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The promotion of universal women's rights in nigeria]

  1. 1. 1 THE PROMOTION OF UNIVERSAL WOMEN RIGHTS IN NIGERIA: THE CASE OF WOMEN NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS. UDOCHUKWU A.O. OGBAJI 1 ROSE NWANKWO2 1 LECTURER, DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, NWAFOR ORIZU COLLEGE OF EDUCATION, NSUGBE ANAMBRA STATE NIGERIA. Email: (+234)8033486531, (+234)7082729455 2 CHIEF LECTURER, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION, FEDERAL POLYTECHNIC OKO ANAMBRA STATE NIGERIA. (+234)8033352793AbstractThis study is an evaluation of the women non-governmental organizations on thepromotion of universal women rights in Nigeria. It should be noted that issues andconcerns in discriminations against women and the need for emancipation of womenhas become central to the enjoyment of fundamental women rights and to theattainment of national developmental goals. The study therefore examined threewomen NGOs namely: the FIDA – International Federation of Women Lawyers,NAWOJ – Nigeria Association of Women Journalist and the WIN – Women inNigeria. These three NGOs are selected because they are not mere money makingorganizations and they exist in almost all the states of the federation. The descriptivesurvey design is adopted in this study. We adopted it because it utilizes severaltechniques and research instruments to elicit vital information and generateempirical data, upon which the evaluation report is made. This study considers thehuman resource development approach, anchored on the ideology that furtherdevelopment of human civilization can only be strengthened when women areempowered so as to free themselves from oppression, exploitation and frompatriarchal structures. It was found that women NGOs have greatly enhanced theinternational human rights of women in various aspects of life. This study amongstother recommendations suggests that there is need for adequate training andprovision of training aids for members of the NGOs to enhance their service.Introduction The term “Non Governmental Organizations” (NGO’s) is defined as anyorganization that is neither governmental nor profit oriented (World ResourceInstitute, 1992: 216). Koehn and Ojo (1997 cited in Idenyi, 2002: 1) define NGO tomean “those found in voluntary, collective action sector of the economy where thedominant instrument of control and compliance is voluntary, based on valuecommitment and share belief in collective mission in contrast to coercion’s in thepublic sector and profit or monetary reward in the market sector.
  2. 2. 2 However, we have some formal NGO’s that are organized by the governmentwhich are set up to liase between NGO’s and the government to coordinate allactivities relating to the purpose and objectives of the NGO’s and advise thegovernment. Some of them are: National Committee on Women and NationalDevelopment (NCWND), Better Life for Rural Women (BLRW), Family SupportProgramme (FSP), and National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) etc. Non-governmental organizations are growing in number and influence,especially in the developing countries of the South. The reasons for this arecomplex. Local groups form NGO’s in response to specific needs, such as newopportunity to get ban credit, environmental protection or Human Right (Koehn andOjo, 1997). There are many NGO’s working in various ways to address vital issuesaffecting different aspects of the society, most of them do not take cognizance ofwomen issues properly. Yudelman (1997) opines that it is partly in consequence ofthe above statement that many new NGO’s exclusively for women were started. However, since the United Nations held its first world conference on women inMexico in 1975, women issues have risen dramatically. That conference wasfollowed by the United Nations Decade for Women (1976) and then majorconferences in Copenhagen 1980, Nairobi 1985 and the Beijing-China in 1995. TheConventions arising from them have generally made a case for the improvement ofthe status of women and their integration into the mainstream of the developmentprocess.Statement of the Problem Despite the burgeoning of women Non-governmental organizations, theliterature is replete with arguments that the proliferation of these NGO’snotwithstanding, the status of women have not really changed for the better. Ifanything, extensive discrimination against women continues to exist. This studyintends to prove that some women NGO’s have made an impact on the lives ofwomen at least in Nigeria. This study will also attempt to evaluate the role of threewomen NGO’s activities which promote change in domestic laws to enhance thehuman rights of women. From the foregoing, the following research questions become imperative:a. To what extent has the women Non-governmental organizations enhanced the international and domestic human rights of women?
