Introduction – Women Discrimination in Nigeria Discrimination against women is defined by Article 1 of the United Nations Conventions on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women of 1979 (CEDAW) 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 sex of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. This document is a landmark convention and the most important normative instrument that aims to achieve equal rights for women everywhere in the world. The Nigerian government became a state party to this convention when it ratified it in 1985 without reservations and signed the optional protocol in 2000. As defined by CEDAW, discrimination is symptomatic of a situation where patterns of structural inequality are maintained by rules, norms and procedures that dictate a subordinate role for women in all spheres of society.
This call for an end to all forms of discrimination against women emphasizes the need for a radical redefinition of the process and content of economic, social and political development. It stresses the need for a holistic orientation which acknowledges the role of women in development and engineers their integration into development processes as equal partners with men. Our evaluation of discrimination against women shall be focused on women and inheritance, especially in Igbo community, South East of Nigeria; without losing sight on other forms of women discrimination in Nigeria.
Discrimination affects women’s political and civil rights. Despite international, regional and domestic protections, discrimination persists in Nigeria. The persistence is due to structural and ideological factors. Nigeria is a traditionally patriarchal society. Mode of socialisation, religion and culture are created by and/or influenced by patriarchal systems that tend to subordinate women and reinforce gender discriminations. Male dominant elements of Nigeria society remain strong. Constitutional Rights & Livelihoods
Generally speaking, situation assessment of the Nigeria society reveals the consequences of gender discriminations. This varies from employment to culture, health issues especially as it relates to HIV/AIDS among others. In Industrial sector – 11% participation by women compared to 30% for men. Mining and Quarrying – 0%. Federal Civil Service: 76% (men), 24% (women); In Management positions, only 14% (women). Service Sector (predominantly informal and unregulated forms of employment) 87% (women). Medical field: 17. 5% (women), 82. 5% (men).
Because of gender roles that assume that men are bread winners, tax benefits related to child care are restrictively granted to male workers. Gender based norms and social roles prescribed for women (e. g. household tasks) do not diminish even when women engage in paid employment; thus prevents their mobility and self advancement. Reproductive roles, though very important, may deter women from taking advantages of opportunities to advance careers. Feminization of poverty. Lower income purchasing power (USD614) as compared to (USD1, 495) for males.
Women dominate the unregulated informal sector but not adequately represented in the National Accounting System (NAS). These disparities impact on the capacity of women to contribute to the economic growth of the country. Access and affordability are major issues for women. HIV infection rate among females (20 -24 years) is put at 5. 6 %. 60% of new infections are among young women (15 – 25 years). High maternal mortality ratio at 740 per 100,000 live births, Factors that perpetuate inequalities include transactional sex, lack of access to information and services; and the HIV/AIDS burden of care.
Contradictory provisions in the legal system in Nigeria – Customary, Islamic and Common and subjective application of these, e. g. for spousal violence and interstate inheritance issues. Unwritten traditional norms and family laws – widowhood rites, inheritance rights. Women and Inheritance Inheritance, which is the main focus of this paper, can be defined as “the entry of a lining person into the position of a dead person’s property. ” This issued can be discussed in two major headings: Inheritance under the general law- received English Law and local statues; and Inheritance under customary law (wills and intestate).
Basically the law recognizes two kinds of disposition of property on death- testate (with will) or intestate (without will). The rules respecting the latter are of greatest significance to Nigerian women. Onuoha (2008) observed that the patterns of inheritance and succession, particularly in Nigeria, have almost as many variations as there are ethnic groups in the country, and many of the variations are discriminatory in practice. While the law of inheritance and succession under English law is reasonably settled, the aspect dealing with customary law is not, which breeds conflict and acrimony among heirs.
The law discriminates among beneficiaries. Some are accorded rights of inheritance and others are not. Consequently, this customary law falls under repugnancy doctrine test and, more important, international conventions against discrimination. The discriminatory aspect of property inheritance under customary law in Nigeria manifests different forms and scope ranging from primogeniture rules, rights of adopted children and rights of illegitimate child; although it is generally agreed rule under customary law of interstate succession and inheritance that succession goes by blood.
