TRIPARTITE LEGAL SYSTEM HINDERS PROGRESS TOWARDS GENDER EQUALITY IN NIGERIA, SAY EXPERTS ON WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
TRIPARTITE LEGAL SYSTEM HINDERS PROGRESS TOWARDS GENDER EQUALITY IN NIGERIA, SAY EXPERTS ON WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
637th & 638th Meetings (AM & PM)
TRIPARTITE LEGAL SYSTEM HINDERS PROGRESS TOWARDS GENDER EQUALITY IN NIGERIA,
SAY EXPERTS ON WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
But, Ample Evidence of Nigeria’s Commitment
To Implementing Obligation under Women’s Convention Also Cited
While there was ample evidence of Nigeria’s commitment to implementing its obligations under the Women’s Convention, a tripartite legal system and a three-pronged governance process had slowed the pace towards gender equality in Africa’s largest and most populous nation, expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said, as they considered the situation of Nigerian women in two meetings today.
Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 expert members monitor compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which entered into force in 1981. Nigeria ratified the Convention in 1985 and signed its Optional Protocol, which allows individual women or groups of women to petition the Committee, in 1999.
Expressing concern about contradictions and inconsistencies created by the application of Nigeria’s three legal systems, namely, Islamic Sharia, customary law and common law, in its six geopolitical zones, experts cautioned against the perpetuation of customary and religious practices which negatively affected the situation of Nigerian women. Given the country’s size, complex political system and rich cultural heritage, experts stressed the need for Nigeria to set the example for neighbouring African nations by fully implementing its obligations under the Convention.
Many experts emphasized the need for the Government to take urgent action to harmonize its legal framework to ensure the uniformity of human rights protections. Noting that harmonizing the legal system was complicated by customary, religious and common law practices, the expert from Benin asked if the Government intend to adopt uniform laws with respect to marriage and family. She also asked whether diversity took precedence over international rights and commitments, and if the legislative reforms would be only partial.
The slow process of domesticating the Convention in Nigeria’s national legislation was delaying women’s rightful enjoyment of their human rights, experts stated. Noting that the situation of Nigerian women did not require gradual, but fast and radical change, the expert from the Republic of Korea, commenting on the recent acquittal of women in danger of being stoned to death for adultery, said it was the Government’s obligation to ensure that states did not have those discriminatory laws in the first place. The acquittals were not, in her view, a question of “celebration”, but of shame.
Responding to experts’ comments, Rita Akpan, Nigeria’s Minister for Women Affairs, noted that the Government had taken some concrete steps to realize its commitments under the Convention. Recent examples included the passage, in 2003, of the Trafficking in Persons Law Enforcement and Administration Act and the Child Rights Act. Acknowledging the slow pace of domesticating the Convention, she added that although Nigeria had ratified the Convention in 1985, during the time of the military government, it had been taboo to discuss the Convention. With the start of a democratic process, she believed that it would not be long before the Convention was fully implemented in Nigeria’s legislation.
Nigeria’s ratification of the Convention without reservation had been a big step and big responsibility, the Committee’s Chairperson and expert from Turkey, Ayse Feride Acar, said in closing remarks. Recalling that many references had been made to diversity, she stressed that, while cultural, ethnic and religious diversity should be celebrated as a source of richness, diversity could not be allowed to function as an impediment to the recognition and enjoyment of the human rights of women. She urged the Nigerian Government to take proactive and creative measures to ensure that diversity did not pose as “cover” for human rights violations.
Also participating in Nigeria’s delegation were: N.E. Ndekhedehe, Chargé d’Affairs, a.i.; Binta Hassan, Director, Women Affairs, Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs; C.W. Wigwe, Minister, Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations; F.E. Idoko, Minister, Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations; A.A. Sonaike, Minister Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations; Muhammed Tawfiq Ladan, Adviser; F.K. Yakubu, Deputy Director, Women’s Affairs, Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs; F.V. Aiyedun, Minister Counsellor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ngozi Jipreze, Legal Adviser, Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs; Carol Arinze-Umobi, Adviser; Sharon Omowunmi Oladiji, Adviser; Rebecca Sako John, Adviser; Saudatu Mahdi Shehu, Adviser; Nkoyo Toyo, Adviser; Saka Azimazi, Adviser; and Funke Oladipo, Anietie T. Offong, Ifeoma G. Anyanwu, Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 21 January at 10 a.m. to take up the report of Germany on women in that country.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the situation of women in Nigeria. Before the Committee was Nigeria’s combined fourth and fifth periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/NGA/405), submitted in compliance with the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Nigeria ratified the Convention in 1985 and signed the Optional Protocol in 1999. The present report highlights developments in the advancement of Nigerian women during the period 1994 to 2002.
According to the report, while Nigeria’s Constitution provided for freedom from discrimination, traditional practices in many states of the Federation specify customary gender roles. Some progress has been made since 1998 in the promotion of women and the elimination of discrimination, however. Regarding political appointments at the federal level, some 13.6 per cent of ministers are female and 27 per cent of permanent secretaries are women. Women also head a number of national institutions and agencies. The emergence of a female presidential candidate in 2003 is another significant development. Major gains have also been made in the area of judicial appointments. Most of Nigeria’s 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) judiciaries now have women as High Court Judges, accounting for about 30 per cent of the total number of judges in the country.
The report goes on to say that various socio-cultural, economic, political, legal and religious practices have hindered the promotion and protection of women’s rights in Nigeria. In the northern part of the country, while some provisions of the State Sharia Criminal Laws have not checked discrimination against women, other provisions of the same laws do protect women’s rights. For example, Section 239 of the Zamfara State Sharia Penal Code Law 2000 punishes traffickers in women. In the southern part of Nigeria, numerous customary laws and practices, such as widowhood rites, women’s inheritance and succession to property, impede the promotion of women’s rights.
The report notes several recent cases in which the court of appeals declared three customs in the Enugu and Anambra states as discriminatory against women. They include: Theresa Onwo v. Nwafor Oko and 12 others; Augustine Mojekwu v. Caroline Mojekwu; Mojekwu v. Ejikeme, and Alajemba Uke and Anor v. Albert Iro.
Other discriminatory laws and policies in Nigeria are found in the provisions of the Nigeria Police Regulations and Nigerian tax laws and policies, the report continues. Taxation of women in the public sector is still based on the premise that married women have no family responsibilities and are maintained by men. In cases that both men and women work, men are entitled to tax relief for children and dependents, whereas women are not. Certain provisions of the 1999 Constitution are also discriminatory, including in the areas of language and citizenship.
Most of Nigeria’s states have enacted laws to eliminate discrimination against women, the report adds, including laws related to widowhood practices and female genital mutilation, prohibition of early marriage, education and trafficking in women and children. There are also provisions for legal aid to assist women, particularly poor women. Legal assistance in the case of Safiya Hussein, who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, enabled her appeal against the trial judgment to the Sokoto State Sharia of Appeal, which overturned the lower court’s judgment.
