NIGERIA POISED TO VOTE ON BILL TO ENFORCE WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION CONVENTION AFTER INITIAL REJECTION, DELEGATION OF 73 MEMBERS TELLS MONITORING COMMITTEE

3 July 2008
WOM/1691

NIGERIA POISED TO VOTE ON BILL TO ENFORCE WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION CONVENTION AFTER INITIAL REJECTION, DELEGATION OF 73 MEMBERS TELLS MONITORING COMMITTEE

3 July 2008
General Assembly
WOM/1691
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

836th & 837th Meetings (AM & PM)

NIGERIA POISED TO VOTE ON BILL TO ENFORCE WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION CONVENTION

AFTER INITIAL REJECTION, DELEGATION OF 73 MEMBERS TELLS MONITORING COMMITTEE

Committee Experts Take Issue with Discrimination against Pregnant Women

In Workplace, Gender Pay Gap, Maternal Mortality Rate - Among Highest in World

In an effort to erase gender inequality and promote women’s empowerment nationwide, Nigeria’s National Assembly was set to vote on a draft bill that would enforce the Women’s Convention, the country’s Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development told the Committee monitoring State parties’ compliance with the Convention today.

Presenting Nigeria’s sixth periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Hajiya Saudatu Usman Bungudu said the draft legislation, titled “A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Enforcement of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Purposes Connected Therewith - 2005” was part of Nigeria’s ongoing constitutional and electoral reforms intended to ensure gender mainstreaming in the National Constitution, as well as affirmative action.  As the bill was rejected the first time it came before the National Assembly for action, the Minister was meeting with traditional rulers and religious leaders to promote its passage.

She added that Nigerian women, under the aegis of the Gender Electoral and Constitution Memoranda Committee, had recently demanded that 35 per cent of all elected Government posts be reserved for them.  And last week, they submitted to the National Electoral Reform Committee in Abuja an appeal to repeal all laws -- including the Constitution and the Electoral Act -- that militated against women’s participation in politics and their holding of elected posts.

The Minister headed a 73-member delegation, the largest ever before the Committee, which comprised Nigerian Government officials, lawmakers and representatives of non-governmental organizations and academia.  Delegates shed light today on the various ways in which Nigeria had worked in the past several years to protect the rights of women and girls in education, employment, health, the court system, the home, conflict prevention and peace promotion.

The Government had devised the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, or NEEDS, a national poverty-reduction strategy, focused particularly on the needs of women and youth.  It had also introduced human rights training for police to curb the country’s incessant violence against women, reproductive rights and maternal health education into school curricula, penalties for rapists and traffickers of women and girls, soft-credit facilities to support women’s entrepreneurship and a gender approach to tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

While lauding Nigeria’s efforts to close the gender gap, Committee experts lamented that, despite promises announced in 2004 to increase to 30 per cent the percentage of women in legislative posts, men still accounted for 90 per cent of the country’s legislature.  Moreover, not enough was being done, they said, to curb such harmful traditional customs as genital mutilation, legal wife beating and degrading widowhood practices that denied widows their inheritance and sometimes forced them out of their homes.  Gender and sexual stereotypes were the driving force behind such practices, and experts questioned Nigeria’s political will and commitment to change them.

Experts also took issue with the gender pay gap, sexual harassment and discrimination in the work place, particularly practised by the banking sector, against unmarried and pregnant women.  They criticized the proposed “public nudity” law that attempted to limit women’s rights, and insisted that more must be done to lower Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate -- the second highest in the world.  Despite efforts to scale up the health infrastructure, recruit numerous midwives and social workers, and carry out advocacy efforts in more than 100 communities at high risk for maternal mortality, experts remained concerned over the situation, which one worried had not changed since Nigeria’s fourth periodic report to the Committee some years ago.

Concerning discriminatory laws, the Government had stated its intention to repeal them, but that process was not moving forward, experts said.  As a party to the Convention, Nigeria was obligated to implement its articles without any further delay, experts urged.

The Committee will take up Iceland’s fifth and sixth periodic reports at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 July.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider Nigeria’s sixth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/NGA/6).

Headed by Hajiya Saudatu Usman Bungudu, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, the delegation comprised 72 other members, including the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, Joy Ogwu; Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette; and Advisers M.N. Ajanah, Olufunke M. Baruwa, Aisha Mahmoud, Jummai J. Idonije, Professor M.T. Ladan, Barrister Oby Nwankwo and Stella Amadi.

Introduction of Report

Presenting the report, HAJIYA SAUDATU USMAN BUNGUDA, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, said her country had ratified the Convention in 1991.  Its sixth report to the Committee covered the July 2002 to July 2006 period.  Since last reporting to the Committee in July 2004, the enabling environment created in Nigeria by the return to democratic rule had given rise to a vibrant civil society engaged in promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls, as well as preventing and eliminating discrimination against them.  Programmes had been designed to end discrimination and gender inequalities.  Federal and State women’s machinery had been very active in gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment, as had women leaders in the National Assembly.

