The Womens Convention in Nigeria

The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an International Instrument for the Protection of Women’s Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1979, but entered into force in 1981. According to Article 18 of this convention State Parties are obliged to submit periodic reports to the CEDAW Committee every four years. Nigeria has been a state party since 1985 and in compliance to her obligation under the above article submitted the 6th country periodic report in 2006, which was deliberated upon on July 3, 2008.

Nigeria NGOs participated in the process for the first time in 1998 during the combined 2nd and 3rd periodic reporting and has since then been consistent in their participation in 2004 and 2008 respectively. WACOL coordinated the writing of the 2004 report which was used as a basis for CEDAW Committee’s engagement with the Nigerian delegation at the UN. To build on what was achieved in 2004, WACOL with support from Heinrich Boll Foundation once again facilitated a coalition of over 148 local partners and gender-focused organizations from the 6 geopolitical zones of the country to prepare a Shadow Report “CEDAW And Accountability to Gender Equality in Nigeria – A Shadow Report“which was presented to the CEDAW Committee during their meeting with NGOs.
23 years after the ratification of CEDAW by Nigeria, its provisions still remains a paper tiger and cannot be enforced in any court in Nigeria, as a process of domestication must be undergone according to article 12 of the Nigeria Constitution, before it can become part of the nation’s local law. Nigeria owes an obligation to CEDAW Committee to make domestic laws to conform to the provisions of CEDAW apart from periodic progress report. It is worthy to note that though Nigeria NGOs participation in this process only started about a decade ago through Alternative or Shadow reporting to complement government’s submissions in 1998, 2004 and recently 2008 , yet through effective lobbying, they have been able to influence the Committee’s decisions in all their concluding observations.

The Meeting which took place at the UN Headquarters in New York from June 30 to July 18, 2008, witnessed the review of reports of 8 countries: Yemen, Nigeria, Lithuania, Iceland, Finland, United Kingdom, Tanzania and Slovakia. The Foundation supported the participation of two partners and the Program Manager of the Women’s Rights and Human Rights Programme to the meeting. Prior to this, the International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) in their usual practice organized 3-day training for NGOs representatives from countries whose reports were coming up for review. The programme entitled “From Global to Local” was designed to contribute towards filling the gap between human rights monitoring by the CEDAW Committee at the international level and grassroots activism demanding government accountability at the national level. The programme provides technical guidance and support on the CEDAW reporting process to women's NGOs, and facilitates the presence of women from reporting countries at the CEDAW sessions to monitor and observe the review of their government’s report and to interact with the CEDAW Committee members. Since 1997, women’s organisations in more than 100 countries have participated in the programme. 8 Representatives from Nigeria NGOs who were part of the drafting of two Shadow reports attended the training: Ms. Favour Irabor (Civil Liberties Organisation) and Ms. Elizabeth Orji. (International Federation of Female Lawyers-FIDA, Enugu State chapter), Uju Obiora (Heinrich Böll Foundation), Chibogu Obinwa (BAOBAB), Sr. Rosemary Ukata (Centre for Women’s Rights and Intervention-CWSI), Dorothy Oleka, Halima Ukagha and Laura Routley (all from Women’s Aid Collective-WACOL). The training provided an insight into the UN lobbying system, the committee members and their areas of interest /specialization and techniques for constructive engagements.

Recognising the usefulness of NGOs-CEDAW Committee consultations, the Foundation also supported a Lunch meeting of Nigeria NGOs with CEDAW Committee members where the Shadow Report was formally launched. This meeting was a huge success as it drew 20 out of 22 serving CEDAW Committee members and provided another good opportunity for further engagement with the committee members on an informal level.

Nigeria’s report was considered on 3rd July, 2008. With a delegation of 73 persons, the Nigeria team led by the honourable minister for women affairs, Hajia Saudatu Usman Bungudu was the largest ever in the history of CEDAW meeting. The Minister in her executive summary of the government report responded to issues raised in the previous reports as well as other issues highlighted in the government report. The reading of the executive summary provoked a lot of questions which were mainly addressed by select members of the large delegation. Some of the questions raised were: Why federal government is not working hard towards the domestication of CEDAW, Is it possible to have a yearly assessment of CEDAW with her very large delegation, are local laws abiding by the principles of CEDAW, do the national, state and local poverty reduction strategies recognize the principles of CEDAW, issues around FGM, widowhood rites, early marriage, state shelter for battered women, access to land, nationality / citizenship and indignity were also discussed. A Committee member Ms. Glenda Simms from Jamaica was particularly displeased with the Nudity Bill which a parliamentarian present at the meeting was sponsoring. For Ms. Simms, there was no need for such a bill and in her words:

“What is that about nudity -- would the police go around with a tape measure to check the length of clothes or see if a breast is exposed? Women have a right to the aesthetic of their bodies and the right to present themselves any way they want.  A woman’s body is the only piece of real estate on which she owes no mortgage.  Dress codes are about power, and dressing a woman from head to toe is a form of rape”.

See detailed report of the Nigeria/ CEDAW Committee constructive dialogue:

The concluding observation on Nigeria revealed that NGOs engagement with CEDAW Committee was useful and quite rewarding, as it captures recommendations made in the Shadow Report such as domestication of CEDAW and amendment of all discriminatory provisions in federal and state legislations, elimination of cultural/traditional practices, increasing women’s political participation, reducing maternal mortality etc.  The concluding observation has been a useful tool for further engagement with stakeholders in the country.

The discourse on the CEDAW Bill and controversy surrounding its passage has been on going for the past two years. Even though Nigeria has shown a sustained compliance with the provisions of Article 18 of the CEDAW Convention in submitting the statutory periodic reports, its failure to domesticate the Convention has remained a source of concern on the extent of its commitment to women’s rights protection. As a leading African State Party to the Convention, domestication is not only long overdue but its absence is no longer tenable given the costly implications it has to the image and opportunities of support for Nigeria at the UN and other international fora. The first chance of domesticating the bill was aborted in 2007 when legislators argued that its provision on reproductive rights was contrary to our culture.  Mrs. Oby Nwankwo, an HBF grantee, is one of the major vanguards in the advocacy for the domestication of CEDAW, and has written books and articles published in Nigerian dailies. Mrs Nwankwo has been criticized publicly by Nigerians who do not believe in the equality of men and women. A major antagonist to CEDAW is the Nigerian Senate president, Mr. David Mark, who responding to Nwankwo’s published article  condemned her and all the funding organizations that support reproductive health and rights issues. In his article in The Guardian, he maintains that “CEDAW is a lying snake which must be killed before it crawls into the house” calling on Nigerians to reject the use of African soil as a dumping ground for all sorts of evil by neo-imperialists . 

A Post-CEDAW debriefing workshop was held to facilitate information and feedback on the concluding observations and establish a strategic committee on CEDAW implementation by the NGO CEDAW coalition. An action plan on strategies for implementation/follow up on the CEDAW committee’s observations and implementation of CEDAW in Nigeria was a major outcome of that meeting. Activities were planned towards the branding and domestication of CEDAW. Working groups were assigned with duties which include review of the CEDAW bill and why it was thrown out, comparative analysis of international best practices, awareness creating, modification of the old CEDAW bill, creating a domain name /website on CEDAW, training of stakeholders etc