Highlighting several positive developments, the report notes that in 2000, the Government established its National Policy on Women. The National Policy provides for affirmative action to increase to 30 per cent the total women’s representation in the legislative and executive branches of Government and in political party hierarchies. The overall goal of the National Policy includes mainstreaming gender perspectives in all policies and programmes based on a systematic gender analysis at all levels of Government.
Another Government initiative has been the establishment of the National Consultative and Coordinating Committee for monitoring the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the African Plan of Action, the report states. To increase women’s participation in politics, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Youth Development (FMWAYD) established the National Action Committee on Women in Politics, which is working to develop strategies for the effective mobilization and participation of women to register, vote, and be candidates in the next electoral process. Legislation for the domestic application of the Convention is before Nigeria’s National Assembly.
On the issue of gender roles and stereotypes, the report notes that, while the advancement of women has been curtailed by certain cultural, traditional and religious practices, modern education and a greater understanding of the women’s productive and reproductive roles have led to the gradual elimination of such beliefs. Urbanization has also helped to reduce traditional practices that discriminate against women, by providing jobs to women, especially in the informal sector, thus enhancing their economic independence. The recent introduction of the Sharia Criminal Law in some states of the Federation, however, has slowed down progress in those states.
Sexual exploitation on a commercial basis has become a serious problem in Nigeria, the report states. Several measures have been put in place to suppress exploitation and trafficking in women, including legislation, the creation of safe houses and the censorship of pornographic films. Despite the existence of laws, however, those involved in trafficking of women are rarely apprehended and prosecuted. The gains from the trade provide a strong incentive for traffickers who bribe and subvert weak law enforcement and immigration officers while taking advantage of Nigeria’s porous borders.
Concerning employment, the report notes that although there are no manifest discriminatory practices against women in recruitment and employment, “the reality is that Nigerian women are far from enjoying equal rights in the labour market due mainly to their heavy burden of domestic work, lower levels of educational attainment, biases against women’s employment in certain sectors of the economy or stereotypes at the workplace and discriminatory welfare packages”.
While there are no disparities in taxation for male and female workers, women are required to provide proof of their custodianship of children and dependents, the report explains. Although spouses and families of men in management-level jobs are entitled to medical treatment, spouses and families of women are not entitled to medical treatment by their employers. Women account for only a very small proportion of the formal-sector workforce in Nigeria.
According to the report, some 90 per cent of registered land and properties are in men’s names. A triple system of marriage laws in Nigeria, namely, customary, Islamic and statutory, has resulted in a numerous legal provisions and precedents regarding property rights and inheritance. Women are often unable to enforce property rights in a court of law due to ignorance of such rights, lack of financial security and the fear of antagonizing in-laws. Out of the six geopolitical zones on the country, the south-east and south-south zones traditionally do not allow women to own land and other properties.
The practice of patriarchy negatively affects the value culturally conferred on womanhood in Nigeria, the report says. Socially speaking, married women are better respected because of their husband’s protection. Under customary law, however, wives remain as slaves to their husbands and in-laws. Widows in southern and eastern parts of Nigeria have no protection, and their rights are seriously abused. Under the Sharia legal system, widows are accorded more rights. If their husbands die, they are allowed an in-house compulsory mourning period of four months and 10 days to determine whether they are pregnant. After the compulsory mourning period, if found not pregnant, women are free to remarry. Widows under the Sharia law inherit their husband’s properties together with their children.
In most communities, the report adds, a divorced or separated woman is despised regardless of the circumstances. The woman is stigmatized and becomes socially vulnerable, especially in the eastern part of the country. In northern Nigeria, separated or divorced women can marry after three months and usually do. While the marriage age in southern Nigeria is between the ages of 18 and 21, in the north it is between the ages of 12 and 15. In the Northern part of the country, girls as young as nine years, depending on the onset of puberty, are allowed to marry.
Introduction of Report
Introducing her country’s report, RITA AKPAN, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Nigeria, noted several positive developments there, including the establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, an increase in school attendance rates for girls and higher literacy rates for women, an increase in the number of women in decision-making positions and the provision of social amenities and infrastructure for rural women. Challenges included cultural stereotypes, inadequate legal frameworks and limited measures to address obligations under the Convention. Positive changes were taking place at various levels within different zones affecting different actors, institutions, systems and the three tiers of Government, namely federal, state and local government. Some concrete progress had been made by the Government in realizing its commitments under the Convention.
The Convention was currently before Nigeria’s National Assembly for appropriate legislation, she said. The surge in cases of trafficking in persons had resulted in the passage of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act in 2003. To ensure the protection of the rights of Nigerian children, especially the girl-child, the Nigerian Government had passed into law the Child Rights Act of 2003. A National Bill on Violence against Women was receiving the attention of the National Assembly. With the work of the Ministry of Women Affairs and the synergy between Government and civil society, the negative perceptions arising from the adoption and implementation of the Sharia criminal law system was gradually being eroded.
Several instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, provided for the promotion and protection of women’s civil, political, social, economic, cultural and developmental rights in Nigeria, she said. Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution guaranteed everyone the right to freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex. The recent National Policy on Women, adopted by the Government in 2000, provided for affirmative action to increase to 30 per cent the total representation of women in the legislative and executive arms of Government, as well as the political party hierarchies. The policy was a significant way to redirect public policies to promote gender equality. The increase in the number of women appointed to decision-making levels reflected the administration’s resolve to achieve those goals.
She said most states had enacted laws to eliminate discrimination, including laws on widowhood practices, female genital mutilation and the prohibition of early marriage. The celebrated cases of Safiya Hussein and Amina Lawal, who were sentenced to death by stoning for adultery by the Sharia Courts in Sokoto and Katsina states, were acquitted following the receipt of widely based legal assistance afforded them by civil society organizations in collaboration with government agencies.
The 2000 National Policy on Women was another expression of the Government’s commitment to the integration of women into national development, she continued. The policy was expected to consolidate salient revolutionary changes already stimulated by the Women Development Programmes. In 2000, the Government established the National Consultative and Coordinating Committee for monitoring the evaluation of the Beijing Platform for Action. To further increase women’s participation in politics, the Ministry of Women affairs and Youth Development established the National Action Committee on Women in Politics. A National Women’s Rally was held to mark the 2002 International Women’s Day.
She said state governments and non-governmental organizations had organized seminars, workshops and other activities for promoting the rights of women and eliminating discrimination. Currently, the National Centre for Women Development in collaboration with other partners, were collating all the discriminatory laws and practices affecting women with a view to amending or repealing them. The enthronement of democratic governance had been characterized by greater commitment to work on the implementation of the Convention’s provisions. In addition to the Constitution, a spate of legislation enacted in the State Houses of Assembly within the past four years had all targeted the elimination of discrimination against women. The pioneering role of a Supreme Court Judge in the case of Mojekwu V. Ejikeme in citing the Convention as a standard to be followed was being encouraged, and it was expected that more courts would learn to invoke its spirit.