Recently, under the aegis of the Gender Electoral and Constitution Memoranda Committee, Nigerian women had called for 35 per cent of all elected Government posts to be filled by women, she said.  Last week, in a three-volume submission to the National Electoral Reform Committee in Abuja, women also advocated the repeal of all laws -- including the Constitution and the Electoral Act -- militating against women’s participation in politics and their holding of elected posts.  The draft bill, titled “A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Enforcement of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Purposes Connected Therewith - 2005” was under consideration by the National Assembly.  The ongoing constitutional and electoral reform processes would ensure gender mainstreaming in the Constitution, as well as affirmative action, and fast track the passage of the draft bill.

The Government had introduced the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) to significantly improve the quality of life of Nigerians and create social safety nets for vulnerable groups, particularly women and youth, she continued.  NEEDS focused on four key strategies:  reorienting values; reducing poverty; creating wealth; and generating employment.  In June 2006, the Nigerian Police had created Human Rights desks in all police stations to address incessant violence against women.  Police officers also underwent human rights training to enable them to uphold women’s rights, particularly in cases concerning violence and sexual harassment.

Similarly, she said, judicial pronouncements from different courts were showing a trend towards ending arbitrary decisions concerning women’s issues.  Legal clinics had been established to provide affordable legal counsel to women, including counselling, mediation and other alternative dispute-resolution methods.  The Nigerian Government had also introduced reproductive rights and maternal health education into school curricula, with a view to increasing awareness and understanding of the issues at stake.  Temporary shelters, offering free medical treatment for female victims of domestic and sexual violence, had been set up nationwide.  Stringent measures and penalties, ranging from 2 to 14 years of imprisonment were being meted out to rapists.  Intensive grass-roots campaigns were also working to shed light on the problem.

She said that a Gender Technical Committee had been set up by a consortium of development partners, foundations, United Nations organizations and the Federal Ministry of Health.  That technical committee, in collaboration with the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), had successfully mainstreamed gender issues into the 2005-2009 HIV/AIDS National Strategic Framework for Action, which also served as a model in the West African subregion for addressing the gender dimension of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The 2003 Trafficking in Persons Law Enforcement and Administration Act had set up the crime-fighting National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters to address trafficking, particularly of women and children, she said.  The Agency had successfully prosecuted 20 human traffickers, and more than 65 other cases were pending in various courts.  More than 1,500 victims had received counselling services, 45 of whom had been fully rehabilitated and reintegrated.

Foreign service regulations applied equally to men and women, she said.  In 2001, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had recruited 24 female officers, 27 per cent of the total number of officers employed that year.  The President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Court of Justice were Nigerian women, as were the Secretary-General of the ECOWAS Parliament, the Vice-President for Africa of the World Bank, and one of its Managing Directors.

Thanks to affirmative action calling for women to fill 30 per cent of all elected and appointed political posts by 2015, the number of women appointed to key posts had increased, she said.  For the first time, Nigerian women held the posts of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, as well as Ministers and heads of parastatal and other key offices.  Over the past three elections, there had been a 2 per cent increase in the number of women elected to legislative posts.

Thanks to community participation to improve access to education, she noted that 4,525 educationally disadvantaged communities in 10 states had benefited from massive community training programmes designed by the World Bank Assisted Second Primary Education Project.  That was an ongoing process aimed at boosting girls’ education.  The Government also had a policy of universal compulsory education to ensure that girls had access to free primary and secondary education.  Regarding employment practices, there were no discriminatory laws or policies against women in recruitment and employment.  However, the ratio of men to women employed in the formal sector largely favoured men.  Relevant local, state and federal development programmes were in place to address that imbalance.

She said that maternal and child mortality remained a serious development challenge.  Maternal mortality in Nigeria was extremely high compared to other countries.  In order to decrease it and meet the relevant Millennium Development Goals, the Government had increased budgetary allocations to the health sector to ensure adequate primary care, as well as health-care manpower in rural and urban areas.  Since 2005, it had launched aggressive advocacy campaigns and consultations among various stakeholders and the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development.  It had also set up monitoring structures with clearly defined reporting roles.

In order to improve marriage and family relations, the Government had mandated the Nigerian Law Reform Commission in 2006 to reform the Nigerian Family Law in three phases, she said.  The Commission had reported on the initial review phase of the different family law systems and aimed to complete the harmonization process by 2009, in line with article 16 of the Women’s Convention.  To achieve integrated rural development and increase agricultural production, various tiers of Government were providing subsidies in infrastructure, fertilizer, agricultural extension services, water resource development, and development of small-scale rural agro-industries.  The 2004 National Policy on Education provided support for adult education and informal education, including curriculum development, mobile and rural libraries, television viewing and audio-listening centres, and visual teaching and learning aids.

To further improve the status of women, particularly that of rural women, the Government had set up the Women’s Fund for Economic Empowerment (WOFEE), a funding window to provide credit for women’s cooperatives, she said, adding that the Fund was implemented in partnership with the Nigerian Agricultural Cooperative and Rural Development Bank.  A total of 818 women’s group cooperatives comprising 17,049 members had received funding through the programme.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, in collaboration with the Bank of Industry, had set up the Business Development Fund for Women (BUDFOW), a soft credit facility intended to benefit women entrepreneurs.  That move sought to boost women entrepreneurs’ economic status and reduce the stringent conditions imposed on them to obtain bank loans.

