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  • Background to the Study

Since the emergence of the present civilization in many parts of the world, it is notable that the female gender especially women have suffered various kinds of discrimination that has necessitated the current global trends to ameliorate it.  Within the contexts of the United Nations, one of these trends is the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on December 18, 1979 by the overwhelming majority of the United Nations General Assembly members.  CEDAW, adopted as a major United Nations international treaty of human rights, asserts in its preamble (CEDAW, 2003:2) that:

Extensive discrimination against women in countries do exist and such discrimination violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity… discrimination is understood as any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex in political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.


Women all over the world are faced with many peculiar and complex problems. Many of these problems revolve around their rights within their different societies. These problems manifest in different forms in various societies with extensive implications for women’s rights. Notwithstanding the seeming differences in the manifestations and dimensions of the problem there exist substantially somewhat similarities cross-culturally. Antrobus (1991) as cited in Charles-Granville (2010:1) corroborates this position when she explains thus:

Although we are divided by race, class, culture and geography, our hope lies in our commonalities. All women’s unremunerated household work is exploited. We all have conflicts in our multiple roles, our sexuality is exploited by men, media and the economy, we struggle for survival and dignity, and rich or poor we are vulnerable to violence. We share our “otherness” our exclusion from decision-making at all levels.


Women in Nigeria presently, suffer discrimination under customary and statutory laws. The lives of a great number of Nigerian women are regulated and influenced by different customary sub-systems that exist in the country. The problems include but not limited to matters in the domain of ownership of property, marriage and divorce, custodianship of children, inheritance, harmful traditional practices which are largely governed by customary laws in the country. There are also statutes, as supporting components of the legal system covering a wide range of subjects which discriminate against women in matters of employment, taxation, access to credit and appropriate technology, health care, opportunities for women to participate in the decision-making arena and in politics. According to the editorial comment of Women’s Rights Monitor (1995: 16) the rights, privileges and opportunities governed by customary laws and statutes are largely inaccessible to women in real terms. It is pertinent to note that the struggle for the rights of women is a positive one which recognizes the equality of women’s contribution in every aspect of the community.

In pre-colonial Nigeria, many women gained socio-political and economic prominence either through achievement or aristocratic background. Opportunity existed for women to take leadership roles in politics, religion, social and economic life. Awe (1992: 61) cited examples of women leaders of that era like Queen Amina of Zaria, Idia of Benin, Moremi of Ife, Kambasa of Bonny, to mention but a few. Some Feminists like Jaggar (1983), Young (1989) and Richards (1982) argue that because of the degree of discrimination and disadvantage women face, true equality for women must involve a temporary measure of ‘affirmative action’. Recent efforts to document the real situation of women world-wide have produced some alarming statistics on the economic and social gaps between women and men. According to the League of Democratic Women Publication (1999: 31), women constitute the larger proportion of the 68% of the population that is illiterate in Nigeria. Women in Asia and Africa work 13 hours a week more than men and are mostly in the informal sector and in the homes which are not measured in official statistics. In many parts of the world, most women are unable to exercise their right to loans and credit, even though this right is established under the CEDAW and is considered to be a powerful tool in overcoming poverty and economic dependence. Women hold between 10% to 20% of managerial and administrative jobs worldwide and less than 20% of jobs in manufacturing. Women make up less than 5% of the world’s Heads of State. As a matter of fact, available statistics from the World’s Women (1990) reveal that women’s unpaid housework and family labour, if counted as productive output in national accounts, would increase measures of global output by 25% to 30%.