The Federal Ministry of Justice was taking steps to repeal Penal Code provisions and other related laws that discriminated against women, she said. Interventions were being made in the areas of wife chastisement, wife inheritance and wife and female succession to property. The Federal Ministry of Women and Youth Development operated a Legal Aid Centre at the National Centre for Women Development.
The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Youth Development was charged with the responsibility of pursuing policies to accord women their full rights to participate in the economic, social and political spheres. Among the bodies set up to advance women was the National Action Committee on Women in Politics. That Committee was charged with mainstreaming women into active political life through advocacy, mobilization and fund raising. Other significant activities included the setting up of family law centres in some states by the coalition of non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations; combating trafficking in women and children; providing education and promoting women development issues; and sponsoring draft bills on discrimination against women.
There was increased awareness of the needs of the girl-child who, caught in a societal cultural web, suffered deep-rooted and wide-ranging discriminatory practices in addition to limited access to education, she added. Among measures taken in that regard was the Universal Free Basic Education programme, which, though not restricted to girls, provided for compulsory education for all children from primary to junior secondary school levels.
She said that, during the reporting period, several measures were taken to position women’s role and activities in the National Economic agenda, the National Poverty Eradication Programme and, most recently, the Poverty Reduction Strategies Programme. Those programmes upheld affirmative action by earmarking 30 per cent allocations for women. Efforts were being made to engender the national budget and to generate and analyse data on women’s activities in the informal sector.
In terms of women’s political participation, she said attempts had been made to increase that in both political and public life. Upon launching “Women’s money for women’s election”, a programme entitled “Agenda 2003” was also launched by a coalition of women non-governmental organizations to raise funds for women political aspirants. Similarly, several registered political parties had made positive concessions to encourage women’s participation in politics. The ruling People’s Democratic Party had introduced a waiver of the mandatory registration/nomination fees for women aspiring to elective post on the party’s platform. The All Nigerian Peoples Party declared that, in the event of a tie between a male and female candidate during the primary elections, the male candidate would step down for the female.
In the area of health, the Government had made significant progress on adolescent health by approving the National Policy for Women, she said. Further measures could be found in the National Policies on Reproductive Health, Nutrition, HIV/AIDS and Education. Foremost among the policies in the health sector relevant to reproductive health was the National Health Care Policy and Strategy, which emphasized primary health care as the key to the development of the health-care system in Nigeria. Several of its provisions, if strictly implemented, would lead to improved access to basic health services, including reproductive services.
Noting that the Government had also formulated the National Food and Nutrition Policy, she said that policy aimed to address major nutritional problems, with a view to reducing undernutrition and to reduce cases of severe and moderate malnutrition in children under five years of age by 30 per cent by 2010. The policy also sought to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, particularly iodine deficiency disorders, vitamin A deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia by 50 per cent of current levels, also by 2010. Although there was not yet a comprehensive national study on mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS, initiatives to prevent that were contained in the National Policy on HIV/AIDS. Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Women and Youth Development, in collaboration with relevant partners, was involved in advocacy and enlightenment programmes to educate rural women.
She said that other special measures to promote gender equality included the limited establishment of day-care centres and crèches within office premises and hospitals, in order to help women cope with their families and official responsibilities. In another area, the Government, both at the national and state levels, had taken steps, including legislation, to combat harmful traditional practices against women. Those laws mainly concerned female genital mutilation, and early marriage and widowhood practices. Those steps had been complemented by sustained sensitization and advocacy programmes, resulting in a modest decline of those harmful practices.
Also, she said, several measures had been put in place to suppress all forms of trafficking in women and children, and the exploitation of women for prostitution. Those included the adoption of a law on trafficking, and other laws and policies prohibiting trafficking, sexual abuse and prostitution, and partnership building between the Nigerian Police, Immigration and Interpol for border surveillance. Apart from those interventions at the governmental level, pressures from women’s groups and non-governmental organizations served to sensitize the population on the negative effects of such activities.
Overall, in order to “stem the tide of the scandalous trade in women and sexual exploitation, which had done great harm to Nigeria’s image abroad”, much had been done within the past four years to expose the “nefarious traffic” in women and children, she said. Substantial efforts had been undertaken to raise awareness among parents and other major stakeholders on the dangers of succumbing to the enticement offered by traffickers. She cited, in particular, the recent adoption of the bill on trafficking by the National Assembly. Also, the President had recently appointed a Special Assistant on Human Trafficking and Child Labour. In addition, agreements had been signed with various institutions, organizations and governments, in combating that scourge.
Despite many problems, she said that significant changes in the status and quality of women’s employment had occurred. That was owed to, among other factors: a current review of labour laws/acts with due consideration to gender; advocacy for implementation of affirmative action; the National Poverty Eradication Programme, which provided training for both men and women; vocational skill training provided by the Women Development Centres Nationwide; and research and documentation by the National Centre.
Measures had also been put in place to ensure women’s economic and social empowerment, she said. Those included: the provision of microcredit; establishment of women’s cooperative societies in rural areas; establishment of skills-acquisition centres throughout the states; establishment of three pilot cottage industries; pilot projects on modern bee keeping farming; the setting of targets for women’s economic advancement in the National Economic Policy; advocacy and sensitization workshops and training; and initiation of accounting for women’s work in the gross domestic product by National Planning Commission.
In closing, she reiterated that the Nigerian Government was committed and ready to implement measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women, to undertake measures to ensure women’s participation in and access to the media and information and communication technology, as an instrument for their advancement and empowerment.
Expert’s Comments, Questions
Committee Chairperson, AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert from Turkey, thanked the large delegation for its report and expressed appreciation for the presence of the Minister for Women Affairs. She acknowledged the many efforts undertaken by her Government to implement the Convention. Nigeria’s ratification of the Convention without reservation had been a big step, but that was also a very big responsibility. She welcomed the Government’s efforts to step up efforts to implement the treaty fully. In that context, she welcomed the efforts towards enactment of a national bill on violence against women, as well as efforts to erode the negative consequences of harmful traditional practices and penal laws that contravened the Convention.
She said she expected such changes to take place “sooner than later”, and she looked forward to the Government’s demonstration of its political will through concrete action and results. She urged it to consider ratification of the Optional Protocol, which would further ensure the effective implementation of the Convention’s principles in Nigeria, “bringing these provisions home to real women”. The Committee also hoped that the Government would also ratify the amendment to article 20.1, which would allow further meeting time to the Committee so that implementation worldwide could be more effectively monitored.
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, noted that some 19 years had elapsed since the Government’s ratification of the Convention. Only now, it was in the process of domestication of that instrument. Why had such a long period elapsed and would it be only certain provisions of the Convention to which national legislation would conform?
HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, expressed concern about implementation of the announced changes. Harmonizing the legal system was complicated by customary, religious and common-law practices. Did the Government intend to adopt uniform laws with respect to marriage and family? Would diversity take precedence over international rights and commitments, and would the legislative reforms be only partial? When a law or bill was enacted at the state level, what was the process of its adoption and promulgation?