As part of the effort to protect and promote human rights, democracy and the peaceful settlement of disputes, she said that the Ministry, September 2007, had established an Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Gender and Peacekeeping.  In appreciation of Nigeria’s commitment to national and regional conflict prevention and peace promotion, Nigeria’s First Lady, Hajiya Turai Yar-Adua, was elected in February as President of the Africa First Ladies Peace Mission, for a two-year term.  Nigeria was fully committed to implementing the Women’s Convention.  “ Nigeria believes the Convention is a critical barometer against which we assess our own progress in view of the fact that the elimination of discrimination against women benefits society as a whole,” she said.  “I am, indeed, glad that each reporting period has been an opportunity for Nigeria to report on progress being slowly, but steadily, made towards eliminating discrimination against women.”

Experts’ Comments and Questions

At the opening of the Committee’s detailed examination of the situation of women in Nigeria, several experts welcomed Nigeria’s large delegation, which, according to some, set the record before the Committee.  The experts began by asking numerous questions about the status of the Convention in the country’s domestic legislation.

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, was among those who focused on the domestication of the Convention -- recalling that the issue had been one of the Committee’s concerns four years ago.  The Committee had been informed that the domestication bill had been presented to the legislature, once again.  In that connection, he asked whether it had been presented by the Women’s Ministry alone, or with the full support of the Federal Government.  Almost 30 years after Nigeria had ratified the Convention, he sought “proof” that the Government was taking that instrument seriously.  Would it be possible, should the domestication bill failed, to continue on the path of partial domestication?

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, was concerned about harmonization of various contradictory laws in Nigeria, including those at state and federal levels.  She also addressed the issue of women’s access to justice.  Human rights desks at police stations, while a laudable initiative, seemed to be badly informed about the Convention.

Also stressing the need to domesticate the Convention, DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, said it was important for the Committee to know about the proposed legislation.  Unless domesticated, the Convention was just a declaration without legal force.  With some provisions of the country’s Constitution still in contradiction with the Convention, she also asked several questions about Nigeria’s efforts to eliminate discriminatory laws.

Country Response

Responding to questions, Law Professor LADAN said that any treaty, including the Women’s Convention, should be incorporated in Nigeria’s domestic legislation. The previous bill on the Convention’s domestication had not been adopted by the Parliament for lack of sufficient advocacy.  He hoped that this time, the strategic alliance between the national machinery for the advancement of women, non-governmental organizations and other partners would push the bill through.  Passage of the bill would mean that the treaty had become enforceable in Nigeria, as part of its law and policy framework.

Since 2005, he said, the Nigerian Law Reform Commission had been mandated to review various laws, including three systems of family law existing in the country, with the aim of harmonizing them.  Two volumes of preliminary observations had been issued by the Commission.

Regarding access to justice, he said that, in the past three years, special desk officers had been placed at police stations, focusing on law enforcement and access to justice.  A training manual had been developed, and training of those officers should continue.  The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs had developed a monitoring and evaluation strategy within the national gender policy.

On the constitutional provisions not in line with the Convention, he said that, in section 42 of that instrument, an attempt had been made to define discrimination, but “not necessarily in line” with the definition contained in the Convention.  He hoped that this year’s constitutional review would achieve the necessary alliance to address that issue.  The review process would take into consideration the possibility of widening the definition and removing the clauses that were not in line with the Convention.

Senator EKAETTE of the Senate Committee on Women and Youth Development said the National Assembly was looking at all the country’s laws in stages.  She believed that the issue of integrating the Convention would be addressed after examining the laws.  To be domesticated, the treaty must have the concurrence of all the states.  The local governments and federal Government would be informed about the treaty through a series of workshops.  As soon as it was domesticated, the treaty would become the law of the country.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

As the Committee proceeded to the next round of questions, VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said it was clear from the information provided by the country that the national machinery had been developed and decentralized, both vertically and horizontally.  There were gender desk officers at more than 25 ministries and agencies, in addition to their counterparts at all levels of state in Nigeria.  However, with the adoption in Nigeria of a national gender policy and several programmes, she wondered about the country’s mechanisms for coordination and cooperation.  What were the capacities of the coordination, monitoring and evaluation processes?  She also recalled that, during a recent national political reform conference, a recommendation had been made to establish a commission to guarantee equality on the grounds of sex.  Had any progress been achieved in that respect?  Her other questions related to the budget and human resources for gender quality.

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, also wondered about coordination and monitoring, saying that, from the report, it was difficult to understand the responsibilities of each state or entity.  She also asked about the inclusion of women’s goals in the country’s macroeconomic framework, and the participation of non-governmental organizations in the efforts to achieve gender equality.

