20 August 2003

Nigeria: Gender Justice in Nigeria's Constitution


Lagos — Women make up 50% of the population of Nigeria. Life expectancy in Nigeria is 51.7 years and the Human Development Index ranking places Nigeria in 148 out of 173 poor countries in 2002. Women as caregivers increasingly bear the burden of poverty in their families. The care economy is that essential service which women render to their families in their homes, on behalf of the state, such as health care and provision of water. Women provide health care and services to sick members of their families who should have been in hospital, they spend over 6 hours daily in search of potable drinking water, women also spend many productive hours in search of fire wood and alternative sources of energy.

This is in itself a major economy because it is the work of women in this domestic sphere which sustains families, our children, to go to school, and our men to go to earn income. These activities actually help sustain our economies. In a neo liberal economy such as ours where governments are encouraged to spend less on social development sector issues, Women are subsidising the state as they pay wit their energy, time and resourcefulness, for the inability of the state to provide the basic needs that every citizen should have access to. Free, qualitative health care, clean water ad energy.

1999 Constitution and Democracy guarantee

To begin with no woman participated in the drafting of the 1999 constitution. The constitution was put together by '29 wise men'. To have a balanced perspective to development however, as they say two halves make a whole i.e. if one half is disempowered you cannot have growth or development. It thus is an issue of bad economics to ignore issues of welfare, access, control and participation for women and thus a matter of good political economy to respond to expanding the democratic space to include the aspirations of everybody man, woman and child.

Expanding women's political space, presupposes the existence of a political space in the first place. 'Expanding' however recognises the inadequacy of that space, either in terms of accessibility, control or the safety of the space for those who should occupy it.

Basis for review

1. Women have been discriminated against in governance and decision-making processes and access to economic and social rights.

2. The 1999 Constitution was flawed in the process, language and content, especially with respect to the issues and concerns of women.

3. Leadership commitment, transparency, justice and inclusivity are critical to the success of the 1999 constitutional review process.

4. There is inadequate coordination in the efforts of the Executive and National Legislature in the 1999 Constitutional Reform process.

5. There is no time frame identified for the review of the 1999 Constitution and the enactment of a new constitution.

6. Marginalised groups (women, youth and children and the disabled) have deliberately not been encouraged to participate in the constitution review process.

7. The adoption of gender sensitive constitutions in Eritrea, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda has enhanced growth, sustainable development and equitable distribution of resources in these countries.

A gendered view of 1999 Constitution -what is missing?

Affirming women's person hood

It is important to affirm the personhood of the girl child in much the same way the boy child is affirmed. The Girls and boys should be accorded equal opportunities for self actualisation. This will by extension be transferred to adulthood. The culture that utilises the female gender as a reproductive base for the more revered' male gender is discriminatory and not only repugnant to natural justice but also good economics. We should remember the maxim, which says that when you 'educate' a girl, you 'educate' a nation because a mother is the first contact of socialisation. Education here means the general well-being of a family and consequently the nation


Although we realise that for Nigerian women to attain full citizenship, an enabling environment in which policies and institutional mechanisms that allow women to have access to the decision making structures and processes that affect their lives as citizens of Nigeria is important, so also is reviewing and restructuring the 1999 Constitution. As it stands now, Nigerian women do not have full citizenship rights, they are not guaranteed safe reproductive rights. While there exists development policies such as health, education and also a national policy on women, the supreme document which is the constitution does not fully guarantee the rights of women.

The rest of this submission will be devoted to specific provisions in the 1999 constitution and how they can be engendered.

Recommendations for engendering the 1999 constitution

Discrimination: section 42 (i) but then section 42 (3)


The constitution is a fundamental document, which should not presented in a technical language, which excludes the ordinary Nigerian. but rather be readable and understood by everyone The South African and Ugandan constitutions are good examples here, showing us that it is not the bulk or the grammar contained in a constitution that makes it valuable, but a rich and consistent reflection and respect for diversity. We therefore recommend that

The language of the constitution should be modified to be gender-sensitive or neutral depending on the context;

The language of the constitution should be simple, such that everyone will understand its contents;

Respect for diversity

The constitution should be translated into some Nigerian languages which represent minority and majority ethnic groupings

The Motto of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should be amended to read "Unity and Faith, Equality, Peace and Progress". - {Section 15 (1)

Respect for the rights of the young female Nigerian

Section 29 (4) (b), which states that, "any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age" negates the rights of the girl child and should be expunged;

Section 37 should be amended to include 18 years as minimum age for marriage;

Marital status should be included wherever other parameters of discrimination are listed in the constitution

Citizenship rights

The constitution should include residency rights/obligations for persons that have lived in a state for a specific number of years to be determined by each state;

Section 29 should be amended to reflect that the right to confer Nigerian citizenship on foreign spouses should be equally guaranteed to both women and men;

The Committee should re-emphasise the creation of an Equal Opportunities and Social Justice Commission to replace the Federal Character Commission. The membership of the Commission should reflect gender balance and other diversities such as age, disability, ethnicity, marital status and religion;


A way of denying persons or group their rights as already guaranteed them under chapter 3 on fundamental human rights is through the subtle clauses of discrimination contained in the constitution, which denies certain opportunities to some people. Section 42 Certain specific steps need to be taken in this direction. This includes:

A definition of discrimination as hereunder contained should be added to Section 318 (Interpretation, Citation and Commencement) of the 1999 Constitution: "Discrimination is the denial of legal or national rights based on sex, religion, race, ethnicity, age, marital status, political opinion or affiliation and place of origin".

Full social benefits (Remuneration as deemed fit by the different arms of government) shall be given to women of reproductive age for pre, peri and post natal care

For the care of children under the age of six, for senior citizens over the age of sixty and for people living with disabilities including HIV/AIDS.

Affirmative Action

Implement Affirmative Action of a minimum 30% as stipulated in the Beijing Platform for Action to redress the gender imbalances in all political appointments;

Incorporate a gender perspective to national budgeting to ensure that women's concerns are adequately addressed and funded.

Review the school curriculum to make them gender sensitive.


Poverty of material needs, of voice of opportunity is about people, ordinary Nigerians women and men standing at a crossroads between death and despair. Poverty is at its root bred by unequal power relations, between the rich and poor, men and women, able and disabled. This is evident in the structural and systematic allocation of resources among different groups in society and their differential access to power and the political process. We call on all Nigerians to support the struggle for gender justice.

For reasons of equity, justice and development. Also because, women's needs by virtue of their cross- cutting roles does not mean what is meant for the well-being of women alone but also what is needed for children, the aged and men. Poverty, lack of access to health, nutrition, employment, and education would invariably have negative impact on the lives of the family and consequently the life of the nation. What better place to continue this engagement than through engendering the process of the emergence of a truly pro poor, pro women Nigerian constitution.

Salihu wrote in from Lagos

Copyright © 2003 This Day. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.