HEISOO SHIN, Vice-Chairperson and expert from the Republic of Korea, also asked why the process had been so slow. The situation of women in Nigeria did not require gradual improvement, but “fast change” in every way. Concerning a celebration over the acquittal of women in danger of being stoned to death, was it not the obligation of the federal Government that the states not have those discriminatory laws in the first place? She added that that was not a question of celebration but of shame.
Also, what was the timetable for repealing or amending the discriminatory laws, of which there were so many? The bill on violence against women was now pending in the Assembly, she said. Meanwhile, what were the measures to protect women from abuse, battery, sexual assault, rape, and so forth? Given that there were only a few safe homes for women, did they need to wait until the bill passed and the policies were in place before they could get some relief?
NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, said that given the size of the country, its African neighbours attached high importance to its actions. What was the comprehensive strategy to deal with traditions? Concerning the Islamic Sharia, she said, “I am a Muslim and I belong to a Muslim country, but I find it extremely weird and bizarre the way the Islamic Sharia is being applied in certain regions in Nigeria”. The Sharia was known for its progressive nature. How did the federal Government envisage using it, in order to best guarantee women’s rights?
GORAN MELANDER, expert from Sweden, said he had the impression that Nigeria was involved in a battle against stereotypical attitudes. There were many development projects, both bilateral and with United Nations agencies. Would it be possible for the United Nations agencies and other governments to be more active in that battle and to assist Nigeria? Would it be possible, for instance, for various programmes to be conditional on gender sensitivity to achieve equality? Enacting new legislation was slow in Nigeria. The bill on domesticating the Convention, for example, had been in the National Assembly for quite some time. When would it finally be adopted?
Ms. AKPAN, responding to the domestication of the Convention, said what Nigeria had gone through was well known. Nigeria had ratified the Convention in 1985. It had had a chequered system of government. Respect for human rights and women’s issues did not mean anything to a military government. It was not until a democratic government had been established that the domestication of the Convention had been discussed. While the issue had been under consideration for four years, she did not believe that it would be long. Civil society was very much on the side of the Government. That had not been the case before. During the time of the military government, it had been taboo to discuss the Convention. With the death of the military government a democratic process had been started, and she was certain that it would not be long before the domestication of the Convention was completed.
Also commenting on the issue of the Convention’s domestication in Nigeria’s national law, a member of the delegation said it was true that military rule had not provided an opportunity for the speedy domestication of the Convention. Nigeria’s Constitution provided for a procedure that must be followed. In the case of the Convention, the federal Government was obligated to consult the states. In that context, the process required two levels of consultation, including consultation by the local government. The federal Government had made it a matter of political commitment to ensure that the Convention’s implementation was before the National Assembly.
Addressing the issue of citizenship of married women under the Constitution, another delegate noted that the provisions of the Constitution did discriminate against women. Current efforts by the National Assembly and federal Government to amend discriminatory provisions of the Constitution were under way. The current thinking of Nigeria’s judicial system was that the Convention was the standard for deciding on laws that were discriminatory.
A representative said the federal Government had set up committees to harmonize laws on marriage. Women married under civil law were entitled to certain advantages and had equal custody rights. The Government had established machinery with its partners to unify the laws and find a lasting solution to ensure that once married, women were controlled by one single law.
Regarding the slow process of the Convention’s domestication, another representative said the Constitution had allowed the federal Government to enact laws for the implementation of treaties -- a cumbersome process. Legislation was not just adopted by the National Assembly but by two thirds of the states of the federation. The process had to be handled in that way, as women’s issues were not on the exclusive legislative list.
On the issue of the tripartite sources of law in Nigeria, another delegate said that question required a bit of history. Nigeria was different in terms of its composition and structure. In the Northern part of the country, Islamic law prevailed, whereas customary law existed in the southern part of the country. Customary laws had existed in the country since colonization, and following that, common law had become the third system of law there. At independence, Nigeria had tried to allow the coexistence of the three systems of law. At some point, people were governed on personal law issues by their own customary or Islamic law. Since the Anima Lawal case, the centre of Islamic legislation and studies was in the process of harmonizing the principles of Sharia law. She did not see a situation where the country would move away from recognition of diversity to a one-law system. Rather, as challenges emerged, the country would seek ways of harmonizing its laws.
It was not possible to outline a timetable for repealing discriminatory laws in concrete terms, she said. Elected members of the National Assembly ran their own systems. Much pressure had been placed on members of the National Assembly to repeal discriminatory laws. Unfortunately, in the April 2003 elections, several members of the National Assembly that were supportive of the process had not been re-elected. One person alone could not address the process, which required engagement on the part of many. The law was before the National Assembly. The process of legal recognition was ongoing.
Concerning questions about the marriage age, a representative of Nigeria said that that Government had been able to put through, and the Assembly had been able to enact, a law in the framework of its child rights legislation, which declared that the legal marriage age was 18. In terms of equality of partners in marriage, diversities informed the stereotypes and cultural inhibitions, and equality in marriage would be considered in the bill before the National Assembly on violence against women.
In the current constitutional reforms, the Government’s position was that citizenship for women married to non-Nigerian citizens had been recommended. What remained was the question of the transfer of national citizenship of a woman to her spouse. The whole process of harmonization had been admittedly very slow, but it was under way. A lot of sensitization was still required.
Regarding the relationship between the federal and state levels of government in terms of promulgating laws on certain subjects, another representative said the report had clearly provided data on the hierarchy and the relationship between those two levels of government. The Constitution had yet to declare a particular law promulgated by a state to be unconstitutional, and null and void. Unless that question was actually challenged in court, the federation would assume that that action of a state in promulgating a law had been within its legislative competence.
Another representative agreed with the expert that the principles of Islamic law did not discriminate against women. She looked forward to codification of Islamic personal law, which would protect women, pending the harmonization and standardization of some practices of procedure, evidence, and so forth. Continued sensitization of the populace on the need for the strict application of Islamic law would result in its compatibility with the Convention.
Experts’ Questions, Comments
MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Cuba, asked if there were any guidelines in the training programmes aimed at the education sector. That was a very important area for influencing and changing patterns of behaviour. Also, had any work been done in that regard with the mass media? Some ideological work should be done on a systematic basis to eradicate those practices that were harmful to women, such as female genital mutilation, punishment of the wife, inheritance, violence against women, and arranged marriages for young girls. As the report had stated, practices persisted that “run counter to nature”. Several laws had been enacted, but without awareness and a commitment to enforce them, nothing would be done.
Moreover, she said, there were still several laws that should be enacted to make the authorities more aware of the contributions they could make. There was still considerable resistance to change. What was the Government proposing to reverse that?
SALMA KAHN, expert from Bangladesh, asked about implementation mechanism and impact of national policy on women. She also asked whether the National Centre for Women and Development was an independent body or an entity under the federal Ministry of Women and Youth. She had learned that the National Policy on Women had tried to codify customary laws and put them in place. Had that really meant that the various customary laws had been harmonized so as to remove the discriminatory practices? How was that coordination being maintained to implement the National Policy? With respect to gender budgeting, had that been done only at the federal level? Did the education and health ministries offer women part of the federal budget, or only the state budget?