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked about the status of the national policy on internally displaced persons.  Had it been drafted and when would it be adopted?  How did it address specific vulnerabilities of women and girls during conflict, and what measures would it have for social reintegration of displaced women and girls?  In the absence of such a policy, how was the safety of women and girls ensured?  Were there any punitive measures to protect women and girls against sexual violence?  Could the delegation provide examples in that regard?  Was data collected on the existence of displaced women and girls?  Was the Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Gender and Peacekeeping cognizant of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), which called on States to involve women in matters of peacekeeping?

Country Response

A delegate, responding to the question on “NEEDS, SEEDS and LEEDS”, said NEEDS was Nigeria’s poverty-reduction strategy and a window of opportunity for financing gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The first phase of the HIV/AIDS National Strategic Framework for Action was due for review.  It was a work in progress.  Concerning the role of non-governmental organizations, she said the Government was increasingly tapping into that pool of expertise.  Non-governmental organizations often played an advisory role and collaborated with respect to specific programmes and training.

In terms of cooperation and coordination of the gender machinery to monitor programmes on policy implementation, another delegate pointed to the seven bullet points in the report that outlined efforts in that regard.  For example, there was a midterm meeting of directors of women’s affairs at the federal and state levels.  The 2007 national gender policy provided a monitoring and evaluation framework.  In terms of the need for information on political reform to ensure equal opportunity, he said that a recommendation was put forward by the committee responsible for political reform.  The Equal Opportunities Commission had not received the blessing for it to take shape.  However, such reform had already been mainstreamed into gender policy.

As to whether current resources of the gender machinery were sufficient to discharge its functions, he said that the budget had increased steadily since 1999, but it was still inadequate, and obtaining funding remained a struggle.  The national child policy had already been approved and completed.  Concerning the committee on internally displaced persons and gender violence, the previous federal administration had set up a provisional committee on internally displaced persons and, with support from the Brookings Institution, had set up a national policy on internally displaced persons.  That policy had not yet been approved, but a final draft had been presented to the Presidential Council for adoption.  The United Nations Secretary-General had visited Nigeria to ensure that the draft policy was fashioned in line with United Nations standards governing internally displaced persons and gender violence.  The National Commission for Refugees had a desk officer on gender and violence.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

NAELA MOHAMED GABRE, expert from Egypt, asked what was being done to change stereotypes to ensure that Parliament was more responsive than in the past to draft bills to protect women’s health and other human rights.  Customs such as circumcision affected 50 per cent of the female population, and there were prejudices and customs that discriminated against widows.  How was the Government dealing with those?  Also, how was it addressing questions related to Islamic legislation, particularly in the North where sharia law was practised?  Was the Government coordinating its efforts with the country’s religious leaders and with other African countries?

YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, said that, according to non-governmental organizations, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and early marriage remained prevalent in Nigeria.  The Penal Code did not protect women properly against wife battering.  Was there a way to interpret that law differently?  What assistance was being provided to women subjected to family violence?  How many women were protected by shelters?  How many of those women were victims of domestic violence, and what was the penalty for domestic violence perpetrators?  How was the Government working with non-governmental organizations to jointly combat violence against women?  How many States had locally enacted the law to combat violence against women?  There was a sharia court decision in October 2004 that had condemned two women to death by stoning, based on their husbands’ claims that they had conducted extramarital affairs.  When the two women had appealed, claiming that their husbands had lacked evidence to prove infidelity, how had the Government responded to their appeals?

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, stressed the importance of combating sexual stereotypes and prejudices in Nigeria, where women were looked upon as being inferior.  The report did not seem to pay much attention to that aspect.  Some efforts were being made, but there was no systematic way of addressing the issue.  Nigerian police had set up human rights desks, but that was not enough to deal with such traditional practices as genital mutilation, degrading widowhood practices and legal wife beating.  For example, widows were denied the inheritance and sometimes forced out of their homes; in some cases, they could even be inherited, like property.  Schools required virginity, pregnancy tests and other such exams for graduation, women were excluded from credit because of lack of access to land, and penalties for the same crimes were different for men and women.

It was the State as a whole that was accountable for the infringement of women’s rights, she stressed.  Sexual stereotypes were behind all those negative practices.  Would they be fully addressed by the national programme?  Cultural change was fundamental to the implementation of the Convention in all the areas.

Sharing those concerns, ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, wanted to know what the Government had done to implement the Committee’s previous concluding remarks, which had asked the State party to implement national plans and work with civil society, religious leaders and non-governmental organizations to launch campaigns against negative traditional practices.  The Government had made some efforts in that regard, but the information provided was not sufficient.  The stereotypes restricted women’s chances of participating in public life.  It was impossible to change practices through one or two meetings, or campaigns.  Political will and proactive actions were needed.  Had the Government formulated a long-term plan to mobilize all stakeholders and society to raise awareness and eliminate negative practices?

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asserting that violence against women in Nigeria was a main concern, asked why there was a delay in adopting a bill on violence against women, which had been mentioned in the report.  Did Nigeria have federal regulations on such phenomena as widowhood practices and early marriages?  Was there a minimum age of marriage?  The report mentioned numerous forms of violence against women, and non-governmental organizations had reported that custodial rape and gender-based violence were carried out by the police and armed forces.  Was training available to Government and judiciary officials?  Did the country have a comprehensive strategy to address the situation?

