Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria
Newspaper of the DSM
March 1st 2003
A BRIEF ANALYSIS ON THE SITUATION OF WOMEN IN NIGERIA TODAY
Titi Salaam, Secretary, Women's Section, DSM
Women constitute 49% of the total population in Nigeria, according to the controversial 1991 census. As it obtains in every capitalist society, as a rule, women are marginalised and oppressed in Nigeria.
In a capitalist society a woman is doubly oppressed, first as a worker whose employer must maximise profit by exploiting her labour power and secondly as a woman in patriarchal society.
It has to be noted that women oppression is rooted in class society; therefore it had been with us before the advent of capitalism when it has however reached its peak. Patriarchy exploits the labour of women; capitalism exploits the labour of the wage earners either male or female.
In Nigeria as elsewhere, religion and tradition are instruments of women oppression. They constitute among others the ideology of the society, which is a superstructure on the socio-economic foundation of any class society. Many of the religious beliefs and traditions are dated back to the feudal era. They were designed to justify and sustain private property. They are retained until now because of the fact that feudalism might have come to an end, the private property still remains except it has only changed character. Patriarchy is a by-product of class society. It came into being along with the private property, as it is the case of state, in order to preserve the interest of the early beneficiaries of the then new socio-economic arrangement i.e. men. Traditions and religion support the patriarchal society along with the private property and class society.
The patriarchal society sets the parameters for women’s structurally unequal position in families and markets by condoning gender-differential terms in inheritance rights and legal adulthood, by tacitly condoning domestic and sexual violence and sanctioning differential wages for equal or comparable work. Tradition or culture and religion have dictated men and women relationship for centuries and entrenched male domination into the structure of social organisation and institution at all levels of leadership. They justify capitalism’s marginalisation of women in education, labour market, politics, business, family, domestic matters and inheritance.
As stated earlier, women oppression is a global phenomenon since capitalism or class society is universal, but in Nigeria a neo-colonial country under shackles of the imperialism and their multinational agents, the conditions of women conveniently compete for the worst in the world among other third world countries. I will attempt to discuss the situation of women in Nigeria in relation to religion, education, economy, socio-political rights, violence, law, human rights, health and reproduction and trafficking.
WOMEN AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION:
It is election year again; all the politicians are warming up for another round of four years tenure. There are two female presidential candidates, the first time in Nigeria that at least a woman would be facing the electorate, thanks to the liberalisation of political system with the registration of 30 political parties, a product of politico-legal struggle spearheaded by Gani Fawehinmi and his party, National Conscience Party. Arguably, this is a significant development in Nigerian political history but in general overview the participation of women in the elections as regards vying for elective offices is still left much to be desired.
From the result of the primaries conducted by different political parties we can fish out the number of women that were able to gain their respective parties tickets for the April 2003 election.
Mrs. Sarah Jubril emerged the presidential candidate on the platform of the Peoples Action Congress (PAC) while Major Mojisola Adekunle Obasanjo is the presidential flag bearer of the Masses Movement of Nigeria. Hajiya Asmau and Hajia Mairo Baturiya Habib are vice-presidential candidates of African Renaissance Party and Justice Party respectively. Kofo Bucknor-Akerele was given the gubernatorial ticket of the United Nigeria Peoples Party in Lagos State, Teju Abiola was elected the Deputy Governor candidate of National Conscience Party (NCP) in Lagos State.
The statistics released from the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the self acclaimed largest political party in Africa, give a typical example of the political fate of women in politics. Out of four women that contested the gubernatorial tickets, none sailed through, five contested the senatorial slots and all lost, seven wanted to go to the House of Representatives but only one scaled the hurdle, none of the eight that aspired to head the local government councils was given a chance.
There is also the issue of massive displacement of the female lawmakers of the PDP in the primaries of the parties. None is likely to be in any of the 36 states legislative houses. The three female senators, Florence Ita Giwa (Cross River South) Khairat Gwadabe (Federal Capital Territory) Stella Omu (Delta South) will be conspicuously absent by the time we have new National Assembly.
In a related development the first and only female Speaker of any House of Assembly in Nigeria, Mrs. Margaret Ichen was frustrated out of office in Benue State.
Different reasons are adduced for the low level of the involvement of women in politics. For instance, some are of the opinion that, as nature would have it, women cannot muster the required strength to wither the storm of politics. This view was captured in the opinion of a writer in the Punch, January 18 2003 edition. According to him, "But tacticians believe that politics is a game for the tough, and success should be achieved through toil and not concession. It should be a situation where when the going gets tough, only the tough move along. With the first term of four years gone in the politics of the fourth Republic, events appear to have moved to a pedestal that cannot be contemplated by weaklings".
The above view tries to portray women as victims of nature. Nothing is further from the truth than this. The view is an expression of the bias of the society against women. Yes, as a matter of fact and honour, success should be achieved through toil and not concession but the inability of women to attain such success is not because we are a weaker sex, it is the society that has made it difficult.
How do I mean? The view of our society is shaped by religion, tradition, folklore and fables, which are unfair to women by relegating them to background. And this reflects in our social and political lives. Most religions and traditions tenaciously hold the belief that women must not occupy leadership position in the society but can only play second fiddle. And, everybody, men and women, is expected to be a conformist.
This explains why that despite the fact that there are women as members of political parties even in considerable number and that they are almost half the total population of Nigeria, they hardly attempt to contest leadership position within the parties or in the larger society. They are content with operating from the position of weakness rather than strength. They prefer to serve as supporters in their various parties not collaborators. They play vital roles in campaigning and mobilising support for their parties.