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, sought some details on the process of constitutional review, in terms of the composition of the committee and its terms of reference. It was very important that that exercise entailed a very thorough review of all provisions, rather than a piecemeal exercise that might be limited only to incorporation of the Convention, she said.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said that once the Convention was domesticated, it would have the status of federal law. Did that mean that the judiciary would have the power to annul any federal law or constitutional provision, or state law, which might contravene the Convention? It was encouraging that Nigeria had been among the first signatories of the Optional Protocol, but when did it plan to ratify it? he asked.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, said it had been encouraging that a representative of the Nigerian parliament had been present at a meeting held in Geneva last fall at the initiative of the inter-Parliamentary Union, at which the role of parliaments in implementing the Women’s Convention had been discussed. Did the Minister intend to involve parliamentarians in the drafting of the next report? It was urgent for the Convention to be respected and for a number of discriminatory laws against women to be abolished. So far, it seemed that the parliamentarians had not been made sufficiently aware of the requirements of the Convention. Parliamentarians had a decisive role to play. Also, the Government must be mobilized to combat, de jure and de facto, the violence against Nigerian women, which often had a considerable impact on their lives and their health.
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked if the federal Government was committed to having control over customary laws. Did the Government have any ways or means of controlling customary laws? Did the Government want to see codified law within the provisions of the Convention? Some 85 per cent of Nigeria’s poverty eradication programmes concerned men, she noted. Was the important question of the distributing the opportunities of that programme regulated by law? Regarding the new violence against women act, would the right of men to chastise their wives with violence be eliminated by that new law?
Prostitution and trafficking was a tragic phenomenon among Nigerian women, she added. Did Nigeria have a holistic programme for preventing women from entering into prostitution, as well as for their rehabilitation and reintegration? She wanted to make sure that prostitutes were not treated as criminals.
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, the expert from Germany, on the domestication of the Convention, noted that because the issue of women was not on the legislative list, the process of domestication seemed to be more complicated. Why were women’s issues not on the legislative list? Given the fact Nigeria was a large federal State, were there institutional mechanisms to ensure uniformity of human rights protections within the country? How did the federal level of Government ensure the uniformity of non-discrimination legislation within the country? Also, was the entire Convention becoming legislation or just elements of the Convention?
FUMIKO SAIGA, the expert from Japan, also addressed the domestication of the Convention, including the matter of the legislative list. While the bill on violence against women was in Parliament, what did that mean if gender issues were not included on the legislative list?
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, the expert from Portugal, asked for clarification on the process of collating discriminatory legislation. Was there a timeframe for the programmes to eliminate harmful traditional practices, including female genital mutilation? Regarding the re-engineering of laws by courts on human rights issues, were there specific actions to sensitize judges on the Convention? She also asked for more information on the woman’s political agenda presented by non-governmental organizations to the Government in 2002.
Regarding the domestication process and legislative lists, a member of the delegation said that after the ratification of the Convention in 1985 it had become a legally binding instrument on the nation. As Nigeria had a dualist legal system, the Convention must be incorporated into Nigerian law. The exercise would give the Convention legal status both as an international legal instrument and as domestic law. Nigerian courts were free to use the provision of the Convention in arriving at solutions to questions. Treaties ratified by Nigeria were automatically justifiable in the courts. When there was a conflict between treaties and customary, Islamic or other domestic laws, the provision of the treaty prevailed. Short of domestication, there was no law at present that provided that the Convention could be directly invoked by any Nigerian court. However, the courts were not precluded from taking the Convention into consideration in deciding matters of equality.
On the issue of women’s issues on the legislative list, he pointed out that the issue of women was not on the exclusive legislative list. It was not that women’s issues were not on the list, but they were not on the exclusive list. Any issue before a Nigerian court would provide an opportunity for the courts to look at the constitutionality of a law. The Optional Protocol had been signed in 1999 but not yet ratified. The same procedure was being followed, as it was regarded as a treaty. Once ratified, it would pass through the same process of ratification.
The women’s’ political agenda had been set out by a women’s group of non-governmental organizations prior to the 2003 election and was a permanent programme, another delegate said. A committee to monitor the process of women in politics had been established. That programme was sponsored by the Government. Out of that programme had come the ruling that every political party had to waive the registration fee for women so that they had a level ground to enter into politics. In 2007, the programme would still be in place, and it had a wide range of implications in six zones in the Federation. The programme was supported by the Government.
Regarding the National Policy on Women, that document had been developed with the input of the various sectors, she said. It contained certain sectoral responsibilities, each with a definite role. The document had been signed into law in 2000. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was trying to identify certain gaps in the report. The National Centre for Women’s Development was collating discriminatory laws. It was not the centre that amended the laws, however.
Taking up the issue of violence against women, a representative said there was no set timetable for repealing discriminatory laws. That was subject to the calendar of the legislature, and the level of government will and of civil society support. The bill on violence against women had been put together by a coalition of more than 55 non-governmental organizations, with the active participation of the federal Ministry of Women Affairs. That bill defined discrimination, in line with the convention. It also provided for appropriate action by police officers in cases of outright violation of a woman’s bodily integrity. And, the bill defined the age of marriage as 18. It also sought to allow orders of protection to women during “regimes of abuse”.
In the interim, she said that human rights training and sensitization for judges and police was under way. Efforts were in place for women police desks in the police stations where most violations were being reported, as first “ports of call”. There was also sustained sensitization under way on the need for violence against women to be on “the front burner” of the country’s reorientation of the power relations between men and women.
Another representative added that certain reforms had been approved for school curricula, which were now being implemented. Regarding the constitutional review, shortly after the return to civil rule in 1999, the President had set up a task force to review the 1999 Constitution. The subsequent report included input from civil society, and members of the presidential task force travelled the country for input on aspects they wanted included in the constitutional review. During that process, input had also been made by women’s rights organizations.
Now, the National Assembly had set up another committee to work on the review, she noted. There was no timeframe for its work, as it was understood that that was a cumbersome process. State houses of the Assembly also had to do their part before recommendations were debated on the house floor.
Shedding more light on the point that when women married under the customary laws, they were made slaves to their husbands and brothers-in-law, another representative said that a woman who was married under those laws was exposed to several debilitating factors. For example, she could be divorced for having born only female children, or for being disrespectful to her brothers-in-law. She was unable to inherit anything from her own father if she was from the south-east, but she could inherit if she was from the south-west. The Government had decided to look into such laws, with a view to codifying them and removing all discriminatory practices, she said.
In response to the question about whether the report was before the parliament, another representative said that the answer was “categorically, yes”. All senators and members of the house of representatives knew about the report.