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, also expressed concern about traditional practices that subjugated women in Nigeria.  It was important to remember that culture could change over time.  As a party to the Convention, Nigeria had an obligation to ensure that all the negative traditional practices were eliminated, without delay.  The Minister had stressed the country’s commitment to full implementation of the Convention, and it was surprising to receive information that there was a bill on “public nudity” and sexual intimidation in Nigeria, which attempted to limit the rights of women.  What did the Ministry intend to do about that proposed legislation?

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ emphasized the country’s obligation to repeal all discriminatory laws and asked about the Government’s plans to do so.

Country Response

Replying to questions, a representative of Nigeria’s Ministry of Justice said that the very principle of the Convention’s domestication was based on the State party looking at the peculiarities of its legislation and ensuring that those did not run contrary to a multilateral treaty to which it was a party.  Nigeria had wholeheartedly signed and ratified the Convention, but it was important to take account of the country’s population.  The National Assembly was working for the common good of the people.  The bill on domestication had not been passed the first time, but the Minister of Women Affairs had ongoing consultations with traditional rulers and religious leaders to promote the passage of that legislation.

As for federal legislation on early marriage, he said that was addressed by the Child Rights Act, which had been adopted by 18 states.  Women had constitutional rights.  For instance, section 43 of the Constitution empowered everybody, male and female, to own and acquire property.

The law reform commission was looking at the laws on stoning, the representative said.  The 2006 bill on abolition of all forms of discrimination against women in Nigeria had been an attempt to redress harmful practices.  The efforts to eliminate violence were ongoing.  Nigeria had done all it could to abolish all forms of discriminatory practices against women.

Another member of the delegation, turning to the questions about female genital mutilation and child marriage, said that there was no federal law on female genital mutilation, but there was a policy and state laws.  The Child Act specifically prohibited child marriage and set the age of marriage at 18 years.  State legislation in that regard had been adopted by 18 states, and that had been progress since the 2004 report.  Several conferences had been held in recent years with religious leaders and traditional rulers to address sexual stereotypes and negative practices, including a recent meeting on the constitutionality of sharia provisions.

Regarding two cases of stoning, he said that the issue had been addressed.  The sharia courts themselves had overturned the verdicts and acquitted the women on appeal.  The sharia court had made it very clear that the lower court decision was a miscarriage of justice and ran counter to fundamental human rights provisions.

On punishment for violence, he said that the country’s legislation envisioned penalties for rape, but did not provide punishment for domestic violence.  The Government was making serious efforts to ensure that the violence bill went through.  The Minister of Justice had put together a comprehensive draft bill to eliminate violence against both men and women.  Unfortunately, that piece of legislation had not been passed, but non-governmental organizations, in a strategic alliance with the ministries of women affairs and justice, were planning to repackage and re-present the bills.

Turning to training, he said that Nigeria’s national judicial institute was one of the oldest in the region.  Last year, the training had focused on the role of the courts of administration of justice in the context of human rights.  Training workshops were being planned for the Ministry of Justice, non-governmental organizations and Government officials.  Law and police officials had been receiving training.  As for victims’ shelters, in addition to non-governmental organizations, Government agencies had established several shelters, including shelters for victims of trafficking.

Some discriminatory provisions of the Penal Code still remained intact, but following the presentation of the report to the Women’s Committee in 2004, an effort was being made to review all discriminatory laws and policies, he said.  All discriminatory provisions had been identified, and the Law Reform Commission was working on the revision, repeal and amendment of those laws.

Another delegate said that Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) had indeed informed the mandate and formation of the Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Gender and Peacekeeping.  The Government was consulting with women’s groups to discuss sensitization and advocacy to ensure that women were involved in peacebuilding.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. GABRE expressed concern over violence in prison and the fact that women and their female visitors were being raped there.  There were shelters for victims of trafficking, but was rehabilitation also provided?  She was concerned that if a woman was unable to prove a rape, she could be accused of adultery.  That was very serious and discouraged women from reporting rapes.

Mr. FLINTERMAN asked what happened if a particular state stepped out of line and adopted policies and laws that contradicted the Convention.  If the Convention became domesticated, would that increase the power of the federal Government to see to it that it was fully implemented?

Country Response

Concerning rape, a delegate said that the criminal law addressed that issue and that it was not just incumbent upon women alone to prove a rape, as medical reports were also used to establish proof.  If no proof was found, then the act was not considered to be a rape.  Rape was a global concern, indeed.  It was true that in Nigeria women usually did not report it, owing to the stigma attached.  But it was not true that rape was translated into adultery if women could not prove it.  Concerning the law on trafficking, it dealt with prostitution and forced labour.

As to whether the law provided protection for victims of trafficking, another delegate said the law provided for a trust fund to assist victims with protection, shelter, safe transport home and rehabilitation.

