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1.0.          
INTRODUCTION

Women have
been at a disadvantage since the beginning of the history of human race because
of several prejudices and patriarchal order. Suffering of women created the
concept of feminism as a gender based political and social movement[i].
This movement advocates for Social, Political and economic equality for but
gender in any given Society.

The African
women are very unique by their culture and location on the continent. Their
experience and understanding about life and equality will necessarily be
different from American women, or say European Women.  So when an African woman  or expresses a strong opinion or share her
perspective within the feminism curve, such opinion might be extreme or
moderate depending on the story behind such expression. African Feminism is a
form of feminism that is developed by African women and
specifically addresses the conditions and needs of continental African women.

The
stories, forming the ideologies of African Feminism are not entirely the same even
within Africa, as many women faces different social realities depending on the sub-region
on the continent[ii].

This paper
examines the uniqueness of African Feminism, through the lens of an African and
the challenges and prospects of this School of thought vis-à-vis Women’s right especially
in Nigeria.
It will
also reflect on the key and emerging issues affecting gender justice and the
rights of contemporary Nigerian Women, and the possible legal panacea to these
continuing challenges.

2.0.          
WHAT IS FEMINISM

 

2.1.          
 The word “Feminist” is derived from the Latin
word ‘femina’ which means woman. This Latin word was later adapted to the
struggle and agitation of women all over the world for an egalitarian society.
Feminism is
a belief in the political, economic and cultural equality of women and the
movement represents the long demand for the upliftment of the weaker or
suppressed section of women or girls in the society.

 

2.2.          
The Black’s
Law Dictionary[iii],
did not specifically define feminism, but it defines Feminist Jurisprudence as
a branch of jurisprudence that examines the relationship between women and law,
including the history of legal and social biases against women, the elimination
of those biases in modern law, and the enhancement of women’s legal rights and
recognition in society.

 

2.3.          
Different
Authors and commentators have described feminism in their own perspective.  A lot of women define it as the right of
women to aspire politically while some limits it to women’s right over their
body. Again some may argue that it is the right of women to independently own
and acquire properties.

 

2.4.          
 However, Feminism is a movement for the rights
of women against gender discrimination. It means that women should not have
less political, economic, and civil rights merely because they are women. The
essence of feminism is well reflected in the famous quotation of the publicist
Mary Shire when she said: “Feminism is a radical view that a woman is a
person[iv].”
It is therefore safe to say that feminism stands for equal opportunity for both
sexes without favouring one over the other.

 

2.5.          
 

 

3.0.          
FEMINISM IN AFRICA

3.1.          
Some have argued
that Feminism is a western concept. That it is just another example of how
uninformed society has become and how much we turn a blind eye to the struggles
of women all around the world, in Europe, Africa and all around the world.
Ascribing the origination of this movement to the West will amount to
disrespecting the effort and memories of the fearless women who fought
courageously for the emancipation of the women folks in Africa.

 

3.2.          
Feminist
activism has always being in Africa before a name was placed on it. While the
name Feminism was not attached to the movement at the early stage, we have had
brave African women standing against Gender discrimination and social injustice
as far back as 19th Century.

 

3.3.          
African
Feminism is different from its Western Counterpart in a lot of respect; this is
so because many of the challenges faced by an average African Women are largely
non-existent in the Western World. These conditions include poverty, franchise,
illiteracy, political inclusion, war, marriage et.c. Therefore, underpinning
African Feminism, are cultural and social issues that pertains to and affect largely
only African women while the Western Women may only share a part of it.

 

3.4.          
Several
Contributors have classified development of African Feminism into two; the
Pre-Colonial Feminism and the Colonial Feminism[v].
In Nigeria Pre-colonial era, Nigerian very few Nigerian women actively
participated in public life and had independent access to resources. However, social
and political exclusion is worse with women from Hausa-Fulani in the Northern
part of Nigeria. Their commercial activities and engagements were limited by
Islam.  Only Women with a high position
by birth had more rights regarding their decisions and their funds. The example
is Queen Amina of Zazzau. In 1576, she became the famous ruler of Zazzau in
Northern Nigeria. The Igala Kingdom, located in Northern Nigeria, was also
founded by a woman Ebele Ejaunu[vi].

