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TRENDING:
Legal Provision and Women's Aspiration in Nigeria
Posted to the web: 7/14/2002 8:15:26 AM
 
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However, in the progressive march to the future, even if Nigerian women abide by all these, as many are already doing, the potential for genuine reward for success will hinge to a very large extent on the re-examination of the Nigerian law as it affects them. This is because there are some assumptions which have been wittingly or unwittingly incorporated into the country's laws and which could act as the psychological inhibitor to the aspirations of women. In favour of this observation, the renowned English philosopher, J. S. Mill, argues that he principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes - the legal subordination of one sex to the other - is wrong in itself... it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privileges on the one side nor disability on the other (Mill, 1970).

Specifically, within the Nigerian context, there is need to reconsider the status of the Nigerian woman in law and the legal issues relating to marriage. The Federal Government of Nigeria, being a signatory to the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women, generally appears committed to the building of an egalitarian society where every Nigerian enjoys equal rights irrespective of age, sex or creed.

The 1979 Constitution improved on that of 1963 because it inserted sex as one of the basis on which no one should be discriminated against. This is repeated in the 1999 Constitution. In the chapter on fundamental rights and freedom, suc- cessive governments have sought to keep alive the spirit of the International Convention on the elimi- nation of Discrimination Against Women. Discrimination, according to Article 1 of the Convention, is defined 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, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other fields.

With regards to marriage, Article 16 spells out that parties to the convention should ensure that men and women, on a basis of equality, have the same right to enter marriage; the same right and responsibility during marriage and at its dissolution: the same rights as parents, irrespective of their marital status in matters relating to their children; to have access to the information, education and means to enable them exercise those rights, the same right and responsibility with respect to the guardianship, wardship or adoption of their children, the same right as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family, a profession and an occupation, and the same right with respect to the acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and dispo- sition of property.

However, certain realities on the ground in Nigeria negate all these specifications to the disad- vantage of women. There is, for instance, a multiplicity of marriage patterns in Nigeria, with the type chosen depending on the ethnic or religious grouping or the level of sophistication of the parties in the Changing Status And Roles Of Women

marriage. There are the customary, religious and civil law marriages. The oddest dimension though is the common knowledge that Nigerian men, inspite of the offence of bigamy as stipulated in the Marriage Act, have never been successfully prose- cuted for that anomaly. There are also the excess- es often committed under some marriage systems such as child-marriage and absence of consent by the bride. The customary law system, however, seems to have been the most disadvantageous to women.

The dictum of the Justice Mohammed Bello, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, sums up the plight of women under most of our customary law system: Under some of our native laws, a woman has no right to the inheritance of the estate of her father. The most degrading aspect is that she is treated as chattel forming part other husband's estate, to be inherited by his heir. Then on widowhood, she is subjected to such degrading treatment as if she caused her dear spouse's demise.

It is worthy of note that significant progress is being made towards rectification of the main issues in the disadvantageous positioning of women in our legal books. For example, women can now stand bail in the law courts and police stations. However, for a sustenance of the progress so far made, all categories of women (urban and rural) would need to be more involved in national governance as argued by T. C. Chukuma. Her words: Leadership is a critical factor in development in Nigeria. Political leadership is a factor which has affected pace of social and economic development. For fears our male folk have dominated political leadership leaving the women in the background. Our women on their own part appear to accept the situation as a "fait accompli." The situation has been that executive and legislative decisions are taken by men for men and women. Obviously, the above situation has resulted in the existing discriminatory fiscal poli- cies which leave women disadvantaged in taxation and other benefits. The women and society in general, therefore, have a duty to perform in the political education of women for purposes of political empowerment.

CONCLUSION In conclusion, one cannot but have recourse to such submissions as those of Gerhard Lenskill who proposes that "privilege" (as well as status), in a society is distributed largely on the basis of power which emanates from three sources: property or general economic power, position or political hierarchy, and force. Blumberg, cited earlier on, argues that in translating this to the area of sex equality, for women, economic power is the most importani influence with respect to some very basic privileges.

These she terms "life options" which include: deciding whether, to whom and when tc marry; deciding to end a marriage the control over freedom of movement, control over fertility, access to educational opportunities and degree of house- hold authority. The future Nigerian woman is likely to be in posses sion of these "life options" provided the tempo of the quest for political and economic empowerment going on now is sustained.

 

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