Procedures have been evolved at the international, regional and domestic levels as a concrete expression of the concern to bring men and women on an equal footing to the full protection of individual welfare which is what human rights discourse is all about. The dominant feature of these standards has been the effort to promote equality between different groups in the enjoyment of human rights and the articulation of the norm that no particular group should be accorded less favourable treatment than the other. This is one of the basic tenets of the United Nations Charter (1945), which lists among others, the purposes of the United Nations, the promotion and encouragement of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. These norms can also be found in such international documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations General Assembly, 1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (often referred to as the Economic Rights Covenant) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (United Nations General Assembly, 1966) (often referred to as the Political Covenant). The same normative standard is expressed in regional documents such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and can be found at the national level in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999). It is the expectation of these international documents that when adopted and ratified by nation states and domesticated for implementation that the status of women in all spheres of life will be greatly improved.

All these informed women’s rights advocates to conclude that nothing short of a ‘Bill of Rights for Women’ was needed if women are to achieve fair rights. The bill came in 1979 in the form of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  CEDAW is in essence an international bill of rights for women providing the basis for ensuring the rights of women in those countries that have ratified it.

For these countries, the convention becomes an International treaty obligating them to pursue a policy of eliminating discrimination against women. The convention, in its 30- article provision, binds governments to the following:

  • Article 2, to ensure laws which embody the principle of equality;
  • Article 3, to ensure full development and advancement of women;
  • Article 4, to take temporary special measures to combat discrimination;
  • Article 5, to modify social and cultural patterns based on stereo-typed sex roles;
  • Article 6, to suppress the traffic and exploitation of women;
  • Article 7, equality in political public life at national and International levels;
  • Article 8, to ensure that women are given opportunity to represent their government at international levels and organizations;
  • Article 9, to permit women to change or retain nationality;
  • Article 10, to ensure equal right to all in the field of education;
  • Article 11, to ensure equal opportunities for employment;
  • Article 12, to ensure equal access to health services and appropriate services for maternity;
  • Article 13, finance and social security;
  • Article 14. to ensure the application of all its provisions to rural women;
  • Article 15, equality in legal and civil matters;
  • Article 16, equality in family law
  • Articles 17 — 30 deal with the administrative workings for the convention (United Nations CEDAW, 2003).

Okagbue (1996) as cited in Charles Granville (2010: 5) sees it as a framework for women’s reports participation in the development process which spells out internationally accepted principles and standards for achieving equality between women and men. Such principles include: Principle of equality, principle of non-discrimination and principle of state obligation (IWRAW, 2009:3). The convention has been ratified by 184 States as at August 11, 2006 (UN Division for Advancement of Women, 2006). Nigeria being a state party to the convention has so far submitted 5 to CEDAW since its ratification in 1985. Nigeria submitted its initial report in 1986. The 2nd and 3rd Reports were combined and submitted in 1998 at its 19th Session (CEDAW 1998, 9), while the 4th and 5th Reports were submitted to the Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women at its 30th Session in 2004. The 6th periodic report was also submitted to the Committee at its 41st Session on Thursday, 3rd July 2008 with schedule and summary records encoded CEDAW/C/SR.836 and CEDAW/C/SR.837.  The reports were sent through the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Youth Development. Nigeria’s periodic reports 1 to 5 are important to the country’s obligation to her CEDAW treaty in two ways: one, prompt submission of the reports is an important index of compliance with the statutory requirements of the convention. It is based on the periodic reports that the United Nations and the International Community at large assess progress made by governments in protecting and promoting women’s rights in their respective countries. Two, the Reports are presented in a manner that suggests progressive good-will towards the convention by the government, non-governmental organizations and women to the effect that much has been achieved.

Prompt submission of country reports per se and the notation of progressive good-will towards women indicate that the Nigerian government is also creating and supporting awareness and enhancement in the rights of women in Nigeria, their roles in the development process, as well as the total elimination of discrimination against women. For instance, the language used in the 4th and 5th Periodic Reports state that in compliance to Article I of CEDAW, the constitution of Nigeria (FRN, 1999:Article 1) confers equality on all citizens of Nigeria irrespective of ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion. Article (1) of CEDAW defines the term “Discrimination Against Women” as:

Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women irrespective of their marital status on a basis of equality of men and women, rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.


