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Implementation Of Gender Legislation In Edo State (3)

(By ESOHE OYEMWENSE) Last Update (July 9, 2020)

Legal Restraints

The factors that militate against the implementation of gender legislations are myriad and sometimes they originate or are strengthened by the existing legislation in the state.

The Courts in Edo State like in other states of the country recognize the existence of customary laws and have upheld its principles in cases beyond count.

Many of these customs deprive the female of her rights like any other human being and the general disposition of the court is to turn a blind eye to the plight of the female.

They do not question or consider any gender aspects which ought to be incorporated in a modern society. Examples of such legislations are the Evidence Act which provides that any person married other than by monogamous marriage (i.e. marriage under the Act) is a competent and compellable witness in the prosecution of an offence for which the spouse is charged.

The Criminal Code exempts a wife of a Christian marriage from crimes which she was compelled to do by her husband or which her husband did in her presence.

These are examples of unfair balances that the law employs in executing justice. This certainly implies that the circumstance of the woman married under the Act - is better protected than her customary counterpart.

Religious Restraints

As far as records go into ancient times, women have been excluded from public life and made subordinate to the men. In the middle ages, they were deprived of education, property and legal status except as it belonged to their fathers, brothers or husbands.In our own societies, these challenges still confront the woman.

Avenues for her to express herself are termed taboos and are claimed to incur the wrath of God. (More likely her father or her spouse). However, it is heart-warming to note that the Holy Bible declares that in Jesus Christ:

‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”

This means that in the sight of God, all men are equal, including women.

Gender inequalities or discrimination can be said to be any practice that confers or deprives privileges to a certain class of persons because of age, sex, race, religion, ethnicity or handicap.

The effects of gender inequality are too numerous to recount here. However, some of them are:

1) Loss of self-esteem and confidence which are essential to the full and balanced development of any child expected to attain or achieve her goals in life.

2) Breakdown in civil sense of morality and eventual disintegration of the family structure as can be seen today owing to acrimony, anger and chaos in the individual and family.

3) Loss of valuable resources in lives and manpower from the grave effects of ill-health; that is depletion of population in their prime.

4) Slavery through human trafficking, prostitution and child labour etc.

5) Legislation are rendered ineffective in many cases because of either unjust balances or their tacit acceptance of these cultural practices and even in some cases, religious practices.

It would be fair at this juncture to state that in spite of these and several other obstacles, efforts have been made and are still being made to eliminate gender inequality in our state.

Indeed, the Constitution which is the foundation of all legality in this country and state provides for freedom from discrimination regardless of ethnicity, sex, religion, disability or deprivation.

At the state level, Female Circumcision and Genital Mutilation (Prohibition) was signed into law in November 1999 to safeguard and promote the interests of the girl-child in particular. In the same month and year, a law against Harsh Widowhood Rites was passed by the government whereby it became an offence for any person to subject a widow to degrading cultural practices.

In 2000, the Anti-Trafficking Act was passed which made it a punishable offence to traffic women and young children for forced labour and prostitution.

This laudable initiative was replicated at the national level with the establishment of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other Related Matters (NAPTIP), an agency fully committed to the prevention of all forms of human degradation.

NAPTIP is empowered by the Harmonized Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Acts 2003 and 2005. In 2007, the Child’s Rights Law was passed. These indeed are laudable.

Gender inequality impedes economic productivity and results in unequal access to and unfair distribution of our collective resources.

People perceive development in several ways but it is generally agreed that it is a process that leads to increase in the capacity of people to have control over material assets, intellectual resources and ideology and obtain physical necessities of life (food, shelter and clothing), equality in employment, participation in government, political and economic independence, gender equality, sustainable development and peace.

Policy Implications

It is impossible to achieve development without gender equality and so the following suggestions are proffered in the hope that they would also help sustain development.

The gender-friendly aspects of religion should be regarded more often for example, in the Bible, the daughters of Zelopehad, through their request to Moses, which received the accent of the Lord, brought a change to the erstwhile practice of the Law of inheritance in Israel.

It is also suggested that civil legislation on equality rights should be passed into law as well as create statutory institutions to enforce those rights and then use both the legislation and the institution to sue for damages.

Specialized commissions may also be created to deal with equality rights issues outside the courts because discrimination is multi-faced. Non-Governmental Organisations can assist in advisory capacity and be responsible for ensuring that investigations occur and that legal representation is provided for the affected in court, etc.

Where criminal legislation already exist, stiffer penalties should be imposed on offenders e.g. the penalty for Female Genital Mutilation is not less than six months in prison or a price of N1,000.00 or both. Where non-existent, government should create criminal legislation to create public perception that discrimination is not only morally wrong but also legally punishable.

Customary laws should be codified, This will ensure certainty of applicable laws and eliminate inconsistencies. Harmonisation of the law will aid in no small measure, like the Land Use Act which recognises statutory rights as well as customary rights of occupancy.

The principles of Natural Justice should also be harmonized so that where there is a lacuna in the application of customary law, natural justice will apply. Natural Justice simply means justice based on innate human principles to be applied where injustice would otherwise occur.

All these will re-define customary law and present it in a more refined manner This will in turn enthrone the law as a tool of social engineering for achieving utilitarianism -the greatest happiness of the greatest number, which is the objective of laws of every civilized state.

Non-Governmental Organisations have to be encouraged and promoted by all. The importance of seminars, workshops and other activities promoting the rights of women cannot be overemphasized.

These are undertaken to inform, educate and enlighten women on the need to eliminate discriminatory gender practices in our customary law. Most of the laws recorded in Edo State on gender inequality were Sponsored by Non-Governmental Organisations.

The provisions of Section 6 (6) (c) of the 1999 constitution, it is humbly recommended should be repealed. This is because while Nigeria is signatory to various international conventions and treaties e.g. the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights; African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, CEDAW, the provisions of these agreements are not justifiable by virtue of the section.

Therefore litigants would have to present their cases under Section 42 of the 1999 constitution; which in turn, is too general to effectively dispose of the problem.

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