In case of an inconsistency between the Constitution and state law, the state law became null and void, a delegate said.  In connection with the Child Act, the Government sought to ensure that substantial parts of the law were retained by all states, especially as far as early marriage was concerned.  Those were non-negotiable issues that states must follow.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, recalled that, in 2004, a representative of Nigeria had said that the Government had adopted a plan to raise to 30 per cent the proportion of women in legislative organs.  Now, in 2008, about 90 per cent of the legislature was men.  Today, the Committee had been told again that voluntary measures were being envisioned towards that notorious 30 per cent.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted the large number of women in Nigeria’s delegation, saying that a similar number should be in place at the federal level.  Nigeria was one of the most populous countries in Africa, and the fact that it had 36 states made it more difficult to achieve progress in the harmonization of laws in the country with a federal system.  However, the Government had ratified the Convention without any reservations, and that meant that the Convention should apply on the whole territory of the federation. If a local law of a state was inconsistent with the Convention, the provisions of the Convention should prevail.  The Government had no time to waste.  Promises had been made that there would be 30 per cent of women in political life, but no numbers had been presented to show the implementation of those promises.

Mr. FLINTERMAN asked the Government to inform the Committee about its position on the statutory and customary laws that related to women’s marriage to men from other States.  In such cases, women lost many of their rights.  That was an important issue that required the federal Government’s urgent attention.

Ms. NEUBAUER said that there had been some progress regarding women’s participation in public life and decision-making, but it had been very slow and not sufficient.  The Government’s intention of having 35 per cent quotas was of a declarative nature, as that provision in the national policy had not been backed up by any concrete action or time frame.  She wanted to know how Nigeria intended to implement the Committee’s recommendation to introduce temporary special measures in that regard.  Under the Convention, the Government was obliged to take all appropriate measures to ensure that the principles of the Convention were fully respected.  That should be done without delay.

Country Response

A member of the delegation said that the very number of Nigerian women in the room testified to the fact that the country was moving forward.  Much had been achieved in the past four years.  Many women were now holding high-level positions in the Government and in the private sector.  There were female ministers of finance, transport, environment and foreign affairs, and a federally-run revenue service was headed by a woman.  The number of women in elected positions had increased.  In the Senate, for example, the number of women had grown from 3 per cent to 9 per cent, and some six deputy governors were female.

The delegate said that the Ministry of Women Affairs had established offices for political empowerment in six zones and had started sensitizing women to pursue elected positions.  Many incentives were provided for female politicians.  Non-governmental organizations and the Nigerian Democratic Institute had helped many women by educating them and providing them with financial assistance.  Nigeria was progressing, and she believed that after the constitutional review, the desired 30 per cent of women in elected and appointed posts at all levels would be mandatory.

Regarding diplomatic service, another country representative said that progress was also being made in that sphere.  In 2001, for example, 20 females had been recruited as foreign service officers, and in 2008, 36 female officers had been recruited so far.  The country had seven female ambassadors and seven women in high positions in international organizations.

Another delegate said that the Government was eager to put women in high-level positions, which had been previously occupied exclusively by men.

Regarding the provision of the Constitution under which men could acquire citizenship for their foreign wives, but women were denied that right, a member of the delegation said that the National Assembly was reviewing the Constitution, and it was one area that he thought was not contentious.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. ZOU, expert from China, noted that some employers required that unmarried female employees could only marry after being employed for three years and that some jobs were only open to married women.  Was there a law to prevent discrimination against women in the workplace?  Did women facing such discrimination receive judicial support, and was there any data on that?  Were sanctions imposed on employers who dismissed them, and who was monitoring that?  What specific Government measures were there to solve the problem of the lack of affordable childcare?

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said women’s status overall remained characterized by low wages and the lack of sufficient jobs and social security.  What Government efforts existed to address structural discrimination in employment?  Nigeria’s labour legislation discriminated against women.  The factories act did not take into account women’s reproductive rights.  There were also reports of gross discrimination against women on marital and pregnancy grounds perpetrated by banks, such as First Bank PLC, as well as reports of widespread sexual harassment in the workplace and the lack of legislation to address it.  How was the Government addressing the big wage gap in the private and public sectors and proposing to incorporate equal pay for work of equal value?

Country Response

A delegate said measures in the last five years were detailed in the country reports.  A draft labour standards bill was being finalized by the Minister of Justice that would address sexual harassment in the workplace and guarantee equal pay for work of equal value.  Sex disaggregated data compiled over time was reflected in table 17.1 of the country response, which indicated public and private sector trends showing the progressive absorption of women workers.  The 2006 national survey showed steady progress in women’s employment, with less discriminatory attitudes in both the public and private sector.  Indeed, discrimination was a disturbing phenomenon.  Nigeria’s Constitution did not provide in any way for wage discrimination.  Rather, it provided for equal pay for work of equal value.  The new draft bill sought to address the discrimination against women on the basis of their marital or pregnancy status, in the banking sector.  The National Assembly had taken note of sexual harassment in the banking sector and had brought a motion to the Senate floor to call on chief executives of all banks to meet the Committee on Banking and Finance to address that issue.

Another delegate said that, on 9 July, the National Assembly was expected to pass a bill on sexual harassment in the workplace that would enable women to take civil action.

