Our Unfair Constitution, By Nigerian Women Trust Fund

Nigerian Women Trust Fund

The 1999 constitution is largely discriminatory towards women.

It is easy to conclude that the Nigerian Constitution was imposed on Nigerians. This is the impression from reading a document crafted by a military administration which was male dominated and as such it is no surprise that the Constitution is largely discriminatory of women.

To reform something means to improve or amend what is wrong or unsatisfactory. So we can say the ongoing constitutional reform should touch every unsatisfactory section, clause or phrase in the Constitution. The constitutional reform process began in 2012 as a response to the continuous cry for change and a sovereign national conference. Since 1999, no substantial amendments affecting the rights of citizens have been made – especially not in improving accountability and inclusiveness to ensure that women, young people and persons living with disability are represented.

One of the issues of concern to the Nigerian woman is the language of the constitution. The Nigerian constitution was written as if only the male gender exists – with ‘he’ used 235 times and the word ‘she’ only twice. The only times the word ‘she’ is used, is to restrict a right that belongs to all Nigerians. The unfair over-masculinization of the Constitution contributes to the pervasive culture that women do not matter.

The constitution is also silent on policies that would help increase women’s political participation. Since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, there has been more awareness of the need for increase in women representation in governance and yet our constitution remains silent. Many believe it is time the constitution stipulates clear measures to help actualize this with a gender affirmative action clause especially if by 2015, Nigeria is expected to have 30 per cent women in the National Assembly under MDG Goal 3.

In addition a twinning policy would be fair; so that for every male President, we get a female Vice President and vice versa. The aim is not simply to give women an easy ride, but in line with the principle of affirmative action globally, it is to redress entrenched discrimination and
marginalization and as the GECORN (Gender and Constitutional Review Network) memo submitted to the National Assembly points out, this could be a temporary measure, to be jettisoned 10 to 20 years from now, when the imbalance has been corrected.

The political power of an aspiring politician is not unconnected with the economic power of that candidate. Sadly, Nigeria is still gripped in ‘money bag’ politics and a strong link between economic power and land ownership. It is reported that less than 10 per cent of Nigerian women own land. Land is not the primary means of generating livelihood but often the main vehicle for investing, accumulating wealth, and transferring it between generations. Regrettably, land ownership in Nigeria is based on customary land tenure system. Here, land ownership is
determined by patriarchal lineage; where predominantly male heirs inherit the land.

In many communities in Nigeria, the woman has no access to land; a culture fostered by reasoning that the woman will be married out to another family and ‘take’ the land when she goes. The amended Constitution should therefore emphasize equal rights to land for both men and women.

Our current indigeneship policy entrenched by the Nigerian constitution is one of the main reasons for the violence in certain parts of the country and although women and children are not directly involved in the decisions to terrorize and neither are they participants – they end up being the main victims. Apart from the violence, the definition of indigeneship ensures that the few women who are eligible through education, are denied access to employment especially in government due to definitions which do not take into consideration, marriage and residency.

To address this, gender advocates recommend that the word ‘indigeneship’ should be replaced with ‘citizenship’ or it should indicate that it does not refer to just a person from the state but a person who has spent at least 10 years in the state.

Furthermore, a Nigerian should be allowed by law to adopt the indigeneship of a state after having spent time in that state. Redefining what it means to be ‘from a state’ will be fairer and create more harmony.

The advancement of any country lies in key issues such as equal opportunity for all. For our great country Nigeria, the first step in achieving this is adopting a gender responsive Constitution that creates an enabling environment for all.

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