Nigeria is a country situated in sub-saharan (West) Africa, bounded in the north by Niger republic, north-east by Chad, in the south by the Atlantic ocean and west by Benin republic. ¹With a population of over 200 million people, Nigeria is notably the most populated country in Africa. In 2010 when the country had an estimated population of over 159 million people, 53.2% was between 15-64, 2.7% was 65 years and older making a total of 57.9 percent as being aged 15-65+ and a little less than half of the total percentage were women.¹ Over the years, the issue of human rights of women in Nigeria has become an issue of concern with various campaigns by several civil society organizations demanding women empowerment and support as well as its contribution. Some of these rights include; the right to live, right to education, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, right to vote and be voted for, and more among others. Hence, the challenges facing human rights of women in Nigeria, how COVID-19 has affected these rights, and the way forward, are the areas this write-up intends to examine.
In Nigeria, women play different important social roles based on religious, geographic and cultural factors. In addition to this, their roles are better defined by the ethnic differences.² has not been fully implemented.³ These rights are being affected by the religious, geographical, and cultural factors. For example, in Northern Nigeria which is predominantly an Islamic society, women are more secluded and have limited access to education than in Southern Nigeria. In recent years, there has been an even more intense outcry for the involvement of women in politics. The traditional Nigerian dictates that the primary role of women is the responsibility of home keeping and child rearing.³ Although, a lot of women have access to beneficial jobs through their education, in many instances, they are restricted by social expectations and boundaries.
Hence, there are quite a number of challenges facing the human rights of women in Nigeria. The issue of child marriage has been one of the biggest challenges limiting human rights of women as they are made to face family responsibilities early in life which goes a long way to limit their access to education. These marriages most often lead to child bearing which gives them little to no opportunity for education. There is also the issue of maternal death especially during childbirth at a rather tender age and this indirectly violates their right to life.² 43% of the girls are being married before their 18th birthday and 17% before the age of 15. It is more prevalent in the North than South of Nigeria. Another challenge is the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM), of which Nigeria accounts for the highest cases across the world. Its prevalence has however reduced significantly in the last 30 years.² Domestic violence is also a huge challenge in Nigeria and this can be attributed to the deep cultural belief of the social acceptability to hitting a woman as a form of discipline. This menace has shown no signs of reduction in the country.² A 2012 National Crime and Safety survey by the CLEEN Foundation reports that 31% of the sample respondents confessed to being victims of domestic violence. Examples of the most common forms of violence against women in Nigeria include; rape, beating, molestation, et cetera.
The first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Nigeria on February 28, 2020. Consequently, there was a surge in the number of confirmed cases and later in March, the Federal government declared a restriction of movement, religious and socio-economic activities in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States (where the number of confirmed cases were higher). Other states followed suit with efforts at contact tracing, testing, isolation, and case management.⁴ However, studies have shown that the rate of the violation of the human rights of women in Nigeria increased during the lockdown. A good example was the increase in domestic violence against women.⁴ The number of reported cases (May, 2020) is shown in Fig. A below.
Fig. A. Source: ( UN Women, 2020)
It has also been observed that rape cases surged at an alarming rate after the lockdown was lifted. One of the notable cases was of a 23 year old microbiology student studying in University of Benin, Nigeria, who was raped and murdered by unknown men at a church. Following that, numerous cases were also reported. Therefore, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a significant increase in the violation of human rights of women.
Moreover, the case of upholding the human rights of Nigerian women especially during this COVID-19 pandemic is not a hopeless one. Several online campaigns in the past few months have successfully turned significant attention to this issue and there has been a push for federal laws ensuring stronger persecution of human right violations. This will go a long way in reducing the issue of the violation of human rights of women. The work of non-governmental organizations in advocating for more education for women in Nigeria should be supported by the government with the required provisions put in place. Oppression of women especially in politics should be discouraged and defaulters punished with an initiative pushing for a more gender equal Nigeria.
¹ “Demographics of Nigeria”
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Nigeria. Retrieved 27 July 2020
² “Women in Nigeria”
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/women_in_Nigeria/. Retrieved 27 July, 2020
³ “Human Rights in Nigeria”
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Nigeria. Retrieved 27 July 2020
⁴ Uduak Akpan ( July 10, 2020).
“COVID-19 in Nigeria: A gendered perspective”. https://www.soas.ac.uk/blogs/study/covid-19-in-nigeria-a-gendered-perspective/