Experts Comments’ and Questions

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, expressed concern over the situation of maternal mortality, which had remained unchanged since the fourth periodic report to the Committee.  What accountability mechanisms had been put in place to ensure effective use and follow-up of the budget?  A presidential decree in 2005 on maternal mortality had called the issue a national emergency.  What assessment had been made of the impact of the measures adopted at that time?  Would the problem be solved soon?  The report said that 25 per cent of all pregnancies were unwanted, with half ending in abortion, which was criminalized.  Had health centres been equipped with kits, as mentioned in the report, to deal with no-risk pregnancies, and who had access to the kits?

Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, referred to a table in the report, which pointed to an alarming level of maternal mortality in Nigeria.  Had there been any positive developments lately?  What efforts had been made to lower the rate of maternal mortality?  What were the causes of maternal mortality?  Were any deaths related to female genital mutilation, and were doctors trained to discourage that practice?

Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said that women in Nigeria were dying during pregnancy, and during and shortly after childbirth.  All the Government’s energy and money should be directed towards addressing that emergency.  During pregnancy, if a woman wanted to be taken to a hospital, there was a compulsory blood donation from a husband.  What was the legal basis for that?  If such requirements blocked a woman from receiving health care, they should be eliminated.  Also, why were contraceptives expensive in Nigeria?

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, commended the delegation’s enthusiasm regarding the constitutional review.  She hoped the country would soon be able to overcome stereotypes, myths and harmful practices endured by Nigerian women.  She wanted to know about specific steps taken by the Government to reduce the number of deaths in connection with unsafe abortions.  What was being done to overcome the barriers to women’s access to health care and to ensure that hospitals were supplied with necessary equipment, such as emergency obstetric facilities?  She also had questions regarding the barriers to the provision of reproductive health and family planning services.

Ms. ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, wanted to know about the gender aspect of the efforts to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Had the Government taken any steps to implement a holistic lifecycle approach to women’s health, which had been recommended by the Committee?

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, wanted to know what was being done to promote the use of contraceptives, considering the fact that up to 1.4 million pregnancies in the country were unwanted each year.  Access to health care was difficult, owing to poverty, which endangered many women.  What was being done to address that?

GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said that the report outlined 19 policies and strategies to deal with such physiological issues as early childbearing and the effects of HIV/AIDS, but there was no strategy on women’s mental health.  However, women did suffer significant psychological trauma.  For example, children were not designed to have early sex and get married.  That had to cause mental trauma.  More attention needed to be paid to women’s mental health.

Turning to the public nudity bill, she said that she disagreed with that piece of proposed legislation.  What was that about nudity -- would the police go around with a tape measure to check the length of clothes or see if a breast was exposed? Women had a right to the aesthetic of their bodies and the right to present themselves any way they wanted.  A woman’s body was the only piece of real estate on which she owed no mortgage.  Dress codes were about power, and dressing a woman from head to toe was a form of rape.

Country Response

A member of the delegation said that maternal mortality was of great concern for the Government.  She confirmed that, in 2005, the former President had actually indeed declared a state of emergency on the issue of maternal mortality.  Since then, a decision had been made to spend $1 billion annual from Paris Club debt relief on pro-poor, educational and health programmes.  Some 40 per cent of that amount had gone into efforts to scale up existing health infrastructure.  The Federal Government had recruited about 40,000 midwives and large numbers of social workers.  Advocacy efforts were being carried out in more than 100 communities at high risk for maternal mortality.  Free pregnancy kits were provided free of charge in several states.  The health-sector reform was now under way.

The delegate added that strategic measures had also been introduced to make pregnancy and childbirth safer.  The national health insurance scheme had started in 2005.  Initially the programme focused on public-sector employees, but now it was being expanded to rural women and the private sector.  Most maternal deaths happened because there was no access to emergency care, and the focus was on primary health-care centres.

On female genital mutilation, she said that its prevalence varied from region to region in the country.  Lobbying groups against all forms of harmful practices were active.  The Government recognized the role of traditional birth attendants, who could attend most deliveries at the local level, and acknowledged the importance of training those practitioners.

Nigeria had just passed a health reform bill in May, which sought, among other things, to establish a blood bank, hospital and ambulance services and a health scheme, another speaker said.  Antiretroviral drugs and contraceptives were provided free, based on the advice of doctors.  Sex education was compulsory from junior secondary school.  The health bill provided free medical treatment for children under age 5 and people over age 60, and incentives were given to health workers to relocate to rural areas.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked for more details on how inclusion of women was taking place.  Did poverty eradication programmes take into account the structural causes of poverty, such as gender divisions of labour, disparity in power and land, violence against women and various forms of harmful traditional practices?  Did those programmes prepare internally displaced women for life after they left the camps, and did those women have access to services and capacity-building?

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked if there had been an impact assessment at the local, state and federal levels as to how living conditions of rural women had improved since Nigeria last reported to the Committee.  How many households had benefited from clean water?  Had transport to schools and health facilities improved?  Had the dropout rate of girls fallen?  Were there more health centres in rural areas?  How many soft-loan facilities had been granted to women and how much had women received?

