights as human beings.

 

ISSN: 2204-012X

Volume 9, Number 1, 2019

African Journal of Innovative Research and Advanced Studies

 

Recommendations and Suggestions

In some countries, government has taken affirmative actions to reduce thegender gap at the decision-making levels. This is a step in the right direction, the government should further encourage increased women participation at all levels of government through establishment of framework for women’s integration. There is also the need for orientation of children (who are leaders of tomorrow) to have a mind-set that except for the physical differences between male and female, they are all equal and have equal rights conferred on them both by nature and by law.

Programme that can help bring out the best in poor women living mostly in rural areas of the country such as Better Life for Rural Women Programme (BLFRR), Family Support Programme (FSP) etc should be reactivated. Today there is in Nigeria what is called Women Bureau. Ministry of Women Affairs headed by a female minister. Nigeria also has a National Women Commission at the National level and Ministries of Women Affairs in the State. Also, women need to be equipped educationally and economically. With good education, there are better chances for better jobs. There is therefore the need to provide easier access by women to training and education facilities. Last but not the least, there is the need to embark on gender awareness campaign, seminars and gender training programs at all levels and within all sectors of development. In fact there is the need to promote global awareness on this issue.

 

CONCLUSION

Gone are the days when women sat and watched the men dominate the scene, to their detriment. On the Nigerian scene women are really coming up strong, they now occupy offices that were hitherto occupied by men alone. We now have female senators, Ministers. Chief Judges and Justice of Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.Female Vice Chancellor of University Heads of Government Agencies and Parastatals. In the various arms of the Force, women are now coming up fast, we now have women AIG-Assistant Inspector General of Police, Women General in the Army. Today, there is no field or profession where there are no women even in criminal world. Today's women are economically empowered as the law now allows them to have and ow7n private properties. Also, sport is no longer an exclusive preserve of the male gender and also in the entertainment w7orld the women too are pulling their weight. Though, Nigeria is yet to have any female Governor or President and probably female Ambassadors the chances were bright that in no distant future women will be all over the place. The saying that "what a man can do a woman can do better' is fast becoming truer now than ever before.

What is more, most of those ugly cultural practices are fast becoming ancient and archaic. All governments of the world are enjoined to be like America.Our governments should therefore realize that intelligence and ability are more relevant in solving the problem of an}' society or nation than gender classification. Giving women equal right of participation in the scheme of things will in no small measure engender a meaningful and sustainable national (and global) development

 

 

REFERENCES

Babalola, A. (2014) “Gender Inequality: Nigerian and InternationalPerspectives". British Journal

          of Arts and Social Sciences. 17: 168.ISBN 2046-9578.

 

Einwechter.W. (2016) "Keepers at home".Darash Press.

 

Johnson-Odim.C. (2009) "For their freedoms". The Anti-imperalist andInternational Feminist

          Activity of FunmilayoRansome-Kuti of Nigeria."ScienceDirect".

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