20 February 2014

Nigeria: Women's Group Receives Major U.S. Award

A Nigerian organization dedicated to promoting the rights of women in the country's legal systems has received a major award from an American foundation for its "outsized impact" in improving the lives of people and communities.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced on Thursday that the Women's Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) in Abuja was one of seven recipients of its 2014 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. The award is worth U.S. $750,000.

The other recipients of the award are American or Canadian organizations.

The MacArthur announcement said WRAPA works improve women's access to justice in "all three legal systems in Nigeria - common, traditional, and Shariah law."

The grant, it added, "will support the construction of a Resource Centre and the purchase of equipment and furniture. The Resource Centre will provide research and library facilities, office spaces, temporary shelter for abused girls and women, a conference hall, and an auditorium."

A full description of the WRAPA's work, as published on the foundation's website, follows:

Promoting and protecting the rights of Nigerian women

Nigerian women face myriad threats to and violations of their fundamental human rights, including unequal access to education and employment; yet, access to justice is hampered by poverty, ignorance, cultural- and faith-based inhibitions, cost, and corruption in the administration of justice.

Women's Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) works to promote and protect the rights of Nigerian women within the three legal systems that govern their lives: customary, common, and Sharia law. Its work betters the lives of individual women and seeks systemic changes to help all Nigerian women now and in the future.

Helping 15-30 women every day at the national and state levels, WRAPA takes a holistic approach that combines the provision of legal defense, public education, shelter, and skills and literacy training. Its membership of more than 15,000 men and women provides a powerful network of actors that can be mobilized to support the organization's efforts within government and local communities. WRAPA's deep knowledge of and involvement in the Nigerian legal systems enables it to confront discriminatory cultural practices and processes that have become embedded in Nigerian law.

WRAPA has shown effective leadership in advocating for women's rights on some of the most controversial and critical issues affecting the lives of Nigerian women, including consent to marriage and a woman's right to custody after divorce, which is not guaranteed to women in the country.

It has successfully represented women in high-profile cases that involved invoking due process in appealing harsh punishments under Sharia law.

Research by WRAPA informed the development of a set of resolutions by 84 government and Muslim leaders in Northwestern Nigeria that seek to advance women's rights under Sharia law, with a particular focus on support for a woman's consent to marriage and the financial responsibilities of divorced men toward their children and former wives.

Uptake of the resolutions is gaining traction, with important policy changes recently enacted in the states of Kano and Kaduna that serve to protect women's rights in divorce and marriage. In both situations, WRAPA is working closely with state governments to ensure effective policy change and implementation.

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