  3. 3. 3b. To what extent has the women Non-governmental organizations enhanced the status of women politically, socially, and otherwise?Objectives of the Study The following constitute the objectives of this study:a. To examine the extent to which women Non-governmental organizations enhance the international and domestic human rights of women.b. To examine the extent to which women Non-governmental organizations enhance the status of women politically, socially and otherwise.Significance of the Study The volume of work on women’s rights and emancipation is increasing, butnot much has been done on the aspect of women and women Non-governmentalorganizations. This study is an analytical discourse on the promotion of women’srights with a focus on the contribution of women’s NGO’s towards the promotion ofthese rights. This study therefore compliments other existing studies and also helps toadvance our knowledge on the rudiments of women’s rights in Nigeria. It is geared tofill the gap in knowledge between women’s rights and women’s NGO’s in Nigeria. Itaims at making some generalizations that can provoke interest for further research inthis field. Invariably, it will also serve as a source of material for further studies. WOMEN NGO’S AND THE PROMOTION OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN NIGERIA Yudelman (1987) has expressed the view that although there exist womenorganizations which claim to advance the interest of women; many NGO’s still fail tointegrate women into their programmes. She identifies institutional leagues, culturalconstraints and competition for scarce resources as factors responsible for thisfailure. Thus, she argues that “although many NGO’s have tried to work within theframework of the local cultures which are often patriarchal and view the role ofwomen primarily in terms of home and family; also the competition for scarcefinancial resources has often meant that funds intended for women’s projects arediverted and used for other purposes”. Sophie Oluwole, former co-ordinator of General African Studies at theUniversity of Lagos, does not rule out frustration and marginalization as the reasonswhy women are seizing the mantle of leadership in private organizations. She says;“women have been marginalized and pushed to the wall. They need to fight for theirinterest and be relevant in nation-building” (Oluwole, 1996:9).
  4. 4. 4 According to Brown and Korten (1989), the relief agencies, which started inthe 1940’s and 1950’s, and the newly emergent NGO’s of the past few decades,have tended to view women solely in terms of their domestic roles. They maintainthat, although in Latin America, the church played a major role in the development ofthe grassroots efforts to fight poverty, the church’s effort did not envision a changedrole for the women. Most observers and analysts have tended to view women NGO’s role as acatalyst in the development process. Ekejiuba (1996) is one of such people. Shesees women associations and organizations as a catalyst for change. She claimsthat this is premised on her belief that women, both as individuals and groups and asmanagers of homes, families, communities, as well as nurturers of future citizens,have long concerned with ensuring the environment that is conducive to peace anddevelopment in the society. She puts it thus: Ample evidence exists in literature of the extensive use of body symbolism by women’s Associations, to bring about change in government policies. These include the Dancing Women’s Movement of 1925 which organized against the negative aspect of culture change in Nigeria such as prostitution and the oppressive and inefficient courts established by the British, the now over-publicized women’s war of 1929 which protested taxation of women (Ekejiuba, 1996: 9-B.10). Mba (1982) echoes this view when she writes that women NGO’s raisedwomen’s consciousness and advocated and got bills passed lowering the brideprice, abolishing all trafficking in children and condemning all forms of discriminationagainst women. Their concern include such international issues as protesting Frenchatomic test in the Sahara and supporting South African women involved in SouthAfrican treason trials. She explains the other attempts at forming alliance amongseveral women’s group that have survived till today is the Nigerian Council ofWomen Societies (NCWS) in 1959. The NCWS aims at promoting increaserepresentation, welfare and progress of women especially in education. It ensuresthat women are given every opportunity to play an important part in national affairs. In the views of Miles and Finn (1989), the question of whether women’smovement has been successful (or not), is extremely complex. According to them,success can be judged relative to a movement’s stated goals, or it can be judgedaccording to some higher standards of social justice. They are therefore of the viewthat instead of focusing on the tangible gains that women have achieved, efforts
