Women, Girls at Risk Without Domestication of Maputo Protocol

Rejoice Wobilor-Agua

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also known as the Maputo Protocol is one of the world’s most comprehensive and progressive women’s human rights instruments and has one of the highest number of ratifications for an instrument in the African Union.The protocol was adopted in Mozambique on 11th July 2003 with the aim of promoting and protecting the rights of women in Africa. 

Nigeria is one of the signatories to the Protocol but has failed to domesticate and fully implement its provisions, which has continued to pose devastating consequences on the human rights of women and girls in the country.Despite signing and ratifying the protocol in 2004, Nigeria’s failure to domesticate the Protocol has contributed to the deprivation of women and girls’ access to justice when their human rights are violated. The implications of not domesticating the protocol is far-reaching in a country like Nigeria where patriarchy and all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls is structurally entrenched in its socio-political  and cultural systems. It manifests in ways that negatively impact the progress that women and girls make in their everyday life, including Maternal Mortality 

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Nigeria has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world, with an estimated 111 women dying every day due to preventable pregnancy-related causes. They are denied the right to take charge of their Sexual and Reproductive Health which negates Article 14 of the Maputo protocol.

Women and girls continue to experience gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence, incest, rape, female genital mutilation etc.   In parts of the country, forced and early marriage resulting in physical, mental or sexual assault is a norm. The National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS 2013) noted that 1 in 3 Nigerian women has experienced physical violence by age 15 and data from  the National Population Commission Report (6 Dec 2022) shows that gender based violence as experienced by the Nigerian women from their spouses is 19% for demonstrative or emotional violence, 14% for physical violence, and 5% for sexual abuse.

The Nigerian government’s failure to domesticate and fully implement the Maputo Protocol has had a negative impact on women’s economic life. Nigerian women continue to face discrimination in the workplace including gender inequality, discrimination, unequal pay and limited access to credit and financial resources. The World Gender Gap Report (2022) stated that Nigeria has a gender gap of 63.9% and has stayed between 60-63% in the last decade on all the sub-indexes, from political participation to economic participation.

As evidenced in Nigeria’s recently concluded 2023 general elections, women are systematically and structurally excluded from decision making positions at political party level and elective positions. From 1999 till date, only 157 women have been elected into the 469-member National Assembly (38 senators and 119 members of the House of Representatives), compared to 2657 men (616 senators, 2041 House of representative members) during the same period. Of the 92 women who contested for the Senate in the February elections, only three won, while out of the 286 who contested for seats in the House of Representatives, only 15 have been declared winners.Over the years, the extreme nature of violence in politics, with intentional intimidation and attacks on the female gender has cowed many women off politics. A sexist and patronage-based political culture, combined with gendered economic and household inequalities, are seen to be the main barriers to women’s participation in governance. In the governorship election in 2019, of the 36 States in Nigeria including the FCT, no woman was elected as a governor. Should Nigeria have domesticated the Maputo Protocol women would have had a legal pathway to challenge any discrimination from political participation as Article 9 of the Maputo Protocol addresses such challenge.

Nigeria has seen the worst levels of insecurity since the Nigerian civil war in the last decade. Citizens, have been relentlessly attacked by Fulani armed men, Boko Haram insurgents, bandits, and herdsmen in many towns and villages with women and children being the most affected, many have lost their lives, livelihood and become displaced from their homes and communities.The security challenge in the country has rendered many women widows and lots of children have become orphans. Girls kidnapped during insurgencies have been subjected to all kinds of violence including rape and forced marriage by their captors. An example is the case of Leah Sharibu who already had two children (BBC News, 2021). Nigeria ranked third in the world with a death toll of 25,711 from 2010 to 2019, not including women and girls raped and captured by Boko Haram insurgents in the country since 2020. Majority of Nigerians live in perpetual fear and anxiety of attacks from criminal elements in the country.

The Maputo Protocol is a crucial legal instrument in the fight for gender equality and the protection of the rights of women and girls. The Nigerian government need to urgently take a decisive action towards domesticating the Protocol because of its wide-range and substantive provisions that advance the rights of women and girls. The Protocol covers a spectrum of civil and political, economic, social and cultural as well as environmental rights. For instance, Article 4 of the Protocol emphasises the right to life, integrity and security of women. 

 It states that every woman shall be entitled to respect for her life and the integrity and security of her person. All forms of exploitation, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited. While most women are left out of politics and decision-making spaces in the country, Article 9 of the Protocol provides a legal framework for women to claim their right to participate in the political and decision making process. Stating that parties shall take specific positive action to promote participative governance and the equal participation of women in the political life of their countries through affirmative action, enabling national legislation to ensure that women participate without any discrimination in all elections, represented equally at all levels with men in all electoral processes amongst others. 

Unfortunately, the realities on ground are contradictory. With limited access to SRHR information and services leading to negative health outcomes for women and adolescents. Article 14 of the Protocol provides women the right to control their fertility, the right to self protection against sexually transmitted diseases etc. It recognises the right of women to control their reproductive health and to make decisions concerning their reproduction without coercion, discrimination, or violence. It emphasises the obligation of state parties to prevent, condemn, and combat all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, rape etc. It also calls for the elimination of harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and other forms of violence against women’s reproductive health.

The Maputo Protocol is a holistic framework for upholding the rights of women and girls in Africa. Nigeria ratified the Protocol 19 years ago but has failed to domesticate it. This has to change for any meaningful progress to be made towards gender equality in the country. 

The government must consider all opportunities available to advance the rights of women and girls, including but not limited to the following: While we call for an outright domestication of the Maputo Protocol in Nigeria, we  recognise that Nigeria has several laws that advances women’s human rights and cooperates with aspects of the Maputo Protocol such as the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (2015) and the National Gender Policy (2006) investing in the implementation of these laws at all levels will contribute to advancing the rights of women and girls as provided by the Maputo protocol. 

Nigeria has signed, ratified and domesticated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), considering the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women (The Maputo Protocol) as part of the African Charter will empower domestic courts in Nigeria to invoke the provisions of the Maputo Protocol through article 18(3) of the African Charter without a formal domestication of the Protocol.

 The Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015 although, passed at the National level, is yet to be domesticated in most states of the Federation, the government should make concerted effort towards ensuring that the VAPP law is enforced at all levels of government in the country. 

The National Gender Policy (2006) which provides 35% Affirmative Action in favour of women, must be enforced at all levels of government and political parties, with emphasis on violence against women as a recourse to strengthening women’s political participation. Also upholding the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act as amended in support of equal representation of both women and men in decision making.5. The Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill (2016), which is an amalgamation of the principles and provisions of CEDAW and the Maputo Protocol, poised toward specific prohibition against all forms of discrimination, should be expedited and passed into law. 

 The issue of reservations tendered by some other African countries should be raised by the Nigerian government and modified to suit national laws promoting gender equality and prohibition against any act of violence against women.Since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999, the country has staggered through several  legal instruments to promote gender equality but still ranks low on many gender equality rankings. Domesticating the Maputo Protocol in Nigeria will be a major push towards attaining gender equality and put the country on the pathway towards dismantling the endemic hurdles that has held women back for decades. The Maputo Protocol is a crucial legal instrument that is essential for any country with the political will to make  progress towards a holistic, inclusive national development. The impetus is on the Nigerian government to take the critical step of domesticating the Maputo Protocol and advance the rights of women and girls in all ramifications.

Agua is Director of  Communication/Policy, Alliances for Africa and wrote from Abuja

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