 

3.5.          
For
decades, African activists have rejected the notion that one can subsume all
feminist agendas under a Western one. As far back as the 1976 international
conference on Women and Development at Wellesley College, Egyptian novelist
Nawal El-Saadawi and Moroccan sociologist Fatema Mernissi challenged efforts by
Western feminists to define global feminism. In the drafting of the 1979 Convention
on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
, the All African
Women’s Conference was one of six organisations and the only regional body
involved[vii]

 

3.6.          
In the
early 20th century,  an
emerging set of  African Women
feminist  dominated the scene , with
women like 
Adelaide
Casely-Hayford
, the
Sierra-Leonean women’s rights activist referred to as the
African Victorian Feminist who contributed widely to both Pan-African
and feminist goals, Charlotte Maxeke who in 1918 founded the 
Bantu Women’s
League
 in
South Africa and 
Huda Sharaawi who in 1923 established the Egyptian
Feminist Union
to mention a few.

 

3.7.          
In Nigeria, on the fore front of Feminist movement, we had Mary Ekpo and
Funmilayo Ransom- Kuti . Also recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi among others. Mary
Ekpo for instance, was a Women’s Rights activist and a Pioneering female
politician in Nigeria’s first republic that played key role in the Country’s
Male-dominated Nationalism movement. Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti on the other hand established
in 1932, the Abeokuta Ladies Club (later renamed Abeokuta’s Women Union) which
advocated political and social inequalities faced by Nigerian women at the
time. The Union was famous for fighting unfair price controls and burdensome
taxes imposed on Nigerian women at the time by the Colonial Masters. She is
also regarded as the first woman to ride a car in Nigeria

 

3.8.          
 Chimamanda Ngozi’ Adichie is Novelist and one
of the most prominent African Feminist of the 21st century.
Adichie’s consciousness and feminist movement was built up after she relocated
to the US on a Communication scholarship.  In 2013, her Popular lecture; “We
Should All Be Feminists[viii]
 discusses
the damaging paradigms of femininity and masculinity. She has since then expressed
her opinion on issues inequality and the marginalization of women at various
forum

 

3.9.          
Although
the Africa Feminist movement largely focuses on the Africa continent, many of
its contributors also lived in the Diaspora[ix]
.

Therefore, 
one’s inquiring
minds should not be limited by a geographical location
as the name would imply. The debates, agitations and practices are however
largely pursued on the African continent.

 

 

4.0.          
WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN NIGERIA

4.1.          
In Nigeria,
the idea of women’s right to equal treatment as their male counterpart is still
not generally acceptable. The Country remains a patriarchy society that
entrenches women’s subjugation through cultural, religious and Cultural
validation. Up until the 1950s’ for the South and 80’s for the North, the
Nigerian women had no right to vote or be voted for in  an election[x]and
it has been argued that even though this right is now made available to them,
the discrimination to being elected into a political office still never goes
away.

 

4.1.1.     As far back as 1929, the Nigerian
Women in the Eastern part of the Country led the Aba Women’s riot to protest
the unfair tax regime levied on women. The protest saw participation of over
10,000 women[xi].
It is still regarded as the pioneer protest for enforcement of Women’s right in
Nigeria. These women were reputed to have displayed strength, courage in their
opposition to repressive colonial policies that violated women’s rights at the
time

 

4.1.2.     The inequality and the unfair
treatment melted out on women in Africa and in Nigeria are quite enormous and
it ranges from undue disadvantage at birth to discrimination at workplace,
social gatherings, Public institution and the list goes on.  It is common place to see job vacancies
specifically exclude women and Political parties having only all men candidates
for elections regardless of whether there are more competent women who could
take the positions.  

 

4.1.3.     The presence of forced marriages and
non-consensual sexual intimacy of women is still very prevalent. In some parts
of Nigeria and largely the Northern part for instance, Women are largely still
objectified sought of and are betrothed to the men to be taken as wives even when
as Young as the age of 10[xii].
This inevitably denies female children of school age their right to the
education for their personal development, preparation for adulthood and
effective contribution to the future well-being of their family and society[xiii].

 

4.1.4.     Although, men also suffer from abuses,
it is common place for women to experience domestic violence in their
relationships from their male counterpart in Nigeria. The United Nations
Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) 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[xiv].

 

4.1.5.     Sadly, domestic violence against women
is hugely a social context in Nigeria, and is based largely on the patriarchal
nature of our society where violence against a wife is seen as a tool that a
husband uses to chastise her so that she improves her ways. It is therefore
common, for a woman to lose her basic rights upon marriage, a challenge that is
strange to the Western Feminists. This is because the man is given some sense
of ownership then woman who mustn’t question his authority[xv].

 

4.1.6.     The percentage of women who suffers
domestic violence in their matrimonial homes has continued to soar with
increase in reported cases of husbands killing and maiming their wives in the
media.
According to a report[xvi], every fourth Nigerian
woman suffers domestic violence in her lifetime and   25 per
cent of women in Nigeria have to go through ordeal of domestic violence. The
worst forms of them are battering, trafficking, rape and homicide.