More of concern to this paper is the right of spouses to the property of their deceased spouses. Ezeilo (2000), in her review of the Laws and Practices Relation to Women’s Inheritance Rights in Nigeria, explains that in Igbo land, basically wives do not inherit because of the customary notion that women are property and therefore, object of inheritance themselves. Daughters, like wives, do not inherit under Igbo customary law. The only situation where daughter can inherit is where for example she chooses to remain unmarried in her father’s house with a view to raising children the father’s home.
In respect of an unmarried daughter who is not ready to take this stance, her estate is inherited by full brothers; in default, fathers. If there is no surviving father or brother, the half brother will inherit but a sister or half sister cannot. In a situation where wife predeceased her husband, succession is as follows; the sons will inherit, failing sons, husband. The wife’s property like money, castle yams, and other important chattel goes to the sons or husband as the case may be, while the daughter inherits what is regarded as feminine properties for example, jewelry, domestic utensils, dresses, cocoyam and livestock (fowls).
In Yoruba land under the customary law, it is the children of the deceased, whether male or female, who are entitled to succeed to the deceased father’s property on his death intestate to the exclusion of the other relations. The property is shared among the children, either equally per capita or per stipes where the deceased has more than one wives. This shows that in Yoruba customary law, there is usually comparable treatment between son and daughter of the deceased and it is the children of the deceased male and female that are entitled to succeed to the deceased father’s property on his death intestate.
In contrast, a wife has no right of inheritance in her deceased husband’s estate. Under customary law marriage, the widows form part of the estate of their husband. Succession rights under Islamic law are mathematically laid out in the Quran. Under the law, wives and daughters are entitled to participate in the sharing of the estate of their deceased husband or father. When there are children or other descendants, the widow’s portion is one-eighth of the deceased estate. A woman without any child inherits one quarter of the deceased husband’s estate.
Implication to Development Disinheritance of women has become one of the tools of women discrimination, especially an extended part of widowhood rites. It brings great hardship on women, increases women’s poverty while at the same time exposing them to violence. It denies women the means of production, land and houses. Women like men are entitled to own and inherit land, property etc. and to enjoy them equally with men as human rights and without any discrimination on grounds of sex and gender.
Furthermore Disinheritance put women under stress thereby undermining their productive capacity. Women in Nigeria perform multiple economic and household responsibilities in the face of systematic discrimination in accessing the basic technologies and resources which are required to function in an economically productive and efficient manner. This discrimination imposes considerable limits on women’s capacity to participate in development. The role of women in Nigerian economy is highly recognized. Specific Obstacles to women’s Inheritance Rights
It is important to state here that there are specific obstacles as impediments to women inheritance rights in Nigeria. Ezeilo (2000) listed three, namely 1Legal Inadequate laws regulating administration of deceased estate particularly at federal level constitutes a major obstacle to women’s inheritance. Compounding this problem is also our legal system which gives rise to operation of at least a tripartite system of law that functions simultaneously. The existing laws dealing with inheritance and succession are not entirely free from sexist biases.
Furthermore, there is gap between law and practice. For example, on intestacy customary law applies notwithstanding the fact that the parties have entered into statutory marriage. 2Political Generally Nigerian women are politically marginalized. They lack access to power and decision-making positions through which meaningful changes can be realized. Government political appointments hardly favor women. They have always been tokens. For meaningful progress, women’s political participation must full and not mere tokenism 3Social Cultural
Ezeilo (2000) asserts that women social status is still very low. This is mainly due to illiteracy, poverty and cultural practices, which treat women as mini persons, objects of inheritance rather than subjects of inheritance. This traditional, cultural and religious beliefs that women are inferior and subordinate to men tend to perpetuate widespread practices involving violence and very harmful to women. The discrimination in education of girls and boys is borne out of this patriarchal attitude including son preference ideology.
