A woman is an adult female. Prior to adulthood, a female human is referred to as a girl. The plural female is sometimes used in certain phrases such as ‘women’s rights’ to denote female humans regardless of age.Women’s rights are therefore those rights and entitlements claimed for women and girls worldwide.
These rights include the right to live free from violence, slavery, discrimination, to be educated, to own property, to political participation, health, dignity and to earn fair and equal wage. Women are entitled to all these rights. Yet almost everywhere around the world, women and girls are still denied their rights simply because of their gender.
Some international, regional and local human rights framework for promotion and protection of women’s rights are: Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fundamental Human Rights), Child Rights Act, Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, Sexual Offences Act, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Criminal Code, Penal Code,
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Protocol to the ACHPR on the Rights of Women in Africa, AU Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
International Convention Against Torture and other Cruel – Inhuman or degrading Treatment or Punishment, Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, women are mandated to have equal rights and freedom as men. The key principles in these instruments include non – discrimination, equality of rights, participation, individual autonomy and non-violence.
The underlying factors responsible for women’s rights infringement include the following – inherent discrimination- women do not enjoy equality with men in the society, Unequal access of women and girls to education, harmful traditional practices, inadequate access to economic resources, unequal access to political participation, various forms of violence experienced specifically by women and girls amongst others.
Laws were made by men for men, women were seen as inferior to men. They had very limited rights for example in Mesopotamia, the men only had the right to divorce their wives and marry other wives but the women had no such rights. In the ancient Greece, a woman was forbidden from instituting legal proceeding, her kyrios would do that on her behalf. Women were also barred from becoming poets, scholars, politicians and artists.
Under the Roman law, women were banned from voting. In the imperial China “the three obediences” promoted that daughters should obey their fathers, wives obey their husbands and widows obey their sons also women could not inherit businesses or wealth. In ancient Nigeria, women were also not allowed to inherit properties and wealth, they were also forbidden from participating in politics.
The Aba Women’s Riots of 1929, as it was named in British colonial records, is considered by history as a strategically executed anti-colonial revolt organized by women to redress social, political and economic inequality.
In Latin America some countries gave women the right to vote in the first half of the 20th century. In India, under colonial rule, universal suffrage was granted in 1935. Other Asian countries gave women the right to vote in the mid-20th century. In Africa, women generally got the right to vote along with men through universal suffrage.
In many countries in the Middle East universal suffrage was acquired after World War II, although in others, such as Kuwait, suffrage is very limited. On 16 May 2005, the Parliament of Kuwait extended suffrage to women.
During the 19th century some women in the United States and Britain began to challenge laws that denied them the right to their property once they married. Under the common law doctrine of coverture husbands gained control of their wives’ real estate and wages. Beginning in the 1840s, state legislatures in the United States and the British Parliament began passing statutes that protected women’s property from their husbands and their husbands’ creditors.
These laws were known as the Married Women’s Property Acts. Courts in the 19th-century United States also continued to require privy examinations of married women who sold their property. A privy examination was a practice in which a married woman who wished to sell her property had to be separately examined by a judge or justice of the peace outside of the presence of her husband and asked if her husband was pressuring her into signing the document.
Property rights for women continued to be restricted in many European countries until legal reforms of the 1960-70s In the US, Head and master laws, which gave sole control of marital property to the husband, were common until a few decades ago. The Supreme Court, in Kirchberg v. Feenstra (1981), declared such laws unconstitutional.
The violations of these rights were looked into and thus different documents both international and local documents have made provisions about women’s rights;
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR)
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Article 2 of the UNDHR also re-emphasizes on the equality of human persons as follows:
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status…”
Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa(“MAPUTO PROTOCOL”)
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, better known as the Maputo Protocol, is an international human rights instrument established by the African Union that went into effect in 2005.
It guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, improved autonomy in their reproductive health decisions, and an end to female genital mutilation.
It was adopted by the African Union in Maputo, Mozambique, in 2003 in the form of a protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. There are two particularly contentious factors driving opposition to the Protocol: its article on reproductive health, which is opposed mainly by Catholics and other Christians, and its articles on female genital mutilation, polygamous marriage and other traditional practices, which are opposed mainly by Muslims.
– Christian opposition
Pope Benedict XVI described the reproductive rights granted to women in the Protocol in 2007 as “an attempt to trivialize abortion surreptitiously”. The Roman Catholic bishops of Africa oppose the Maputo Protocol because it defines abortion as a human right. The US-based anti-abortion organization, Human Life International, describes it as “a Trojan horse for a radical agenda”.
In Uganda, the powerful Joint Christian Council opposed efforts to ratify the treaty on the grounds that Article 14, in guaranteeing abortion “in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus,” is incompatible with traditional Christian morality.