  5. 5. 5should be made to explore the more subtle ways in which the movements haveshaped consciousness. According to Basu (1995), she asserts “even women’s movements thatultimately define themselves as autonomous from male dominated parties andinstitutions are often intertwined with broader movements for social change”. Shefurther adds that, “women’s movements are associated with a broad range ofstruggles: for national liberation, human rights, and democratization of authoritarianregimes”. The available literature which was reviewed shows evidence that NGO’s ingeneral and women NGOs in particular have plans to achieve their aim ofadequately contributing to the promotion of women’s human rights. This study hopesto bridge the gap between the contrasting views that, though women have acommon problem of oppression, their priorities are different and so cannot speakwith one voice, which lead to the arguments that women’s movement is all noise andno action. It is said that despite the purported attention of women’s developmentissues, there is no real singular achievement by whatever means or yardstick it isbeing measured. There is a lot of work done on NGOs generally carried out by the WorldResource Institute, titled “Policies and Institutions: Non-governmentalOrganizations”. These works trace the origin of NGOs generally and the regionaldifferences, it also enumerates the strengths and weaknesses, the key organizationfactors, government-NGOs relation and emerging trends and also the achievementof some women NGO’s. EVOLUTION OF WOMEN NGOs IN NIGERIA During the period 1970-1980 women consciousness occurred as increases inoil revenue resulted in an appreciable degree of affluence opportunities for socialmobility as contractors and as business women increased (Idenyi, 2002). Correspondingly, wealth based elitist clubs mushroomed. They expend hugesum of money at the death of a member to ensure befitting burial television andpress announcements, burial and funeral ceremonies. As women continue to drawglobal focus, the changes achieved in the status over the years though have beenuneven and on the whole modest in economy, education, health and in governmentyet the “silent revolution” is slowly gaining in strength. There is the undercurrent ofconfidence and cooperation among women that is new to the world and has great
  6. 6. 6promises. It is indeed very logical to peer into the 21 st century through the eyes of thewomen for according to Karl Marx, the opposition of women in general is the index ofthe progress and development of society (Idenyi, 2002). Women are indeed the center points of human development and societalsanity. Let us look at the periods in the development process of women NGOs. Thisstudy will look into the activities of three women NGOs namely: InternationalFederation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Nigerian Association of Women Journalist(NAWOJ), and Women in Nigeria (WIN). INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF WOMEN LAWYERS (FIDA) In 1944, a group of women lawyers from Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, PuetorRica and the United states of America met in Mexico and formed themselves into anassociation for the purpose of promoting women’s right through their legal training.Today this association has matured into an organization with millions individualmembers in 79 countries (Idenyi, 2002). FIDA is the acronym of the Spanish Federation International de Abogades,which English translation is International Federation of Women Lawyers. It is avoluntary association for professional female lawyers. They raise fund for running theorganization through monthly dues and levies paid by members. They equally getsupport and funding from donor agencies when they have any project at hand. FIDAwas formed to enhance the welfare of women and children in particular as well asthe general public. According to the former secretary of FIDA Bayelsa, Mrs. ElsieTimi, FIDA believes that: “if a woman’s welfare is enhanced legally, socially,economically and educationally, then her right is guaranteed”. FIDA have identified that women are in the deplorable position which they aretoday because they are not empowered educationally and economically. Theyequally identified cultural practices which are harmful to women as part of thereasons which relegates women to the background and these includes: widowhoodpractices, female genital mutilation and inheritance practices etc. They carry outseveral activities which enhances the welfare of women and creates awareness totheir rights, duties and obligations thereby promoting the rights of women. They dothis through enlightenment campaigns. FIDA undertakes campaigns on drug abuse,traditional harmful practices, violence against women and women building peace,career counseling and also run a walk-in-free legal clinic, all these are carried outthrough seminars and workshops in communities and through the mass media.
