It is a common knowledge that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulates that there should be no discrimination against women, a position that aligns with the country’s status as a signatory to various treaties that frown at gender discrimination. But the curtailment of the right of women to share in family property in some communities in Nigeria, somewhat places a serious indictment on the nation while posing a strong question mark on the hitherto constitutional stipulation of no discrimination against women.
In recent times, thanks to increased awareness, there has been an increase in the agitation for the enforcement of women’s rights. Consequently, courts are increasingly inundated with matters bordering on the enforcement of the rights of women, especially the right to own and inherit property.
Women’s rights do not mean insubordination but simply the enforcement of human rights of women, and human rights have been described as those basic claims which human beings as individuals or groups need to maintain a minimum standard of decent living, respect and worth.
Women’s rights are not an arbitrary creation, they are derived from the International Bill of Rights such as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Two common features of these rights are the principles of equality of all persons and non-discrimination based on the fact that all humans without exception need the basic freedoms and conditions.
Beclouded by inferiority complex, greed and myopia, some persons have decided not to recognise women as equals.
Equality as employed here denotes the recognition of everyone as being able and capable, not in the sense that there is a pre-existing struggle for supremacy. Women and men are distinct in their rights and play complementary roles, therefore, there is no need to struggle for dominance.
The major yardstick to measure equality in any society is how far all the components of that society enjoy the basic human rights and fundamental freedom. These rights which are reflected in Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as Fundamental Rights, include the Right to Life, the Right to Dignity of the Human Person, Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, Right to Freedom from Discrimination, Right to Acquire and Own Property anywhere in Nigeria.
Despite these constitutional provisions and convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW), women are not allowed to inherit or even purchase property in some parts of the country.
The constitution, in section 42, guarantees the right to freedom from discrimination yet people blatantly disregard this provision and trample on women’s rights.
It is still viewed as an aberration by many for a woman to own property or even aspire to hold some offices. Women who fight for their rights are abhorred and viewed as being foolishly re-calcitrant, likely to corrupt and poison the minds of other “decent” and “respectful” women. They are constantly denied and reminded of their place (the kitchen/background) whenever they dared to be heard.
Women who own properties, even in this 21st century, are perceived as vain and money-loving. A woman dares not dream of getting an inheritance from her parents. Also common is the dispossession of women by their husband’s family members after the death of their husbands. Even where there is a will, forgery is alleged in the bid to dispossess the woman. Though this tradition is condemned by many in the open, it is still unabatedly perpetrated in most parts of the country.
It is important to recall at this point, the solemn declaration on gender equality in Africa, which reaffirms the principle of gender equality as enshrined in Article 4(1) of the Constitutional Act of African Union. Member states which Nigeria is one, declared to actively promote the implementation of legislation to guarantee women’s land, property and inheritance rights including the right to housing.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights ACHPR), which was domesticated in Nigeria under its Enforcement and Domestication Act Cap 10 1990, makes the charter enforceable in any court in Nigeria, making it mandatory on the various states of the federation to ensure the elimination of discrimination against women and also to protect the rights of women.
I think it is time to desist from paying lip service to women’s rights, implementation. After all, it is the obligation of government to promote and protect human rights (those of women inclusive). Nothing short of equal distribution of rights and obligations between men and women can engender lasting peace and full utilisation of our human resources.