Another representative said that the Nigerian Government, by an act of parliament in 1995, had established the national women’s rights commission. Part of its mandate was to ensure implementation of Nigeria’s human rights obligations. In so doing, the National Human Rights Commission had implemented its mandate without recourse to gender division and had ensured that any complaint or allegation of violation of human rights against men or women would be taken up on an equal basis. Apart from that, there was also legal aid for indigent persons, which gave preference to women who had suffered violence or were in jail. There was also a public complaints commission, or an ombudsman, which ensured equitable treatment in the workplace.
Experts’ Comments, Questions
DORCAS AMA FREMA COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said it seemed that there was an urgent need for research on the factors that inhibited women’s full participation in politics and public life before any measures could be adopted to redress that imbalance. In its response, the Government had stated that corrective measures had been put in place to achieve 30 per cent participation through affirmative action. Exactly what were those measures and, in terms of strategies, how had the Government hoped to achieve 30 per cent participation through affirmative action? she asked.
Regarding recruitment into the foreign service, she noted that the response had been that any time a recruiting exercise took place, efforts were made to ensure that a certain percentage of available vacancies were reserved exclusively for women. Exactly what was that percentage? she asked.
CHRISTINE KAPALATA, Rapporteur and expert from United Republic of Tanzania, said there was ample evidence that the Government was seriously trying to implement the Convention. Special attention had also been paid to the concluding comments of the Committee at its nineteenth session. At the same time, she expressed serious concern at the unequal treatment of women Foreign Service officers. It seemed that there was no tangible reason why spouses of Foreign Service officers should be denied the opportunity to serve abroad. With 100 Nigerian missions abroad, that curtailed their career development and denied Nigerian women an opportunity for advancement. Was there a quota system for Nigerian women in the Foreign Service? she asked.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that, in federated states, progress for women had been much slower than in states where there was a constitution and justice system. Thus, she congratulated the Government on its achievements during the rebirth of democracy. Several of her questions had already been asked and answered, but she wanted to know if, as the courts were a source of law, wouldn’t the solution be to appoint a considerable number of women in all states of the Federation to be sources for the law and to give effect to the Convention? She also strongly encouraged the Government to ensure that more women were included on electoral ballots.
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, recalling that the elections had been held in April 2003, said that the report indicated that there were now 13 women in the Chamber of Representatives. What did that figure represent in terms of percentage? She also noted that a level of 35 per cent had been set in the electoral process, but that was merely a goal and not a requirement. Much progress in that regard had been achieved in African countries and, in fact, one of them was ahead of Sweden in terms of the numbers of women in parliament.
A representative of the delegation noted one expert’s commendation regarding how much Nigeria had achieved. The issue of international law was the exclusive preserve of the National Assembly. In terms of the number of women in the judiciary, there was a large number at the state level, but women were not represented in the Supreme Court.
Regarding the percentage of women in Foreign Service, another representative said the Government was aiming at 50 per cent representation. The current level was still at 30 per cent. A quota system for recruiting two officers per state did exist, and qualified women candidates were recruited. At the time of the last recruitment in 2001, of the 72 Foreign Service officers recruited, 20 were women and there had been definite progress. The federal Government was making all efforts to encourage women to join the Foreign Service.
On the prohibition of work abroad by spouses of Foreign Service officers, he said the married Foreign Service officer was paid an extra rate to take care of the spouse not working abroad. The provision on working abroad depended on the laws of the receiving State and reform of the Foreign Service had to be carried on a bilateral basis. Many women shied away from the foreign service for fear that their husbands would not be able to accompany them. In 2001, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had looked at the regulations and how they affected the morale of officers and their families. The recommendation was to approach countries bilaterally regarding work in their territories. Canada had come up with such a proposal.
On the question of the low-level women’s participation, 24 out of 360 representatives in the lower house of the National Assembly were women, and there were three out of 109 in the Senate. During the 2003 elections, several strategies were in place to address the issue of representation. Civil society work had increased women’s involvement and intensive discussion had taken place across the country in the time leading up to the election. A committee had been set up by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to mobilize awareness within state institutions to apply the 30 per cent affirmative action policy. The 30 per cent representation was a policy, however, and not a binding requirement. While policies had persuasive value, they were not binding. Affirmative action was not binding on the political parties.
Ms. AKPAN said the present administration encouraged women to take part in politics and employment. As of 2002, only 11 countries had implemented the 30 per cent quota. Countries worked toward that goal -- it did not happen over night. The most important ministry in Nigeria, the Ministry of Finance, was headed by two women. Nigeria was working towards the 30 per cent benchmark and had the necessary political will and commitment to reach it.
Addressing the issue of education, Mr. FLINTERMANN, the expert from the Netherlands, asked what the Government intended to do to enlighten the public on the right of girls and children to education? Was there a policy to remove the obstacles to education for girls and women?
ROSARIO MANALO, the expert from the Philippines, asked what other instruments aside from provisions of the various laws had the Government adopted to remove cultural practices that obstructed girls’ right to education. Was there a programme for girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy? What programmes had been implemented to monitor the effect of education on the girl child? She also asked for clarification on unity schools and how they protected the girl child from discrimination. How was the Government addressing the low level of female teachers?
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, the expert from Germany, addressed the issue of rural women, noting that the report contained health indicators that were descriptive rather than statistical.
The expert from Cuba, Ms. FERRER, also addressed the issue of compulsory free education, asking how the Government planned to counter a general mindset regarding women and education. She noted the general perception that education was not very useful and questioned whether that view applied to both boys and girls.
Ms. KAPALATA, the expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, asked about the extent of vesico-vaginal fistula, which was a product of early delivery at an early age. What was the impact of early marriages on the education of young girls? Did the Government have strategies to eliminate early marriages by law? She asked for more information on the initiative of mother-to-child strategies regarding the provision of antiretroviral drugs.
In 1998, the Government had adopted the National Health Population, the expert from Bangladesh, Ms. KHAN, noted. She was concerned about the high rate of maternal mortality in Nigeria, as well as a low contraceptive prevalence rate and a high rate of abortion. She wondered if abortion was being used as a family-planning method. Were family-planning services available free of cost? Despite the fact that Nigeria was a resource-rich country, many were poor and lacked access to basic resources, such as water. She urged the Government to remove abortion from criminal and penal codes. Women should be given the right to terminate pregnancies.
Ms. GABR, the expert from Egypt, said the right to health was a very basic human right; however, Nigerian women started their lives with health problems. Yet, it was evident that the Government wanted to improve the health situation of women, particularly in rural areas. She asked for information on the Government’s position regarding compulsory patents to treat various forms of illness.
Ms. PATTEN, the expert from Mauritius, asked if the Government intended to review the social security system. Apart from the courts, was there a place where women could complain in cases of discrimination? She noted a gross under-funding of health structures. Since the country’s passage to a democracy, what was the trend in the Government’s expenditures for health services?
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked whether customary law allowed child marriages. Concerning participation in education, employment and political life, temporary special measures were not enough. Under the Convention, governments were expected to take certain steps, including, but not limited to, affirmative action. She urged the Government to include in its educational programmes for both girls and boys information about preventing prostitution. Boys should be encouraged to “de-learn” that practice. Society, in general, was being misled about the trauma and abuse of prostitution.
