Justifying the Extent of Domestication of AU Instruments on Women’s Rights in Nigeria

Justifying the Extent of Domestication of AU Instruments on Women’s Rights in Nigeria


By Zainab Murtala

Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission

Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission

Across the world, the protection of human rights has been brought to the fore of international agendas for development as one of the key requirements for sustainable growth. In Gender Justice[1], Human Rights were defined as a value system that promotes the dignity and worth of all human beings, regardless of class, sex or ethnic background, but by virtue of one’s humanity. According to the Declaration on Human Rights by the UN General Assembly in 1948, these rights include the rights to life, liberty and security of persons, equal pay for equal work, a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, education, freedom from slavery and equal protection under the law.

It has been argued that most of Africa’s underdevelopment lays firmly in its history of human rights abuses. And while human rights abuses have remained rampant across the continent and affect both men and women, women have been found to be particularly disadvantaged. This has led to the increase in attention given not just to the general protection of human rights in most international conventions and treaties but to the protection of women’s rights in particular. The case is particularly worrisome in Nigeria which has been ranked among the 10 lowest performing countries in the Area of Human Right. This is especially true in relation to women’s rights. Discriminatory practices against women have remained firmly entrenched in the country.

Nigeria prides itself as the “Giant of Africa” and has worked hard to be a key player in international affairs. It is therefore not surprising that we have never wanted to be left out of international conventions and treaties and are quick to ratify most agreements reached internationally. One of such agreements, reached by the African Union (AU), is The Protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa also known as the Maputo Protocol. The enforcement/domestication of these protocols will be the primary focus of this piece.

The Rights

Participation in all elections without discrimination and effective representation and participation at all decision making levels. This remains a big problem in Nigeria.

  • A critical look at representation at federal, state and local levels show that less than 10% of the Country’s elected officials are women and the number is far worse when the South-Western part of the country is removed from the analysis. On the executive level, Nigeria has never had a female President or Governor and very few local Government chairmen are or have been women. In the legislature, the representation is slightly better in most states but still falls short of the 35% target set by the government. It is worth nothing that in many states, especially those in the Northwest, there is not and have never been any female representatives.
  • Although the current president prides himself on his inclusion of women in his cabinet, in a recent sack of ministers, almost all the casualties were female ministers. It is expected that the number will increase as new ministers are being screened and four more are expected to be fired. The reason is because women are seen to have less political worth at the ballot than their male counterparts and seen to have less of a fighting spirit when it comes to taking on the president’s opponents.
  • Political representation at party level is even worse with women generally relegated to holding the post of ‘Women Leader’ as the key female post. This is compounded by the fact that her role is principally to mobilise women for rallies and polling units and not as a serious decision maker within the party.

Right to peace and protection in armed conflicts

  • Major statistics on conflicts in Nigeria show that women and children are the most affected by conflicts. They die in larger numbers and women suffer from rape and other forms of sexual abuse. In the on-going conflicts in Nigeria, no additional protection has been given to women and no perpetrators of women’s right abuses have been brought to justice.

Protection from exploitation or degradation, Violence including sexual abuse and discrimination

  • Everyday violence towards women is still common in Nigeria. Recently, the National Assembly passed a law to protect women from violence. However, like most laws in the country it is not seriously enforced. This shows that although there are laws protecting women, enough has not been done to ensure they are truly protected. Women who are maltreated are still usually expected to return to their husband even by their own family and in some parts of the country, divorced and unmarried women are disregarded.

Access to justice and equal protection before the law, Adoption of legal and regulatory measures to remove discriminatory practices based on gender

  • In the past few years, women and civil society groups have challenged many laws that are discriminatory towards women. Although this has broken some barriers in terms of women’s legally recognised rights, society is very slow to catch on with this progress and most women who are victims of violence, abuses and discrimination are not aware that such practices are prohibited by law and even when they are aware, are extremely reluctant to go to court. Until society can be properly sensitized on these problems and laws addressing them, the full impact of the law will not be felt.


Protection from harmful traditional practices, entitlement to inheritance and positive cultural context

  • Traditionally, many cultures have seen women merely as objects for men’s pleasure and wives and female children of men are seen akin to property that the man can do with as he pleases. Even during the debate on raising the legal age for marriage, many argued that it was up to the girl’s father to decide when he wanted his daughter to get married with little to no mention of the girls’ position on the matter.
  • In some cultures women do not inherit from their fathers and any inheritance that does come in some cases is left in the hands of a male guardian even when the female is a fully grown adult.
  • Even in our daily lives, women are seen as being less capable and rational than men. For example, people automatically assume that every bad driver is a woman and when a man acts in an indecisive manner he is said to be acting like a woman. In one discussion, I heard someone say that the reason Goodluck Jonathan was not performing as well as he could is because he has surrounded himself with women and runs a cabinet full of women. A colleague recently had an experience were on finding out that the leader of the group was to be a woman, a fellow colleague suggested she be changed with a man because the group would not be taken seriously and the woman would be unable to get the job done. This way of perceiving women has to change for any real progress to be made.

Right to marry a person of her own choice, equal rights in marriage and in cases of marriage breakdown

  • It is very important that women be allowed to marry people of their choosing. It is also very important that women have equal decision making rights within the family and be treated with respect and have rights to property acquired jointly during the marriage even after divorce. They should be able to partake in key decisions especially with regards to fertility and raising children.

[1] Gender Justice: Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, Elizabeth Fisher and Linda Gray Mackey, 1996.

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