In an open letter to the government and people of Uganda in January 2006, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Uganda set out their opposition to the ratification of the Maputo Protocol. It was nevertheless ratified on 22 July 2010.
– Muslim opposition
Nigerian Muslim women’s groups in 2009 gathered in Niamey to protest what they called “the satanic Maputo protocols”, specifying limits to marriage age of girls and abortion as objectionable.
In Djibouti, however, the Protocol was ratified in February 2005 after a sub-regional conference on female genital mutilation called by the Djibouti government and No Peace Without Justice, at which the Djibouti Declaration on female genital mutilation was adopted. The document declares that the Koran does not support female genital mutilation, and on the contrary practicing genital mutilation on women goes against the precepts of Islam.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (also called the ACRWC or Children’s Charter) was adopted by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1990 (in 2001, the OAU legally became the African Union) and was entered into force in 1999.
Like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Children’s Charter is a comprehensive instrument that sets out rights and defines universal principles and norms for the status of childrenen.
It calls for the creation of an African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Committee of Experts). Its mission is to promote and protect the rights established by the ACRWC, to practice applying these rights, and to interpret the disposition of the ACRWC as required of party states, African Union (AU) institutions, or all other institutions recognized by AU or by a member state.
Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women
The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, better known as the Belém do Pará Convention (or Convention of Belém do Pará), is an international human rights instrument adopted by the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) of the Organization of American States at a conference held in Belém do Pará, Brazil, on 9 June 1994.
It is the first legally binding international treaty that criminalizes all forms of violence against women, especially sexual violence. In order to effectively monitor the State parties’ compliance with the Conventions’ obligations, the State parties created an agency on 26 October 2004 called the Follow-Up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention, abbreviated MESECVI. MESECVI consists of two bodies: the Conference of State Parties and the Committee of Experts.
- The Conference of State Parties is a political body, which studies the country reports submitted by each State party, and supervises the Committee of Experts.
- The Committee of Experts is a technical body, which presents recommendations and guidelines to the Conference of State Parties. It consists of specialists serving in a personal capacity who are appointed by the State parties.
Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015
The enactment of the VAPP Act, which contains extensive provisions on different aspects of violence, including violence against women, is hence a crucial development with the potential, arguably, to transform the landscape of violence against women in Nigeria, It is a consolidation of different bills, “which sought to abolish all obsolete laws relating to matters such as rape and assault, and enact new laws on hitherto neglected areas such as domestic violence.”
The VAPP Act was first introduced in the National Assembly in May 2002 and initially drafted by members of the Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence against Women. The enactment of the VAPP Act can be said to be a measure in line with Nigeria’s international obligations under CEDAW and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
The VAPP Act punishes not only direct acts of spousal violence, but also acts of coercive control by deprivation, isolation and emotional abuse. Victims of domestic violence may obtain protection orders under the VAPP Act. This is a unique buffer against domestic violence in the country.
However, it is only the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) that has the authority to issue protection orders under the VAPP Act. On the other hand, the protection orders under the VAPP Act are enforceable throughout Nigeria.
Section 34(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution provides that every individual has a right to dignity of his person and as such shall not be subject to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment amongst others. Thus, many of the discriminatory practices against women in Nigeria run against this constitutional stipulation.
Also, section 42 of the Constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions. This is the non-discrimination clause in the constitution.
Again, section 17(1) of the constitution provides that the State social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice. (2) In furtherance of the social order (a) every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law …In essence, the Nigerian constitution promotes gender equality under the law.
The National Human Rights Commission Act
The National Human Rights Commission was established by the NHRC Act, 1995 as amended. Its establishment is aimed at creating an enabling environment for extra – judicial recognition, promotion and protection and enforcement of human rights, treaty obligations and providing a forum for public enlightenment and dialogue on human rights issues including advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The Commission has ear- marked the rights of women and gender related matters as one of its thematic areas of focus. The Federal Government adopted the National Gender Policy in 2006. Under this policy, the government must be proactive in its commitment in addressing problems affecting women and to ensure the mainstreaming of women issues in the formulation and implementation of all policies and programs.
The policy expressly highlights the problems faced by women in various sectors of economy such as education, health, employment, agriculture, legal reform, legislative protection and in decision making. The Bill seeks to prescribe women quotas for elections into the Senate, House of Representations, State Houses of Assembly and Area Council Elections in FCT in order to support and enhance women participation and representation in certain elective offices.
The NHRC Gender Thematic Team is the Commission’s focal point that deals with all the matters that concerns the rights of women and girls and other gender related issues. The team represent the Commission at all programs, meetings, seminars, conferences and reports back to the Executive Secretary.