MS. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked how the Government was implementing the women’s platforms for action, which had called on governments to treat unsafe abortions as a health concern. Also, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 50 per cent of the female population of Nigeria, in 1998, were undergoing female genital mutilation. Had those figures been updated? she asked.
SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, said she fully recognized the progress made in the field of education, but she was still “a bit upset” that the Government had been unable to provide updated sex-aggregated data on total school enrolment. Results were very important, and she suggested improving the monitoring system and providing better information in the next report. Also, to what extent had the National Education Council tried to change the curricula to enable the graduates of technical and vocational schools, as well as higher education institutions, to meet the labour market requirements and enable them to obtain non-stereotypical jobs?
She said she was very satisfied with the action taken by the Government, and even the National Education Policy of 1988, which had encouraged girls to study science and technology, but it was extremely important to ensure that girls and women were given equal access to their studies. High rates of maternal illness and mortality were only one example of women’s inability to benefit from the study of science and technology. She also asked for a definition of “unity” schools for girls. She was concerned that those might perpetuate the stereotypes.
A government representative said that a child’s rights act had come into force some months ago, which echoed the requirement of compulsory free education, including for the girl child. It also stipulated that, when a female child became pregnant before completing her education, she would be given the opportunity to finish school after the birth of her child. The act also provided punishment for the marriage of a girl child, imposing a fine or imprisonment, or both.
He said there were additional complementary concrete measures to enhance the primary and secondary education of girls. Some state governments had even gone to the extent of enacting laws to encourage the retention of girls in schools and discourage their withdrawal for marriage. State governments in certain zones had established some schools for girls only, which served midday meals. The establishment of such schools and the provision of scholarships aimed to encourage girls’ attendance, he said.
Adding to that reply, the Minister said that, as far as measures to enhance the education of girls and the reproductive health system, the federal Government was “not sleeping at all”. In the present budget, 1.3 trillion naira, out of which 75 per cent was for education, health and agriculture, with particular emphasis on the girl child in the education sector and on women in the health sector. Everything had been put in place to promote girls’ education in Nigeria, to take care of women’s reproductive health, and to ensure that the women in agriculture were well taken care of.
Another delegate, responding to the question about unity schools for girls, explained that those were secondary schools attended by children, both boys and girls, from various states. In each state, there were additional federal secondary schools to enable a greater intake of girls. The curriculum was not necessarily narrowed down. Those schools provided an opportunity to “beef up” girls’ access to education. Parents were losing faith in the educational system because of the difficulty finding jobs once school was completed. Thus, the focus of secondary education was to tailor the studies towards a career.
Responding to questions about pregnancy and employment, another representative said that, with a medical certificate, pregnant women were adequately protected and could not be dismissed from their jobs. When the rights of the pregnant woman, whether employed in the private or public sector, were violated, or one was wrongly dismissed because of the pregnancy, adequate legal protections were in place, and redress could be sought from the courts. The legal aid council had also been made available by the Government to take up such cases, and several non-governmental organizations were focusing on those as well.
Concerning the social security system, another delegate said that, apart from the Constitution and the National Policy on Women, the Government had the National Economic Policy and was pursuing national poverty eradication programmes to take care of women and to deal with the social security issues.
Regarding HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, another representative said there had been a move away from the national emergency action plan with the formation of a national action committee on AIDS, which had been replicated at the state level. Also, a very extensive sensitization campaign was under way for youths and victims or potential victims, who were referred to screening centres. But, there were still some “grey” areas to be resolved with the religious institutions. Also, the national institute for pharmaceutical research provided drugs to some victims at the Government’s expense. Teaching hospitals also provided drugs to some extent.
Abortion was not used as a form of family planning, another representative of the delegation said. The issue of abortion was contentious in Nigeria. Under the law, abortion was legal as long as it was conducted in the first 12 weeks and the lives of the child or mother were endangered. There were other means of family planning, however. In each of Nigeria’s 774 local government areas there was at least one hospital with a family-planning unit, which provided free advice on family-planning options. The Family Health Care System provided basic health care for everyone, particularly those living in rural areas. Trained medical personnel were available to discuss basic medical issues.
The issue of the right to health had been taken seriously by the Government, another representative said. Measures to address health issues were not sufficient, however. For that reason, the Government was building some 200 permanent health-care centres. The issue of HIV antiretroviral drugs was another area of consideration. Women often waited for six months to two years for antiretroviral drugs because they could not afford those sold over the counter. Most states did have teaching hospitals where those drugs were available free of charge.
On maternal mortality and abortion, another delegate said the issue had been addressed in the Government’s written responses to the Committee’s queries. Reducing the level of unwanted pregnancies by 50 per cent and raising the contraceptive level were among the Government’s measures to address women’s health. Currently, numerous Government initiatives, and even faith-based programmes had resulted in the revision of the 1997 AIDS policy. A further revision of that policy in 2003 had been undertaken to ensure the epidemic was brought under control.
If there was one war that every Nigerian was fighting, it was the war against AIDS, Ms. AKPAN said. The entire Government was committed to fighting that war. The President had just last week allocated half a billion naira in the fight against HIV/AIDS. When it came to fighting AIDS, no one was asleep.
Many comments pointed to the need for statistics, especially sex-disaggregated statistics, another representative said. That was an important challenge, one which the Government would take seriously. The extent to which budgetary allocations impacted on women would be studied. Nigeria was unique in that it operated in a federal system. It was sometimes difficult to aggregate data based on what was happening at several levels of government. The three levels of government sometimes operated at the same time. For example, a hospital could be run by more than one level of government.
Regarding the issue of trafficking and prostitution, one delegate admitted that at the time of the writing of the report, data had not been available. However, the written responses stated that the current law on trafficking had been passed by the National Assembly. That act prohibited trafficking in persons and established a national agency for the prohibition of such trafficking.
The law against trafficking and child labour penalized the trafficker, not the trafficked person, another delegate noted. Someone who was trafficked was a victim, not a criminal.
Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, said that because of the military regime, the issue of women had been a challenge. While waiting for the adoption of amended or new laws, what was happening with existing legislation? Had the Government checked on how laws had been enforced since 2000? She understood that the Government did not have a calendar for legislative reforms. Since the Constitution allowed for discrimination in certain cases, what did the Government plan to do if the Convention was domesticated before the amendment of the Constitution?
AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, the expert from Mexico, said she was discouraged by the fact that no measures had been taken to respond to the Committee’s concerns in 1998 in connection with cultural traditions, such as polygamy. Such practices put the woman in a place of complete subordination to the man. In cases of customary law marriages, women were seen as a man’s property, and had no right to inherit property. Under civil law, the situation was different. In the area of family relations, the situation had not changed since 1998. Were women first-class, second-class or other-class citizens depending on their marital status?