  7. 7. 7 There are several examples of women whose rights have been legallyreinstated but whose identity FIDA disallows us to disclose for security reasons butthe document is there to be verified. They equally have scholarship scheme for girls,disabled and indigent children. They equally have a Bill Drafting Committee that wasmandated to look into the possibility of producing Draft Bills on the issues identifiedduring workshop, after following all legal procedures; it will be passed into law. Onthe whole, FIDA’s activities towards the promotion of International Human Rightsespecially Women and Children’s Right include Legal Aid for women, counseling andlegal research. NIGERIAN ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN JOURNALIST (NAWOJ) NAWOJ is an umbrella organization of female journalists working in massmedia regardless of ownership structure. It is an arm of the Nigerian Union ofJournalist (NUJ). It is an off-shoot of the NGO’s conference in Beijing-China. NAWOJ is thus guided by the constitution of its parent body, Nigerian Unionof Journalists (NUJ) and the bye-laws of NAWOJ. It was formed in Nigeria in 1981and has branches in virtually all the states of the federation. Their main aim is toenhance the professional advancement of women journalist, who hitherto is beingneglected in their work places, as well as to educate, inform and sensitize women indevelopment efforts. However, NAWOJ generate fund to embark on its programmes from foreigndonor agency like the John Hopkins University; Centre for CommunicationProgrammes (JHU/CCP), United States Agency for International Development(USAID), other members of international community and the state government. Theyalso made members to pay levies to meet up their financial obligations, NAWOJpays its monthly dues directly to its parent body, NUJ, and the NUJ does not remitany money to NAWOJ. NAWOJ engages in various activities which are geared towards enhancingthe status of women. Some of their activities include a civic education programme ondemocracy and governance carried out in 1999 by NAWOJ Rivers Chapter andJHU/CCP and USAID, the programme was aimed at increasing women’sparticipation in decision making process. Their primary objective is to strengthen thecapacity of women to advocate for women’s right agenda and to strengthen thecapacity of NGOs to hold elective officials accountable to women’s right agenda inthe state. The association focus largely on communication based intervention such
  8. 8. 8as building capacity of women journalist to advocate for gender issues through radio,television and print media. They also engage in a nation-wide campaign againstpolitical violence, campaign against drug abuse and an aggressive publicity stuntand enlightenment of mothers about the benefits of immunization and the dangers ofthe six killer diseases. NAWOJ is a professional NGO that has acquired credibility over the years asan NGO that is responsive to the needs of women and children and is activelyinvolved in enhancing the status of women in governance and politics. The testimonyis evidently bore in the amount of attention and prominence currently being given bythe media to matters of socio-political elevation of women. WOMEN IN NIGERIA (WIN) Women in Nigeria is a non-governmental organization which originated fromthe enthusiasm and interest evoked by the first women in Nigeria conference held in1992 in Zaria. It was at this conference that a group of dedicated women from allover the country committed themselves to the task of establishing an organizationwhich will work to improve the living condition of Nigeria women. That was becausethey identified that majority of women like majority of men suffer from the exploitativeand oppressive character of the Nigeria society but women suffer additional forms ofexploitation and oppression (Idenyi, 2002). Women therefore, suffer double oppression and exploitation as members ofsubordinate class and as women. The founding fathers believed and theorganization still maintains that the liberation of women cannot be fully achievedoutside the context of the liberation of the majority of Nigerians. WIN is present in allthe states of the federation and membership is for both women and men who arecommitted to the course of enhancing the status of women in particular andNigerians generally. WIN is not a professional organization, people from all works oflife can be members, it is a voluntary organization. They pay monthly dues,occasional levies and organize personal donations from philanthropists andcompanies. They use the fund raised to carry out their activities and projects. WIN usually organize annual conferences during which forum is provided forintellectuals experts and members of WIN to exchange views on the researchfindings and experiences on the condition of women in different parts of the country.Some of their past conference themes focused on:1990 - Women and HEALTH (Lagos)
