News The African Way

Women’s Day 2016: Major Obstacles Persists Against Safeguarding Women And The Girl Child

By Omobonike Adebayo and Biodun Owo

In many nations around the world, including Nigeria, gender discrimination is still very persistent and perpetrated through social norms. For example discriminatory practices such as child/forced marriage, human trafficking, female genital mutilation/cutting, physical and sexual violence are still very prevalent in Nigeria with women and girls being victims of these practices. Women and girls are also disproportionately affected in conflict situations.

Child marriage is deeply rooted in the cultural traditions of many communities in Nigeria. Though the practice is believed to be a way of protecting the girl child from sexual assault and unwanted out-of-wedlock pregnancies as well as to protect family honour. Child marriage is a violation of human rights as majority of young girls are married without their free and full consent.

Trafficking in persons is still prevalent despite measures put in place by the government to punish perpetrators. A report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) shows that Nigeria country still serves as a source, transportation and destination for the trading of women and children. Over 8 million children are engaged in forced labour and most of them are gathered from rural areas within the country’s borders.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is another harmful practice that is deep-rooted in our tradition and performed by traditional circumcisers, traditional birth attendants, health professionals such as doctors and nurses/midwives for various reasons such as maintaining chastity before marriage and fidelity in marriage, increasing male sexual pleasure, initiation of girls into womanhood, maintenance of social acceptance, enhancing fertility, promoting better marriage prospects and child survival. Research shows that more than 19 million women in Nigeria have undergone FGM/C.

Violence against women is widespread in many parts of Nigeria and is ingrained in deep cultural beliefs. It occurs irrespective of social, economic or religious background. Common forms of violence against women in Nigeria are rape, acid attacks, molestation, and wife beating. It is of special concern in pregnancy because of the effect on the woman and the unborn baby; it is known to be associated with adverse pregnancy outcome such as miscarriage, preterm delivery, low birth weight and perinatal death. According to 2013 National Demographic and health Survey (NDHS), 28% of women age 15-49 have experienced physical violence at least once and 7% experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected in conflict-prone regions. This is made worse by insurgence of terrorists groups in the country. According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over half a million children have been displaced to date by the terror group, Boko Haram. Victims are taken from Nigeria to other West and Central African Countries; Women and girls are abducted and forced to serve as domestic or commercial sex workers. A 2014 study by the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) revealed that some of these women and girls are taken out of the continent for sexual exploitation.

Nigeria is signatory to several policies, legislations, and conventions that commit to eliminating discriminatory practices that are harmful to women and girls. Yet what is seen in reality is a far cry as there are still significant gender gaps in education, economic empowerment and political participation. Discriminatory practices, violence against women and gender stereotypes hinder the much needed progress towards gender equality. Nigeria has a particularly high maternal mortality rate and women’s access to quality health care is limited, especially in rural areas. Harmful cultural and traditional practices such as early and forced marriages, female genital mutilation as well as unplanned pregnancy, unsafe abortion, contribute significantly to the unacceptably high Maternal Mortality in Nigeria.

A 2012 UK study data ranked Nigeria 118 out of 134 countries in the Gender Equality Index. It showed that women make up only 21 percent of the non-agricultural paid labour force, the majority occupied in casual, low-skilled, low-paid informal sector employment. Another 2012 study by DFID showed that “Nigeria’s 80.2 million women and girls have significantly worse life chances than men and also their sisters in comparable societies”. Women are under-represented in all political decision making bodies and their representation has not significantly increased since the inception of democratic rule.

This myriad of challenges faced by Nigerian women and girls call for deliberate responsive actions from respective stakeholders. Executive Director of Women Advocates Research Documentation Centre (WARDC), Dr Abiola Akiyode urged Nigerian government to do a gender audit of their laws to ensure that discrimination against women and girls do not persist, and ensure that funds are budgeted towards addressing inequalities in Nigeria. “On maternal health the government should ensure that maternal health service is free, adequate and accessible”, she added.

According to Country representative of Champions for Change project in Nigeria, Theressa Kaka Effa, “Nigeria has great and various plans, policies, and laws to guide us in addressing our development and health issues. What we lack is the willpower at individual, community and governance level to do what is right. My recommendation to those in Governance is to be accountable to citizens – enforce and implement the various provisions as enshrined in protective laws such as the Child’s Rights Act, the National health Act 2014 , the Violence against persons prohibition Act 2015, Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015 Etc. She also called on citizens to take responsibility for their health and development by seeking information and educating others as well, demand for their rights and entitlements, vote objectively and for leaders who care about them and make true their promises.
Omobonike Adebayo and Biodun Owo work with DevComs Network, Lagos

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