Article (2) requires governments to eliminate discrimination against women and enunciates government’s obligation to promote equality and ensure full development and advancement of women through constitutional, legal and other appropriate means. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Section 42 confers equality on all citizens of Nigeria (FRN, 1999:23-24). It states thus:

  • A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion, shall not by reason only that he is such a person-
  1. Be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action of the government to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religious or political opinions are not made subject to; or
  2. Be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religious or political opinions.
  • No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.

The policy thrust of the National Policy on Women (NPW) supports Nigeria joining other countries to adopt the CEDAW, and affirms the alleviation of the numerous constraints on women’s full integration into its development process. The policy which was adopted by the Nigerian government in the year 2000 has been highly commended as government’s major way of redirecting public policies to promote gender equality. Unfortunately, it does not define “discrimination against women” which is a grievous omission.

In Article 4 of Nigeria’s 6th periodic report to CEDAW Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women which concerns rural women, it is reported that successive governments have taken measures and instituted policies to enhance the living standards of women in rural areas through; The Better Life for Rural Women Programme (BLRWP), The Family Support Programme (FSP), The Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP) amongst many others. In reality, the above mentioned measures are yet to benefit the rural Women as little improvement is seen in this area owing to lack of commitment of the Nigerian government. For instance, funds allocated to the rural people are often hijacked by the urban elites who form cooperative societies as a ruse to qualify for the loans (Adewole, 2001; Africa Watch, 1991). Worse still, most of the programmes mentioned above and discussed in the government report to the CEDAW Committee are not sustainable.  In Article 15 of CEDAW, equality before the law, the Nigerian constitution also guarantees equality of men and women in its Chapter 14 which deals with fundamental rights. The truth is that despite the notion of equality as stated in the constitution, discriminatory abuses abound in Nigeria.

Socio-cultural factors pose major obstacles to the advancement of women rights. Customs, culture, tradition and religion have continued to relegate women to an inferior position. Harmful traditional practices such as widowhood rites, inheritance, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early and forced marriage and other practices such as sexual harassment, human trafficking and several other works against women in society (Charles Granville, 2010: 10). Customary laws have continued to limit the rights of women in and out of marriage as they have no land rights, right of inheritance and succession but are subjected to all forms of cultural violence.

As recorded by the International Human Rights Law Group in August 2001, millions of African and Nigerian women become destitute upon the death of their husbands, particularly if they are childless, their children are female, or their sons are minor (International Human Rights Group and Women’s Aid Collective, 2001). Also the complex interaction of the multi-tiered legal structure which functions simultaneously with very significant informal social controls based on gender, ethnicity and religion affects the status of women. Section 55 of the Northern Penal Code of Nigeria (PC, 1963) allows for chastisement of the wife by the husband as long as it does not amount to the infliction of grievous injury. All of the above forms of discrimination are inimical to the achievement of the rights of women and their advancement in Nigeria. In the prevalence of these anti-women’s right practices in Nigeria and the administration of so many anti-women laws (especially in the Northern Part of Nigeria), it is not surprise that the Nigerian government has not moved beyond the mere ratification of CEDAW objectives in the country. This mere ratification instead of domestication required has constituted a bulwark against the effective implementation of the CEDAW objectives in Nigeria. Sequel to this, this research work therefore intends to examine how CEDAW principles and objectives have helped in the enhancement and protection of the rights of women in Nigeria with reference to South-South Geo-political zone.

1.2      Statement of the Problem 

Challenges to women rights in the face of the existing international convention, such as CEDAW, that are intended to improve the conditions of women in Nigeria society are alarming. Women’s equal dignity and human rights as full human beings are enshrined in the basic national, regional and international instruments meant to protect the rights of women. Nigeria is signatory to most of these International Treaties. It surprises one that despite the widespread movement towards democratization in most countries of the world, women are largely under-represented at most levels of government, especially ministerial and other executive bodies and have made little progress in attaining political power in legislative bodies as recommended by the Economics and Social Council (ECOSOC) (UN Publication, 1996).