It also makes recommendations and proffers suggestions and advice where necessary. The thematic team is headed by an Assistant Director, who is vast in development and programming in that area and well experienced on gender issues .The host department for the thematic team is Women, Children and Vulnerable Groups Department..
8. United Nations Declaration
Violation of women’s rights can be in different forms for example, in Opuz v Turkey, the European Court of Human Right defined violence against women as a form of discrimination against women, this is also the position of the Istanbul Convention which at Article 3 states that “violence against women” is understood as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women.
The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was adopted by the United Nations in 1993. It defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. This resolution established that women have a right to be free from violence.
Article 2 of The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women outlines several forms of violence against women:
Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the following:
(a) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;
(b) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
(c) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.
9. Istanbul Convention
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, is the first legally binding instrument in Europe in the field of domestic violence and violence against women, and came into force in 2014.
Countries which ratify it must ensure that the forms of violence defined in its text are outlawed. In its Preamble, the Convention states that “the realization of de jure and de facto equality between women and men is a key element in the prevention of violence against women”.
The convention also provides a definition of domestic violence as “all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim”. Although it is a Convention of the Council of Europe, it is open to accession by any country.
10. Forced Marriage and Slavery
The 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery defines “institutions and practices similar to slavery” to include:
- c) Any institution or practice whereby:
- (i) A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person or group; or
- (ii) The husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise; or
- (iii) A woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person;
The Istanbul Convention requires countries which ratify it to prohibit forced marriage (Article 37) and to ensure that forced marriages can be easily voided without further victimization (Article 32).
These conferences, laws and acts on women human rights are not only to educate the general public on the rights of women but to also expose and denounce as human rights violations those practices and policies that silence and subordinate women.
We reject specific legal, cultural or religious practices by which women are systematically discriminated against, excluded from political participation and public life, segregated in their daily lives, raped in ethnic/ religious conflict situations, battered in their homes, sexually harassed in work places and schools, denied inheritance rights, forced to marry, assaulted for not conforming to gender norms and sold into forced labor or sexual slavery, etc.
In the case of Onyibor Anekwe & Anor v. Mrs. Maria Nweke, The Supreme Court of Nigeria found that any custom that denies women, particularly widows, their inheritance, is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and is condemned by the Supreme Court.
Also in the case of Ukeje v Ukejeafter hearing the matter, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal on the grounds that no matter the circumstances of the birth of a female child, she is entitled to an inheritance from her late father’s estate. Consequently, the Igbo customary law which disentitles a female child from participating in her deceased father’s estate is in breach of section 42(1) and (2) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, a fundamentalal right provision guaranteed to every Nigerian.
The said discriminatory customary law is void as it conflicts with section 42(1) and (2) of the Constitution. In Mojekwu v Mojekwu the court held that the oli-ekpe custom which allows the son of the brother of a deceased to inherit his property to the exclusion of his female children was discriminatory and incompatibility with the doctrine of equity. Again the case of Mojekwu v. Iwuchukwu, touches on the rights of daughters to inherit real property.
The lack of legal knowledge among many women, especially in developing countries, is a major obstacle in the improvement of women’s situation. Women and children around the world should be informed and educated on the existence of such laws in order to enable them to seek justice and practice their rights.
Therefore, states should organize conferences, shows and broadcasts to popularize the laws, and explain them clearly to the public, in order to prevent ignorance, or misconceptions originating in popular myths, about the laws.
The United Nations Development Program states that, in order to advance gender justice, “Women must know their rights and be able to access legal systems” and the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women states at Art. 4 (d) “States should also inform women of their rights in seeking redress through such mechanisms”.
Again when these complaints are made, the state should diligently look in the matter and also encourage the complainant to be bold and express her feelings as well as she can.
About the author:
Enemuo Chioma Sheila (Mrs.) is a Legal practitioner and human rights activist. She has an LL.B from Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Anambra State, LL.M in view. She is the founder and principal partner of LexDana Legal Consult, a law firm in Anambra State, versed in real estate, company, contract, election and women and minority law.
She has written several articles including articles on the rights of women and children and has taken different steps to uphold human rights especially the rights of women and children.
 . https://www.nigeriarights.gov.ng/focus-areas/women-and-gender-matters.html > accessed on 16th July 2022
 The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News. 2019-02-09. Retrieved 2022-07-02.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bel%C3%A9m_do_Par%C3%A1_Convention > accessed on 17th July 2022
 1999 Constitution Of The Federal Republic Of Nigeria as amended
 Ibid sec. 42
 Ibid sec. 17(1)
 (2014) 9 NWLR (PT 1412) 393
 (2014) 11 NWLR (PT.1418) 384
 (1997) 7 NWLR (PT 512) 283