 

4.1.7.     Inheritance to family property is another
challenge peculiar to women in Nigeria, as it is still seen to a large extent
as an exclusive preserve of the male children.
Nigerian customary law of succession
and inheritance is patrilineal, which does not allow women to inherit real
property. The fact that a wife is not a blood descendant of her husband’s
family deprives her of succession rights in that family. As regards her
father’s place, a woman by culture is never allowed to come from her husband’s
house to inherit her father’s property. In both cases the female loses, as she
cannot inherit on either side[xvii].
This does not also exclude widows who jointly owned properties with their
husbands while alive.

 

4.1.8.     Although Section 42 of the
Constitution[xviii]
provides for right to freedom from discrimination in Nigeria, Job discrimination
against women is still also prevalent. Many employment opportunities are
unwelcoming of the female gender. It is usual practice to see vacancies with
the proviso that “a male candidate is preferable”. Some industries are open
enough about this discriminatory policy while many hide it for the fear of
being criticized, but even at that, the women never gets the job no matter how
highly qualified.

 

4.1.9.     There are several discriminatory
provisions against female Police Officers in the Nigerian Police Force
Regulations as it is, worthy of mention is Police regulations under the Police Act[xix].
For instance, section 124 of the regulation provides:

 

 

“A woman police officer who is
desirous of marrying must first apply in writing to the Commissioner of Police
of the state police command in which she is serving, requesting permission to
marry and giving the name, address, and occupation of the person she intends to
marry. Permission will be granted for the marriage if the intended husband is
of good character and the woman police officer has served in the force for a
period of not less than three years”

 

4.1.10. It is shameful that an institution
like the Nigerian Police Force can have such discriminatory regulation
and policies in place, part of which its female officers will have to obtain
permission to enjoy matrimony only after three years of service. More appalling
it is that the Commissioner of Police may still choose to refuse such
application.

 

5.0.          
IMPROVEMENTS ON WOMEN’S RIGHT S AND ADVOCACY.

 

5.1.          
There has
been a lot of improvement in the social, economic and political atmosphere for
women in Nigeria in the last decade. Although it is not yet time to celebrate,
a lot of progress has been made in terms of advocacy and policies’ improvement
towards giving equal opportunity to both genders in Africa and Nigeria.

 

 

5.2.          
Remarkably,
the Child Right Act was passed into law in 2003 in Nigeria. The law
domesticated the International Convention on Rights of child and has very many commendable
provisions that guarantees and protects the rights of the children, especially
the female gender in Nigeria. Regrettably, so far, at least, 11 states in the
North are yet to pass it into law in their respective states[xx].

 

5.3.          
Under the Child
Right Act, a Person under the age of 18 years is incapable of contracting a
valid marriage and where such marriage is contracted, it is null and void[xxi].
This provision has therefore nipped in the bud, the challenges of early marriage
for women and a plus for the Feminist movement in Nigeria. However, since most
states in the Northern part of the Country where Sharia law is predominant has
refused to domesticate the law, the challenge of child marriage still persists.

 

5.4.          
Also,
worthy of mention is that the Child Right Act[xxii]
provides that every child, both male and female has a right to free,
compulsory, universal primary education and all parents and guardian must
ensure their children of both gender attends and completes both primary and
secondary education. This provision helps to put an end to the discriminatory
policies in many homes where the female children are made to stay at home while
their male counter-part are sent to school instead.

 

5.5.          
Also, for a
longtime in Nigeria, there has been an age long tradition among the Igbo
culture, to the effect that women has no right to inheritance to their parents’
properties on the account of their sex and gender. However, by a judgment of
the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2014, in the case of UKEJI V.UKEJI (2014) LPELR-22724(SC)
, the court invalidated the Igbo customary law that discriminates against
female children’s right of inheritance to their late fathers’ property.
According to the judgment of the apex court, the Igbo customary law, aside
being contrary to natural justice, equity and good conscience, also violates
sections 42 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of
Nigeria (as amended). By this Landmark decision, the age-long discriminatory
succession rights against the women under the Igbo customary law declared
anachronistic  has been expunged and laid
to rest once and for all.

 

5.6.          
It is also
commendable to mention the pass into law of the Violence against Persons
(Prohibition) Act 2015[xxiii]
 which extends its coverage to acts
normally regarded as cultural and created offences such as domestic violence
against women, harmful traditional practices, psychological violence, sexual
violence and socio-economic violence. The Act expanded the scope of rape,
prohibits female genital mutilation[xxiv],
harmful widowhood practices, partner battery, stalking, domestic violence,
among others. It is also now an offence to forceful ejection a woman from home.