According to the Nigerian Constitution chapter IV Section 42, (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999) the basic fundamental human rights of every citizen are guaranteed.   Since then, several Nigerian democratic regimes have established courts, tribunals, laws and other agencies that enforce the human rights of their citizens. In spite of these human right enforcements and the tenets of CEDAW which Nigeria has ratified, little seems to have been achieved in Nigeria with regards to women rights. Women are still subjected to traditional, cultural practices and beliefs harmful to them, including female genital mutilation, child and early marriage, widowhood practices, sexual harassment and son preference. Male-favoured traditions and values prevent women from owning and inheriting landed property.  Akande (1979:66) contends that “Nigerian women do not have full legal capacity in so far as they are unable to independently enter into contracts, acquire and own property, enter into legal transactions, sue or be sued”. The Nigerian legal system today still limits the rights of a woman in marriage under all the functional legal systems (Statutory, Sharia and Customary Law).

Scholars like Ezeilo (2002), Olufemi (1993), Ofor (1998) as well as activist groups such as Women’s International Network (WIN) and Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) argue that the ideological reinforcement for structural inequality is provided by customs, practices and norms within the society. Consequently, the rights as enshrined in international conventions especially CEDAW face these obstacles that are inherent in society. It has also been argued that one of the major global constraints on the promotion of women’s rights has been the depressed economic environment in which many developing countries find themselves. Welch (1993) and Ekpenyong (1991) are of the view that the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) embarked upon by many developing countries have restructured their economies and compelled governments to cut back spending and significant economic contraction due to privatization of government-owned business to the detriment of women. This affects the rights of all Nigerians but women are particularly worse off.

Under colonial rule however, women lost a great deal of authority and the opportunity to participate in decision-making due to their exclusion from all levels of administration. The economic system granted men more opportunity than women for meaningful participation, a legal system was introduced wherein women lost some of the benefits open to them in pre-colonial societies. A religious system was also imposed which deprived women of their pre-colonial power and authority. More males than females had access to the educational system. These elements of institutionalized male dominance were observed to be caused by exigencies of colonial administration and the high ‘protection quotient’ of the traditional society for females. The colonial administration offered jobs to only those with some knowledge of the English language, the language of bureaucracy and governance in colonial Nigeria. The traditional society was somewhat protective of women, preferring to keep them at home rather than have them test the “unknown waters” of western education (Charles-Granville, 2010:13).

It is interesting to note that government at different times had tried to proffer some solutions to the problem of rights of women especially the socio-political and economic rights of women, by introducing women-friendly poverty-alleviation programmes like Better Life for Rural Women Programme (BLFRWP), Family Support Programme (FSP), Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP), Adult Education Programmes and many others. The paradox has been that despite these programmes, no dramatic changes have taken place to ameliorate the situation of women. This situation is very much pronounced in the communities within the South- South zone of the country where development has been neglected by successive governments.

It is in the light of the above poor attitude from Nigerian government towards the enhancement of the rights of women and her inability to domesticate and implement the tenets of CEDAW in Nigeria so far, that the basic problem of this study, is to examine why, in spite of the Nigerian government’s ratification of the optional protocol the CEDAW in 2004, the achievement of the principles of CEDAW in Nigeria’s South-South zone is yet to manifest.  To do this effectively, we shall project CEDAW’s objectives, features and dynamics as a phenomenon that affects the human rights situation of women in the  South –South zone of Nigeria and the consequences thereof.

To focus the study’s problem properly, the following research questions are posed:

  1. How have the principles of CEDAW improved access to women’s education in the South-South zone of the country?
  2. How has CEDAW empowered women with respect to equal employment opportunity in the zone?
  3. What are the contributions of CEDAW in improving women’s involvement in decision making in the zone?
  4. What are the effects of CEDAW objectives on the people’s traditional attitude on the rights of women in the South-South zone of Nigeria?

