Violations of Women's Human rights in Nigeria


This research was informed by the resolve of the present civilian government of General Obasanjo, which came to power in May 1999, to ascertain the causes, nature and extent of all human rights violations in Nigeria between January 15, 1966 and May 29, 1999. To do this, the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission was set up. BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights (BAOBAB) was asked by the Commission to carry out research on the violations of women’s human rights that occurred within the specified period. This report therefore looks at abuses of women’s human rights - highlighting gender violations as well as discriminatory laws, policies and practices of the government, communities and individuals that have the effect of violating women’s rights during the period under study.


In writing this report, the recognition given to the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, as provided by the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR)1 was adopted as a working definition. Nigeria acceded to the UDHR on Independence, and so has been bound by these standards since then. In similar vein, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) recognises human rights as rights that are inherent in all of us simply by birth and existence. They are the rights that we have simply because we were born as human beings.

It should be noted that human rights have universal application without bias to gender, race or class (or other social category). In principle, women’s human rights are automatically inherent in the general principles of human rights. However, as a result of long standing discriminatory practices against women and the nonrecognition of women’s rights as human rights, it has become clear that it is absolutely necessary to make a clear delineation of women’s human rights so that they are not constantly ignored and violated under the mistaken belief that women’s rights can be effectively recognized and protected in a subsumption to the general principles of human rights.

It is worth mentioning here some of the international conventions that the Nigerian government has signed or ratified. By signing or ratifying these conventions, the Nigerian state obliged itself to respect and promote the ideals and norms embodied in these instruments. Some of them are - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), Application and Enforcement - Act Cap 10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN 1990), the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), as at the time of this research work.

However, these laws have not been made effective in the process of protecting the rights of women in Nigeria, as many of them have not been domesticated. The most effective way of implementing them is by incorporating them into our laws through an enabling legislation, since treaties do not automatically become part of Nigerian laws until duly incorporated as stated in Section 12 (1)2 of the Nigerian Constitution. These Conventions can also become part of our case law through judicial pronouncements since the courts are also obliged to use international standards in determining cases that come before them. However, this only has persuasive rather than obligatory effect. For laws to have obligatory status, they must be fully incorporated into the Nigerian law. This would explain, in part, some of the reasons why cases of human rights violations still persist in most of our communities as most of them are perpetrated under the guise of custom and religion. These so-called customs and religion have become a veritable tool, as most of the cases highlighted here will show in suppressing women’s human rights. These rights have been classified as follows:

Civil rights - Right to life, Right to liberty, Right to human dignity (e.g. freedom from violence), Right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression and association (freedom of choice of marital partner and the freedom to decide whether or not to get married)

Social rights- Right to education (for example male education preference, withdrawal of girls for marriage), Environmental rights, Right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (for instance reproductive health), Right of equal access to public resources, services and utilities.

Economic rights - Right to freely hold and dispose of natural wealth and resources, Right to free choices of work, Right to equal pay for equal work (example are obnoxious labour laws), Right to social security, Right to adequate standard of living

Political rights - Right to take part in the conduct of public affairs/government (political marginalisation), Right to vote and be voted for (e.g. right of representation), Right to individual or equal decision during election

Cultural rights - Rights to take part in cultural life, Rights to enjoy scientific discoveries, Rights to freedom of scientific research and creative activities.

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