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On 24th May 2020, Amarachi Nickabugu, a Nigerian feminist and lawyer started a project on Twitter called #EverydaySexism. In it, every day she made a thread where each day a sexist law from countries around the world was highlighted with a primary focus on African countries.
In an interview with Meeting of Minds UK, Ms Nickabugu said her thread was not only to raise awareness on how women’s second class status was ingrained in legal structures but also to see how many laws she could put out before she ran out of content for the thread.
However, the thread stopped a year later and three major areas where discriminatory laws showed up were marriage, inheritance and citizenship.
Most countries had laws barring women from equal inheritance and most if not all, had laws that made marriage an especially difficult deal.
Nigeria was no exception to this and had laws in the thread which barred women from granting foreign husbands citizenship.
The thread also highlighted how the Penal Code in Nigeria allowed a man to legally beat his wife as a form of correction.
The importance of the thread which Ms Nickabugu made, became more apparent when it was reported a week to International Women’s Day that five pro-women bills were voted against by the Nigerian senate.
One of such bills was the citizenship bill which if passed would grant foreign husbands married to Nigerian women the right to be Nigerian citizens too. Another would create affirmative action for Nigerian women in politics to bridge the gap between women and men in politics.
These anti-women policies which are being fought against have affected women in real-time. For example, Document Women reported in an article about the difficulties faced by women politicians like Mrs Bianca Ojukwu when they attempted to run for office even in their husband’s hometowns. If properly implemented, the indigeneship bill promises to address the political homelessness of Nigerian women politicians.
In addition, the Nigerian House of Assembly is largely polarized towards men thereby making it hard to pass and discuss pro-women policies. Another originally rejected bill sought to address this by advocating for 111 seats for women in representative politics.
In the area of marriage, the double standard was more glaring as the law makes it impossible for foreign men married to Nigerian women to gain Nigerian citizenship. While it seems unclear as to the reasons why this is done, it can be said that it is because of the sexist belief that only men can acquire women and bestow personhood on women through marriage.
To better understand the sexist nature of the legal system in everyday living in Nigeria, Document Women spoke to two women.
Ms Nickabugu, as a lawyer, said that although the constitution does state that men and women are equal in the eyes of the law, it allows for inequality, especially through the marriage of young girls.
For her, the incidence of lawmakers being anti-women is not new. She went on to say that: “In 1962, Nigeria’s Electoral Act disqualified women in the North from voting. It was not until 1979 that Northern women were allowed to vote for the first time”.
To her, what Nigerian women are experiencing in 2022 with the rejection of the gender bills, is a result of “state-sanctioned being a tale as old as time”.
For Ebele Molua, a feminist organizer and media enthusiast, her main fear is how the rejection of pro-women laws tells young girls that women are second class citizens.
“Nigerian culture rides very heavily on the back of its women while limiting how much decision-making power we have not just over the betterment of our society, but also our individual lives outside,” Ms Molua said. “This culture of sexism which was heavily western-influenced shapes the creation and adherence to laws that guide how women are treated in our society”.
She went further to say that the Nigerian state allows for men to legally beat their wives with little or no provision for punishment and she also stated how sexist laws permeate into workplaces with some ministries disallowing women from working night shifts.
For Ms Molua, she highlights the importance of affirmative action, especially for women in politics and lawmaking; both of which are areas of contention for Nigerian female politicians. Ms Molua says that “no nation can progress with 50 percent of its women being left out of the decision making conversations”.
Following protests by women’s groups led by Chioma Agwuegbo and Nimisire Emitomo, the House of Representatives announced on International Women’s Day, that it would reconsider the three bills out of the five rejected.
While it seems like a step in the right direction, it does beg the question of why women’s rights are always up for debate, especially by mostly male lawmakers who do not live women’s reality. It also begs the question of why the work of women like Senator Biodun Olujimi gets erased.
Mrs Olujimi is one of the few Nigerian female lawmakers, advocating for pro-women bills to be passed.
One of such is the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill. Despite her work advocating for it, it not only was ignored but also the excuse given on the initial rejection of the earlier mentioned five bills was that: “Nigerian women didn’t lobby enough”.
Asides from protests and awareness campaigns, the solution to the lack of pro-women lawmakers remains in women taking up the mantle and supporting women whose electoral visions are strongly in line with the rights of women.
There should also be continual education of women against political apathy and the double effects of women not actively using hardwon political rights.
In addition, women should observe the track record of lawmakers before investing their time and effort into any of them whilst supporting women’s groups that aim to bridge the gap between men and women in Nigerian representative politics.