1.3     Objectives of the Study

The aim of this study is to examine CEDAW and women’s socio-economic rights in Nigeria with reference to the South-South zone of Nigeria (1999-2010).

The specific objectives of the study are to:

  • Examine how CEDAW principles improved access of women to education in the South-South zone of Nigeria.
  • Assess how CEDAW empowered women with respect to equal employment opportunity to the zone.
  • Identify the contributions of CEDAW in improving women’s involvement in decision making in the South-South zone of Nigeria.
  • Ascertain the effects of CEDAW objectives on the people’s traditional attitudes on the rights of women in the South-South zone.


1.4      Significance of the Study

The study has theoretical and empirical significance that serve as justification for the study.

Theoretically, the work will add to the existing literature on theories that abound on the subject matter. It is also in conformity with adopted theoretical framework. In this wise, feminist related theories as liberal feminism and its application to the relationship between Nigeria and CEDAW objectives are analyzed here. From the analysis of such relationship, noted and observed scientific tools as fresh concepts, hypotheses, models, social laws and paradigms are organized around the topic for further consideration, contemplation and application. Nigeria having ratified CEDAW, it is hoped that the implementation will bring women to the limelight for nation building.

Empirically, the study will contribute substantially in proffering solutions to the problems of women rights and offer suggestions for sustainable women advancement in Nigeria. The policy relevance of this study is potentially relevant for Nigeria’s national policy makers. It is a promising source of information for women activists, the media and women themselves in the rural and urban areas of the country.

Finally, the research findings will also be of invaluable benefit towards the development efforts in the zone. Students of gender studies will also find the work useful in some ways. At least, it will be very informative and even provide a basis on which other studies with bearing on the development of women can be anchored.

  •  Scope and Limitations of the Study


Geographically, this study covers the South-South Geo-political zone of Nigeria, comprising Cross River, Akwa -Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo states from 1999-2010. This period under review was when women put more efforts on how to get their rights, for instance the 1999 Constitution Section (42) confers equality to all citizens. More so, many women friendly programmes such as NAPEP were introduced within the period. The area was chosen because many cultural and traditional practices that inhibit women socio-economic rights are observed in this part of the country. In terms of the content, the study examined CEDAW and its provisions on women socio-economic rights in Nigeria with reference to the South-South zone. This is with regards to access to education, employment, decision making and subjections to discrimination and harmful traditional practices. In other words, this study interrogates issues relating to the Nigerian government’s adherence to the principles and objectives of CEDAW and the effects of this on women’s rights and advancement in the South-South Geo-political Zone of Nigeria.

Limitations of the Study

            In the course of carrying out this research work, there were some challenges that imposed constraints to the study.

In the collection of some necessary information from the women selected from the strata, most of them were not literate enough in English to understand the questions thrown to them. In this regard, it was difficult getting information from them in any language other than their local languages. However, this problem was solved by hiring female research assistants who were knowledgeable in their respective local language. Additionally, we approached few enlightened women within each stratum of the respondents, who explained some of these cultural constraints that impede women’s rights in our study areas.

Secondly, information needed for the research from certain organizations was also difficult to come by. This is because, these workers claimed that most of the documents were tagged ‘‘confidential documents’’ and therefore, not meant for disclosure even to researchers like us. Majority of these workers emphasized that knowledge of the disclosure of these vital information to the researcher involve their being sanctioned in the organizations.

Thirdly, there were also the challenges of most of the local women not volunteering information to the researcher on grounds of cultural inhibition by their communities on such sensitive topics like domestic violence against women, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, rape, widowhood practices and inheritance rights of women. In most of these states, especially Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom States, the culture abhors the indigenes from explaining some of these discriminating practices of the community against women.

Inspite of all these, the researcher was able to get adequate information to backup this study.

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