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, said there were three kinds of laws applicable to habitation -- parliamentary, Muslim and common law. The laws adopted by parliament should conform to the Convention, but the article on marriage was being flouted under Muslim and common law. The Constitution was very precise on that matter, so was there a clear plan to require implementation of article 16, so that all matters relating to marriage and family relations would be governed in accordance with that article?
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that articles 15 and 16 raised some problems. She wanted to better understand the status of women in those three kinds of marriages. Could the woman choose her status? Could she change her status from Muslim law to common law through marriage, thereby benefiting from all of the rules and regulations governing common-law marriage? Was adoption possible under Muslim or Islamic law? What law applied to the children? In cases of divorce, what rules governed it?
On abortion, she noted that a woman who became pregnant from incest or rape could not get an abortion, but when her infant was born it was deemed out of wedlock, in which case the woman could be condemned to death. So, was it possible to enter into legislation to benefit women in that regard? Could some fairly broad legislation be introduced, which gave women more control over their lives, including for safe abortions in certain cases? She added that some control over the birth rate might be one way of combating the poverty of women.
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked for the precise status of the bill on domestication of the Convention. She also asked whether the Government or an individual member of parliament had introduced it. Was it envisaged that after domestication, the Government might ratify the Optional Protocol? Also following domestication, was there a vision of systematically screening all of the laws from the point of view of equality, and repealing the discriminatory provisions? Concerning the permission of husbands to discipline their wives, under the penal code, would the new bill on violence against women eliminate that law? She also asked about the content of relevant court cases and what sort of change those had made in women’s lives.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, returning to the issue of child marriage, said a child bride was presumed to be an adult, yet she was not allowed to vote. She congratulated the Government for prohibiting early marriage and for enacting a new chid rights act, and asked about the relationship between them.
A representative, speaking about the status of domesticating the Convention, said the bill was an executive bill presented to the National Assembly for consideration. She highlighted the Government’s desire to sort out the conflicts between constitutional law, international obligations and the diversities within the country. Until that happened, issues like domestic violence were treated as assault in the courts.
On women’s status in marriage, she said that was subject to the kind of marriage enacted, whether Muslim, customary or civil marriage. The Government was trying to harmonize all of those inconsistencies. It was possible to adopt children under Sharia law, and that was not as cumbersome a process as it was under civil law. Concerning property rights in cases of divorce, the issue of joint ownership did not exist in most Muslim marriages; that was governed under the rules of trade and agreements in Sharia law. Polygamy fell under personal law, which meant that citizens could do as they deemed fit, but the effects on women were no longer denied. In terms of the unequal power relations between a husband and wife, there was no constructive initiative to address that, as that was a matter of personal law, she said.
Replying to the question about the relationship between the Constitution and the child rights act of 2003, another representative said that the act had set the marriage age at 18 and not below. The act was in no way in conflict with the Constitution, neither in its letter or spirit and, being a federal law, its binding application at the state or local level had been debated. With respect to child marriage, however, some states believed they could still regulate that out within their legislative competencies as states.
Experts’ Comments, Questions
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, the expert from Germany, asked how the Government could ensure uniformity in legal provisions despite a plurality of legal systems and levels of government.
Ms. GNACADJA, the expert from Benin, said she was confused regarding Sharia law, which stipulated that a girl between 9 and 15 could be married, and the Child Rights Act, a federal law, which settled the marriage age at 18 years. How would that law be interpreted?
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, the expert from Ghana, said she was grateful that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was collaborating with non-governmental organizations and stressed the need to open up the process of codifying law to those organizations. She recommended that the National Policy on Women be given the necessary resources to enable it to operate. The Policy, she added, needed some “teeth” to enforce policies.
Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, asked for answers to her questions on the number of female teachers in the educational system. To what extent were women teachers in the decision-making levels of the educational system?
On Sharia law, a delegate said that while the law might allow child marriage at 9 years of age, he had not seen that happen in practice.
The point of contention remained the provision under the Constitution on the issue of citizenship, another delegate said. The Child Rights Act had brought the problem of marriage age to the forefront. The law was very clear. The Constitution was the supreme law of the land. Where there was a conflict, all subsidiary laws were null and void. Now that the marriage age had been set, people could go to the court on that basis. She was surprised to hear that there were lower levels of female teachers in schools. She recognized the point regarding the involvement of women in private schools.
Ms. AKPAN, addressing the issue of a conflict between the Child Rights Act and the Constitution, said that, before the Act had passed into law, it had gone through a lengthy process. The Ministry of Justice had gone through the Child Rights Act, as had the National Assembly. If there were any conflict, the right of the child would take precedence. She doubted, however, that there would be a conflict. Regarding the funding of the Women’s Ministry, funding of a women’s ministry was always a problem. With the backing of non-governmental organizations, lobbying was going on for the Ministry to receive the funding it needed.
Another delegate noted that it was the position of Nigerian courts that treaty laws, once domesticated, had a higher level than local legislation. If there were a contradiction between the Convention and the Constitution, the international instrument would most likely be given precedence.
Closing Statement by Committee Chair
Recalling that many references had been made by the delegation to diversity, Ms. ACAR, Chairperson and expert from Turkey, stressed in closing that, while cultural, ethnic and religious diversity should be celebrated as a source of richness, diversity could not be allowed to function as an impediment to the recognition and enjoyment of the human rights of women. If and when cultural practices, religious traditions and/or laws that contributed to that diversity also contradicted women’s human rights, there was no excuse for a ratifying State to allow that for even one day more. In other words, protecting tradition, cultural diversity and religious beliefs could not be allowed to function in a way that perpetuated human rights violations. She urged the Nigerian Government to take proactive and creative measures to ensure that diversity did not function as a “cover” for human rights violations.
Full realization of women’s human rights was a “sine qua non” for achieving a democratic society, and she said she was pleased to note the Government’s efforts to embrace cooperation with women’s non-governmental organizations and civil society in general to step up its efforts to create a democratic society. As many members had indicated, there was an urgency to implement the Convention in Nigeria to ensure women’s equality with men and elimination of discrimination, both de jure and de facto. The slow pace of implementation had emerged as a concern of several members. The need for a timetable for repealing discriminatory laws was essential. There was also a clear need for the Government to demonstrate its political will by quickly bringing legislation in line with the Convention.
She stressed that the Committee was keen on the need to ensure that domestication was taken up. She urged the Government to make sure that the international instrument it had ratified became the law of the land “in its full sense”. Even before the Convention was fully domesticated, it was important to embark on a judicial training programme to familiarize the legal community with its provisions and principles, so that a “legal culture of women’s equality and non-discrimination takes root in Nigeria”.
Concern had also been expressed about the existence of the three–pronged legal system and the difficulties encountered in bringing those elements in line with the Convention and the principles of women’s human rights. She expected to hear more concrete developments on that question in the country’s next report. The legal process, with respect to state law and the national Constitution, was also a reason for concern. There should be no tolerance for such extended legal processes. Continuation of openly discriminatory laws just sent the wrong message, and even if individual cases were “prosecutable”, that message had a destructive potential, which should be considered very seriously.
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