  9. 9. 91991 - Women and Economy (Maiduguri)1992 - Women and Violence (Zaria)1993 - Women and Environment (Jos) etcWIN engages in the publications of journals that contribute significantly to the betterunderstanding of the conditions of women as well as stimulating debates and furtherstudy of aspect of women conditions of life in Nigeria. They equally carry outeconomic empowerment programmes for rural women where the women are givenloans to facilitate their trade and also educate them on the usefulness of co-operative societies through which the loans are disbursed to them. They equally useboth the print and electronic media in their campaigns on issues that will enlightenand strength women human rights. WIN has impacted on the lives of women in so many ways. For instance, WINhas been at the Mock Tribunal on violence against women since 1998 and hasprovided legal aid to women in distress who by virtue of their poverty are unable totake up their own cases of oppression. For example, the husband of twelve (12) yearold Hauwa Abubakar who caused her death in 1987 – 1988 was legally prosecutedby WIN, this example is allowed only because the case was publicized in the media.There are other cases of women who have benefited from the legal aid gesturewhich for obvious reason, we cannot mention.Hypothesis We hypothesize that women NGOs serve as catalysts in the developmentprocess and as effective promoters of international human rights of women.Theoretical framework The theoretical framework that informs this study is the human resourcedevelopment approach. It is an approach that leads to profound and lasting changesfor women by recognizing not just their reproductive role but also their productiveroles, as active participants in the economy. Using contextual framework, the humanresources development approach argues that “women’s needs are intricately boundup with the priority needs and aspirations of the National and must necessarily beviewed as features of overall national development and the advancement of the totalsociety (Williams, 1971). This approach underscores the point that development at the highest levelcannot be achieved without women. The goal of the human resources developmentapproach is identical to the goal of development itself, namely “creating better lives
  10. 10. 10with greater freedom and well-being for members of the family, the local communityand the society as a whole” (ECA, 1971). The strongest proponents of this approacharise out of women’s engagement in the struggle for liberation of their countries andin the subsequent readiness to participate in shaping their new nations. The ECA pioneered the human resources development approach as early as1971. That year, it identified women as economic producers and communitymanagers. That recognition of women’s centrality to development justified thecreation of ECA women’s programmes in 1972 and later 1975. This approachchallenged the modernization theory’s premise that the benefits of developmentwould “trickle down” to women and others. It made women’s access to productiveresources a development issue, bringing with it self reliance and setting priorities.Relying on the fact that women comprise more than half of the productive humanresources of the country, the approach sets conditions for their full participation indevelopment. These include ways to lessen the burden of women and to increasetheir productivity by providing access to resources such as education, technologyand income, often through women’s own solidarity groups. An important conditionthat calls for women’s active participation in planning and policy setting (Idenyi,2002). The theory relates to this study in the sense that the development of Nigeriansociety like any other society cannot be fully achieved by men alone, therefore,empowering women and allowing them to take their position to contribute their ownquota to economic activities, and participate fully in development process of thesociety is their right.Methodology Data for this study was collected mainly through descriptive survey design.This was necessary so as to be able to capture the entire domain of the study.Consequently, both the primary and secondary sources of data collection wereexplored. Primary sources of data were questionnaire instrument and in-depthinterview. The questionnaire instrument enabled us to elicit information on theproblematic which the study seeks to unravel. The questionnaire instrument wasstructured along the close ended format and administered in such a way that made itfairly representative of all shades of opinion and interests. This was complimentedwith in-depth interview with some present and past executive members of the NGOs
  11. 11. 11and some of their parents’ bodies like the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), andNigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ). Secondary sources of data include information retrieved from journals,newspapers and magazines. The study covered the entire 36 states of the federation made up of 6 geo-political zones – namely: South-South, South East, South-West, North-West, NorthCentral and North-East. A sample size of one thousand two hundred was originallyselected. The choice of one thousand two hundred (1,200) is informed by theconsideration of some human and financial face (Obasi, 1999). Also considering thehomogenous composition of the nation, our belief is that a sample of 1,200 is large,representative and reliable enough to allow us make generalizations. The study adopted the multi-stage sampling method which involves samplingin successive stages such that at each stage selection is made using any of theknown probability sampling methods (Nnabugwu, 2004). This was done to help ussave time and cost. In the first stage, the study adopted the stratified samplingtechnique