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked to what extent the poverty eradication strategy addressed structural causes of inequality.  Also, was there a land reform under way?  How was Nigeria addressing customary practices, which limited women’s rights to land?  Was Nigeria supporting innovative land practices through integrated credit services and special lending windows for women normally barred from access to credit?

Country Response

A delegate said that the WOFEE programme -- the microfinance window for rural women -- had benefited up to 25 of Nigeria’s 37 states, providing loans to more than 17,000 people.  She hoped that it would grow into something bigger.  The programme had received more than 1,500 applications, which would be transmitted to the Bank of Industry, with which WOFEE had a memorandum of understanding.  A total of 134 applications had already been processed, but funds were insufficient to kick-start the programme in its entirety.

Another delegate added that the Bank of Industry was headed by a woman and it had a gender desk.  Eighty per cent of its resources were allocated to small and medium-sized business, with 35 per cent of them used for women.

Another delegate said that the second phase of NEEDS was being prepared in line with the Nigerian President’s seven-point agenda, with the aim of having one development programme.  In terms of programmes to send rural girls to school, rural women were allowed to open accounts with 5,000 naira, and the Government matched that with an additional 7,000 naira.  With the 12,000 naira total, she could send her daughter to school.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said that she was not quite satisfied with the responses the Committee had received on family law.  The Committee was being told that work was being done, but there was no information on the concrete action.  Were laws being changed?  After divorce, did women get a share of marital property that would enable them to become more self-reliant?  How many women were exposed to the sharia and customary law?  Were there any women judges in sharia courts?  The report said that the sharia code was now being codified.  Did women know about the changes?  With respect to judges in various legal systems, were there programmes for their gender sensitization?

Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, commended the efforts of the Law Reform Commission, which was expected to complete the harmonization process by 2009.  Would the reform of the family law be in line with article 16 of the Convention?  Meanwhile, women had to contend with discriminatory practices and laws under three legal systems.  She asked about the situation of divorced women.  In a polygamous union, what happened to the widows upon the death of a husband?  What were the widows’ rights?  Did they have to go through so-called “widows’ cleansing”?  To what remedies could a widow resort, in order to ensure that her inheritance rights were not violated?

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, noted that 18 states had adopted the Child Rights Act, which set the age of marriage at 18, and asked about the situation in those states that had not yet adopted that law.

Country Response

A member of the delegation answered that under the tripartite legal system, the experts’ concerns mainly related to the sharia and customary laws.  In fact, divorce rights were upheld by the sharia courts, and several cases cited in the report attested to that.  As for the differences of the three systems, two volumes of the Reform Commission’s recommendations were now being considered.  The marriage act, issues of divorce and custody, as well as parental responsibilities, were part of the review.

Regarding judges’ training, he said that over the past 25 years, an established judicial institute had been providing annual training to the Supreme Court and local judges.  Lately, the focus had been on the customary family law.

Legal aid was being provided to women, another speaker said.  Last year, a stakeholders’ forum had forwarded to the National Assembly the provisions to expand the mandate of the legal aid council to provide assistance in cases of divorce.  However, even now, the council could get lawyers on the pro bono basis to provide services to indigent Nigerians.

Another delegate added that, if a woman could not represent herself, her family members could represent her.  Under the sharia law, a woman could seek allocation following her husband’s death.  There was a certain formula prescribed by the sharia for multiple wives, who were allowed to inherit property.  In cases when women were not allowed to inherit property, they could go to court.  The problem was that women did not know about the provisions of the law, so education was needed.

Regarding the number of women affected by sharia law, another country representative said that it was the legal framework, which involved all Muslim women.  As for the issue of early marriage under sharia, the State had passed the Child Rights Act, and next month, a meeting would take place to sensitize all states to the importance of adopting it.

The issue of legal representation for or on behalf of a woman had been addressed in a landmark case in an appeals court, which had ruled that no court in Nigeria could prevent any qualified or competent person from representing any client who had exercised their right to choose a lawyer.  Therefore, any Nigerian had a fundamental right to choose an advocate to represent him or her in any court, including the sharia court.

Follow-Up Questions

During a round of follow-up questions, several speakers commented on the need to avoid further delays in the implementation of the Convention so many years after its adoption.

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, pointed out that, since Nigeria had accepted the provisions of international law, it was not acceptable to apply customary, civil and religious laws to women of Nigeria.  The country needed to work on a new Civil Code that would apply to all Nigerians.  All Nigerian women should be equal to men, and among themselves, irrespective of Christian, Muslim or customary law.

HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, noted the country’s efforts to implement the Millennium Development Goals, stressing that incorporation of the Convention was urgent in that regard.

Closing Remarks

In her closing remarks, a member of the delegation said that the issue of women’s human rights could not be taken lightly.  Nigeria was determined to protect and promote those rights.  The question of empowering women was of utmost priority to the Government, and the delegation had taken due note of all the comments and observations made today.  They would be taken into account in preparing the country’s next report.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, said that the recommendations of the Committee would be forwarded to the Government.  The Committee was monitoring the implementation of the Convention, but the Government was responsible for that.  It was important to proceed with the domestication of the Convention, so it could be used fully to protect women and guide the revision of the laws that still required action.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.