Monday 21 July 2008

Nigeria: Women badly represented at CEDAW convention

Going to UN to defend

When Hajiya Saudatu Bungudu announced [Source: Nigeria: Minister to Defend CEDAW Bill in UN] last month that she would lead a delegation of Nigerian women to the United Nations to defend the sixth country report on the implementation of CEDAW [Source: Wikipedia] in Nigeria, many would have had great expectations.

She as the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development would have been expected to say in truth, detail and candour how the Nigerian woman had been emancipated year on year in terms of rights, privileges, means and achievable goals.

CEDAW is the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women which came in force on the 3rd of September 1981 with Nigeria signing the treaty on the 23rd of April 1984 and ratifying that treaty on the 13th of June 1985, a good six years before the Netherlands. [Source: CEDAW: States parties]

Little to defend

Hajiya Bungudu seemed to have a lot to defend but the text of it all indicates not much had been done.

Legislation was yet to be promulgated and schemes were yet to be put in place to deal with trafficking – a subject highlighted with harrowing detail by the CNN earlier this year on the World’s Untold Stories series with the title Trapped [ World’s Untold Stories] – widowhood rights, female genital mutilation, unwholesome practices against women and the provision of equal opportunities.

Part of the legislation being promulgated is the Nudity Bill which cannot seem to earn enough opprobrium and seems to draw the most appalling derision, sponsored by the Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Women and Youth [Source: Nigerian Senate – a much improved web site]

Senator Ekaette is a qualified pharmacist and she seems to have brought her prescriptive abilities to this bill.

A dosage of plain nudity

The bill defines public nudity as

a. State of nakedness in the public or open;

b. State of indecent dressing which expose in the public or in the open any of the following parts of the human body:

i. The breast of a female above the age of 14 years;

ii. The laps of a female above the age of 14 years;

iii. The belly and or waist of a female above the age of 14 years;

iv. Any part of the body from two (2) inches below the shoulders downwards to the knee of a female person above the age of 14 years;

v. Any part of the body of the male person above the age of 14 years from the waist to the knee;

c. Any form of dressing with a transparent cloth or clothing in the public or the open which exposes any part of the body from two inches below the shoulders level downward to the knee of a female person above the age of 14 years; provided that exposure of the hands of the female person above the age of 14 years shall not be construed as public nudity.

d. Any form of dressing with a transparent cloth or clothing which exposes any part of the body of the male person above the age of 14 years from the waist to the knee in the public or open.

[Source: Culled from Vanguard Online Edition - Nudity Bill: How Govt officials embarrassed Nigeria with a 73-man delegation at the UN]

Only a pharmacist can consider a dosage of nudity measured 2 inches below the shoulder, it would be like giving an epidural for a broken finger nail.

I could remember as a child, my grandmothers who were well above 14 years of age went around bare-chested, probably because their mammary organs might have lost their sexual appeal to men at large, but I would not say that they were not still of value to the men who sired their children.

Men as rabid sexual animals

Obviously, this whole prescription frenzy panders to the conception that African men are voracious sexual animals who on seeing female flesh succumb to the canine tendency to sniff any and every faecal orifice to satisfy their uncontrolled need for sex.

Well, the men have to clearly let the women know that they are well advanced members of the Homo sapiens sapiens [Source: Wikipedia] species that could exercise restraint, self-control and discernment regardless of what they see.

In fact, many men would like to excuse their wiles and blame their lapses on the women – I would say it is criminal and any man who for whatever state of undress a woman is in, who allows his instincts to molest to take control of his better judgement should be caged like a dog and prodded with red hot iron rods till he learns to join the human race.

Just as everyone has a right to be disgusted and I do get disgusted by some fashion I see, those who decide to be so uncouth about their fashion have a right to express themselves so unashamedly, we just have to find ways of bearing the pain of the decline of style and comportment.

Commonsense is winning

It is unfortunate that those put in leadership to advance the cause of women have been pre-occupied with legislation that creates other means of abuse, discrimination and denigration of women and womanhood.

Thankfully, commonsense has prevailed in the Nigerian Senate that both times the bill was introduced; it has suffered and not advanced as the Senate President has clearly tried to make the sponsors see the difference between issues of morality and those of objective legislation.

This did not deter the women’s delegation from taking this bill to the United Nations to make a complete ridicule of Nigerians.

The first examination

At the 41st Session of the CEDAW Committee, Nigeria’s document [Source: 41st Session of the CEDAW Committee - WWW.FIDH.ORG] was examined on the 3rd of July 2008 with the interesting note that the National Assembly rejected a bill to incorporate CEDAW conventions into domestic legislation in 2007.

It noted that legislation still sustained discrimination against women as the inability to transfer their nationality amongst other discriminatory issues mentioned earlier.

Two particular issues suffered more scrutiny - the Nudity Bill and the compulsory pregnancy and HIV tests for university students [Source: - The flaw of the covenant] – this all was preparatory work for the scrutineers at the open session that the Minister later visited to defend the CEDAW that could not make the law books in Nigeria.

The showdown

The minister lead a delegation of 73 members [Source: Vanguard Online Edition - Nudity Bill: How Govt officials embarrassed Nigeria with a 73-man delegation at the UN] to a 2-hour convention that discussed the Nigerian document and all she had to say in the light of glaring evidence amounted to dissimulation because all they had were proposals, draft legislation and activities in the pipeline, there was nothing in the laws of Nigeria that had positively identified the pressing case for the emancipation of women.

A delegate from Jamaica (Glenda Simms) rounded in on the Nudity Bill and with sarcastic derisiveness wondered if the police would have measuring tapes to check the length of dresses in some sort stop-and-measure crack down.

She was as vehement as to suggest that dress codes were about the abuse of power and dressing a woman from head to toe was a form of rape as women had a right to aesthetics of their bodies and the right to present themselves any way they wanted.

The delegate from Algeria (Meriem Belmihoub) on counting their conspicuous number hoped that Nigerian women were just as represented in political life and governance.

The delegate from Bangladesh (Ferdous Ara Begum) wondered about the tardiness in adopting a bill on violence against women.

Between the extremes of a liberated Jamaica through a changing Algeria to the more conservative Bangladesh, no country could have been so roundly condemned and castigated for losing sight of more pressing issues and priorities to address the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world, the discrimination against married and pregnant women, sexual harassment in the work place and a host of other pertinent women’s rights issues.

Speechless in embarrassment

In the end, the delegation of eminent women on a foreign jaunt could not defend the absurd bill and ended up defending the atrocious laws that give men more preference over women – they were at that point an utter embarrassment and disgrace.

There is much work to be done about women’s rights in Nigeria, I have my doubts that the women who went to the UN have the acumen to promote visionary and courageous goals for women and there are definitely better qualified women of Nigerian descent who can do a better job.

I would hope that people who can make things happen in Nigeria would work at encouraging these women to step forward and really give this issue a good shake up because the ladies who have gone on before have to my disappointment been useless, to say the least and that is a real shame. To whom much was given, however little, a lot more was expected.

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