to get respondents from the six geo-political zones in the country. Thiswas to ensure a fair representation of all shades of opinion, interest and groups inthe state which could have been lost to the chance factor (Obasi, 1999). In using thestratified sampling technique, the study further adopted the disproportional stratifiedsampling technique in the sense that the numerical strength of the geo-politicalzones were not considered in the representation into the sample (Nnabugwu, 2004).Thus, in the distribution, the six geo-political zones got 200 respectively. However, in the South-South, we picked Rivers State, in the South-East, wepicked Anambra State, in the South-West-Lagos, in the North-West – Sokoto, in theNorth-Central – Kaduna and in the North-East we picked Plateau State. The choiceof these major States is also based on two major reasons. First, there seems to be avery high concentration of people in these States as a result of urbanization.Secondly, they occupy important positions in the socio-economic and political settingof the country. The presentation and analysis of data were carried out using both descriptivequalitative and quantitative methods. While qualitative analysis was merelydescriptive and theoretical, the quantitative method employed appropriate statisticaltools particularly the frequency distribution and simple percentages. It suffices tonote that the study suffers some limitations. First, the study suffered slow rate of
  12. 12. 12response from the respondents. Yet at the end of the exercise, we were not able toretrieve all the questionnaires given to the respondents. Out of the 1,200questionnaires distributed, only 874 were returned. Second, the study suffered fromshortage of finance. No doubt a study of this nature requires enough funding ifpossible from donor agency to ensure a comprehensive study. Third was theunwillingness of some bodies like the Nigerian Bar Association and the NigerianUnion of Journalists of some State Chapters to release basic information needed forthe study. However, it must be pointed out that spirited efforts were made to addresssome of these limitations. For example, we have to rely on interviews, magazinesand newspapers to get some of the needed data.Findings, Conclusion and Recommendations Our fundamental concern in this study has been to attempt an explanation onthe role of women NGOs in the enhancement of the condition of women through thepromotion of their human rights. This arose as a result of insinuations from someanalysts (male and female) alike who are saying that all publicity on womenempowerment by women NGOs is all noise and no action and the conferences andseminars are tagged “Jamborees”. After the analysis that followed our observation, itis only for it to be succeeded by some recommendation of a preferred course ofaction. The NGOs studied are FIDA, NAWOJ and WIN. These NGOs were selectedpurposely because of their wider coverage, they have branches in most of the Statesof the Federation and they are the most vocal, apart from the NGOs started by thewives of Heads of State like the Better Life for Women, Family Support Programme,Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication (WOTCLEF) and the Gender andDevelopment (GEDE) Foundation. This paper therefore argues that in the Nigerian experience, women NGO’shave influenced a wide range of emancipatory movements amongst women sincethe Beijing era and have greatly enhanced the international human rights of womenin various aspects of life like health, politics, education etc. This study found that the activities of these women NGOs are geared towardsdevelopment and enhancement of women human rights in Nigeria. Although thechanges achieved in the status of women so far have been uneven and on the wholemodest, yet the silent revolution is slowly gaining in strength as we already notice in
  13. 13. 13the increase in the number of women in government and politics, and even in theechelon of private sector. All these were achieved by these women NGOs throughseminars, conferences, workshops, television/radio jingles, radio/televisiondiscussions and debates, posters, handbills, press release etc, and also theprovision of legal aid to ensure the protection of human rights and the integrity ofwomen in a crisis situation. We therefore make the following recommendations:a. There is need for adequate training and provision of training aids for members of the NGOs in order to provide more qualitative service. There should be a continued expansion of collaborative activities with other women NGOs and donor agencies, these calls for improved and efficient information handling and management.b. Attitudes, habits and conventions which oppress women ought to be condemned so as to have equal and full participation of the entire human community which will go a long way in enhancing and engendering sustainable growth and development.c. The women movement in Nigeria will have to draw its leadership definitely not from wives of the ruling elite, but from women who have demonstrated a high degree of commitment to the ideals of feminism.d. Finally, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development should co-operate with women NGOs in the implementations of gender sensitive programmes through comparative programme analysis and review.
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