Frequent importation of native law and custom of inheritance to execution of will of a testator duly made under the Wills Act results in hardship to even wives of statutory law marriage. For example, if a testator bequeaths his matrimonial home to his wife in perpetuity, objections are raised to the execution of that bequest on the ground that by native law and custom of Igbos, for example a man’s dwelling house (matrimonial home) belongs to the eldest son or to his male next of kin where is not survived by any male issue. 4Economic Obstacles
Women economic status has further jeopardize theior inheritance rights. Women, owing to several factors, lack access to means of production and since a woman’s right to property is subject to varying traditional and cultural practices, her ability to secure credit is undermined. 5Religion as an Obstacle Ezeilo (2000) argued that both religious practices in Nigeria- Christianity and Islam- militate against women’s rights to inheritance. A woman is not viewed as man’s equal; consequently both religions will hardly concede equality of share in inheritance.
The varying systems of religion relegate woman to the background thereby reinforcing the inferiority of women. Addressing the Problems of Women Discrimination, Especially Women Inheritance Rights in Nigeria Ezeilo (2000) argued that there has been little action towards enhancing inheritance rights of women in Nigeria. Works done has been disjunctive and as no desired national impact has been made. She postulated that the reason for this may be partly because the status of women in Nigeria with respect to inheritance rights is not the same everywhere.
Some women, particularly women married under the Act (statutory marriage), enjoy better inheritance rights and may not be bothered about the situation of other women subject to customary laws. Further to this, Ezeilo (2000) argued that the work of NGOs concerned with the promotion of women’s rights in Nigeria has been mainly at the level of advocacy – creating awareness about the type of marriage that will give a woman better inheritance rights and encouraging men to make wills.
This lop-sided type of advocacy that is not targeted at influencing laws and policies pertaining to inheritance rights have not improved in any way the status of women in Nigeria vis-a-vis inheritance right. Ezeilo (2000), claimed the Nigerian government has not done well either. There is lack of political will to effect any legislative changes particularly at the Federal (National) level. All the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission relating to family and personal laws are yet to be promulgated into law that will ensure that all marriages recognized under the law enjoy equal status.
Furthermore, there is lack of economic and political will to use existing governmental structures for example, Federal and States Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Justice and National Commission of Human Rights, to improve rights to inheritance. Recommendations This write-up therefore recommended the following possible strategies Law Reform It is very important to harmonize the received law, local statues and customary laws, particularly in the area of family law – marriage and inheritance. This has been done in some African countries successfully, Tanzania is a case study.
Tanzania became the first African country to attempt unification of customary laws in its various tribes. Although it is recognized that the law is not a panacea for all problems, it is very useful beginning that can ensure that the different types of marriages enjoy social and legal parity of status. Institutional Reform Institutional reform to support legislative reforms is important. This should include specific legal aid for women; appeal office for discriminatory practices; gender specific data collection and dissemination facilities, among others.
Literacy and Legal Education Women movements should intensify efforts that will bring about legal literacy. Mass literacy and legal education of the public should accompany reforms in law. This will enable women to become aware of channels of legal assistance and action. Urgent Action Funds An urgent action should be put in place to assist women globally in pursuit of their rights to equal dignity and freedom from sex discrimination. Such funds will support women to fight discriminatory inheritance laws and practices. Gender Sensitive Training
Gender sensitive training of the judiciary and other law enforcement officers is important for effective elimination of discrimination against women, moreso, because judicial precedent forms part of the law. Advocacy NGOs and other women’s organization should be trained to engage in advocacy that will influence laws and policies. Mainstreaming There is the need to mainstream gender issues in all activities and issues.. Networking The importance of networking amongst women’s groups locally, nationally and internationally can never be over emphasized.
It is only through a concerted action that the desired de jure and de facto charges can be achieved. Research and Monitoring Conducting intensive and well documented research into women’s realities with respect to inheritance laws and practices will provide the much needed information to embark on advocacy change. Also, the need to monitor and evaluate the impact of the advocacy is very important. Conclusion The legal and regulatory environment for women’s right to inheritance is not sufficient and the little legislation that exist show lack of commitment to gender equity in inheritance rights.
Also, the laws and practices governing inheritance and succession under customary law are very discriminatory and, therefore, constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of equality between men and women. Even the Islamic system that appears to be the most just under the customary law does not give equal rights and inheritance to daughters and wives. Social justice demands that both forms of marriage should be given equal treatment, more so, when both marriages are recognized under the law is valid. Nigerian government also is a signatory to CEDAW and should keep to its signatory obligation as a state party.
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