 

5.7.          
In 2019, a
bill was presented to the Senate to end the existing discriminatory policies against
female officers in the Nigerian Police Force[xxv].
The bill sought to expunge all the discriminatory regulations in the Police Act
against women. This covers several gender issues which encompass various
spheres of policy and practice, ranging from language, recruitment, training
and posting; to marriage, pregnancy and childbearing. This Bill is still going
through the parliamentary procedures and appears to be receiving a lot of
support from members of the national assembly. When eventually passed into law,
it will put an end to all the bias against women in the Nigeria Police Force.

 

6.0.          
CONCLUSION

 

6.1.          
In the
words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “We should all be Feminist” and the
statement is quite agreeable. Both male and female should be given an equal
opportunity to fly. We have seen what women are very capable of achieving when
given the chance to be expressive without any prejudice. All across the world,
women have distinguished themselves in various sector of the economy. Lately we
saw what Jacinda Ardern[xxvi]
has done as the Prime Minister of New Zealand and how honorably she handled and
still handling the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in her country. This is
one out of the many brave women worthy of mention all around the world. Women
in Africa have also set new standards for women’s political leadership
globally. For instance,
Rwandan women today hold 62% of the
country’s legislative seats, 
the highest in the world. 

 

6.2.          
Conclusively,
in recent times, there has been a lot of social media advocacy for equal
opportunities for women and Men in the society. The new generation of African
women and by extension Nigerian women appears to be very conscious of their
right and it is refreshing to see. On Twitter for example, it is now common
place to see various trending feminist hash tags like; “Feminarchy, Feminazy,
The Feminist Coven, Masculinist Feminista, Angry Feminist” and the likes. The
journey for women’s liberation has been tough and a rough one, however, it
gives respite to see improvement over the years in way of support for women and
their social inclusion in Policies.

 

 



[i]
Muhammed Burak Zenbat, An Analysis of The Concept of The Theory of Feminism
And Historical Changing and Developments of Feminism

[ii]
According the the United Nations, there are five sub-regions in Africa and they
are; West Africa, East Africa, North Africa, Central Africa and Southern
Africa.

[iii]
Black’s Law Dictionary (10th Edition) Bryan A. Garner 2014, Western
Publishing Co.

[v]  Pre Colonial Femnism is a movement happening
in the period before the White rule and control of Government In Africa, while
Colonial Feminism will mean the period of foreign control of Government in
Africa.

[vi]  A brief history of African Feminism, available
at https://www.msafropolitan.com/2013/07/a-brief-history-of-african-feminism

[viii]  “ We should all be feminist” was a
presentation by Chimamanda Adichie on the popular Tedx Talk in 2017.

[ix] A
brief History of African Feminism op.cit

[x]  Voting rights-The journey of Nigeria’s women,
available at https://thecraterlibrary.com/2020/04/07/voting-rights-the-journey-of-nigerias-women

[xi] The
protest took place in Abia State Nigeria and lasted for two months. The
struggle also led to the death of over 51 Women

[xii]  Many Schools of thought fix the age of Puberty
at 10 if the child has attained puberty see Ruxton F.H. Maliki Law (Luzac and
Company London) 93

[xiii]
Early Marriage, Child Spouses”(Innocenti Digest No 7 March 2001)

[xiv] General
Assembly Resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993

[xv]  The payment of bride price in the Nigerian
traditional marriage ceremony signifies the handing over….

[xvi]
This a report according to Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri a mental health physician
and psychologist

[xvii]
The Concept Of Gender Justice And Women’s Rights In Nigeria: Addressing The
Missing Link, Ngozi O. Odiaka, published on Afe Babalola University: Journal of
Sustainable Development Law and Policy Vol. 2 Iss. 1 (2013), pp. 190-205

[xviii]  Section 42 of the Constitution of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides for freedom from discrimination
based on gender, community, ethnic group, place of origin, religion or
political opinion.

[xix] Cap P19, L.F.N, 2004

[xx]
These states include Bauchi, Yobe, Kano, Sokoto, Adamawa, Borno, Zamfara,
Gombe, Katsina, Kebbi, and Jigawa while Kaduna has its own child right law.

[xxi]
Section 21 of the Act.

[xxii]  Section 15 of the Child Right Act.

[xxiii]
Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 was signed into law on the 25th
of May 2015.

[xxiv]
Section 6 Supra

[xxv]  The Bill was sponsored by Ezenwa Onyewuchi, a
Senator from Imo State.

[xxvi]  Jacinda Ardern is the 40th Prime
Minister of New Zealand.

 

 

ADENIYI
ADERINBOYE, LL.B (Hons) B.L

(adeniyiaderinboye@gmail.com)