Yet, women are seldom found where the party programmes, strategies and tactics are drawn and the main politics of the party take place. They are busy with the women’s wing. The formation of the women’s wing of the political parties is as result of women accepting their status. It shows that they do not deem it fit to take part in the day-to-day running of the party except they are in a separate section. They have to conform to the norms of the society.
Worse still, any woman who attempts to break the "rule" is seen as a non-conformist and treated with scorn even by women. This is besides the fact that she may not even be able to mobilise enough resources to compete with the male counterparts since the politics is often heavily "monetised" and women are always economically disadvantaged. Therefore, apart from the religion, tradition and other societal beliefs that restrict women participation in politics, the socio-economic arrangement called capitalism is the worse fetter. However, as earlier stated, attempt must not be made to treat these religion, tradition and beliefs in isolation, as they are pillars and super structures of the class society, which has patriarchy as its by-product.
In order to improve the socio-political status of women in Nigeria, however within the confines of capitalism, numerous women Non Governmental Organisations (NGO’s), have sprung up. They have embarked on campaign to encourage women’s participation in politics, although in reality, this campaign has not gone beyond the conference halls of hotels and pages of newspapers, that is it has not actually reached the grassroots. One of the strategies is to soften the ground for the female contestants by agitating for some concession. This is called affirmative action. It is aimed at increasing women representation in political offices. The women advocates agree upon thirty percent affirmative action as the demand. This is to ensure that women constitute a critical minority of thirty 30 percent in all political posts.
The women advocates make a fetish of this affirmative action. In most occasions, when vital issues bothering on the state of the nation are discussed, instead of women to make resourceful contribution in the line of discussion and proffer far reaching solution, they would go straight to 30% affirmative action.
As Marxists, we do not subscribe to affirmative action perspective. We support the struggles of women only as part and parcel of the overall struggle against capitalism and its oppressive and exploitative manifestations and for socialist reconstruction of the society. The affirmative action like every other bourgeois feminist agitation treats the cause of women in isolation of the struggle for liberation of the society. Moreover, the struggle for liberation must not be taken as a fight against working men but as a means through which men and women can work towards an egalitarian society where men and women will be given equal opportunity to utilise their potential.
More over, the establishment of arbitrary quotas for women serves as a vehicle for a minority of careerists, which gives the impression that something, is being done while leaving the basic problems untouched. However, having women in public office does not imply automatic improvement in the status of women in the society and their standard of living. In the present administration in Nigeria where you have Florence Ita Giwa as a senator, she was involved in a million of naira scandal that rocked the National Assembly. Even in Great Britain under Margaret Thatcher, Philippines under Carazon Aquino, Pakistan under Benazair Bhutto, India under Indira Ghandi, all women, there was no improvement in the lot of women or the working masses in general as a result of the selfish profit character of the capitalist society. Therefore, in the process of encouraging women participation in politics, it is the duty of socialists to expose the so-called women liberator that is making fortune out of women oppression or peddling illusion or wrong ideas.
Societal obstacles of religion, tradition and other obnoxious beliefs must be broken, women should not be domesticated, they have to enjoy right to work and associated benefits as men. They along with men have to have access to free and functional education and health care, electoral process and contest must not be a preserve of the rich. All these are parts of what can create level playing ground for both men and women. However, the reality is that those stated preconditions could only ultimately be secured under socialism. But this must not discourage working for the cause of women under capitalism as some gains can be made.
Any organization or party, men or women, whose government can provide food, shelter, education, health care, transportation, communication, jobs and other good for the people based on the programme of the party must be supported. This is why the members of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) support and are active within the National Conscience Party (NCP) and enjoin change-seeking and working class women and men as well as the students, the youth, the unemployed etc. to join and vote for it in the forthcoming general elections.
The NCP is not a socialist party but with its pro-people anti-privatisation programmes as contained in Ten Care programme, along with its constitution and code of conduct, if strictly adhered to, it has potential of improving the lot of women as well as the other strata of the oppressed. Among the slogans of NCP as it go into election are that there should be equal pay for work of equal value, an end to discrimination, harassment, violence against women, a reversal of reduction in all welfare spending and sharing of work to provide real jobs for all on descent living wages. However, we have argued that for NCP to be able to have enough resources to actualise its laudable programmes, it must do away with the entire neo-liberal policies of commercialisation, privatisation, trade liberalisation etc. It must not just renationalise or put back under public ownership the already privatised companies and parastatals. If it were to actualise its motto, the "Abolition of Poverty", it would be down on it that it has to break away from capitalism and embrace the ideas of genuine socialism.
WOMEN, LABOUR AND ECONOMY
By the virtue of the population of Nigeria the potential female labour force is 50% but the actual value is 31%. The proportion of women in the formal sector is very minimal. This is noticeable in the industries and the civil services; statistics indicate that in the Federal Civil Service, which is the highest employer in the country, women are mostly found in the junior categories.
Women are mainly involved in petty trading, selling wares in the market and street hawking in urban areas. According to statistics 78 % of women are mostly engaged in the informal sector, which are farming and petty trading. Despite this, their contribution is not commensurate monetarily. The women’s unpaid labour is twice that of men, and its economic value is estimated to be up to 30% of the nation’s Gross National Product.
Women self-advancement has been curtailed by the burden of reproduction, particularly in Nigeria with a very high birth rate as well as the cultural roles associated to women - role of child bearing, child raising and homemaking.
Nigerian women, like their counterparts, around the world, face a lot of discrimination that limit their opportunities to develop their full potential on the basis of equality with men.
The 1999 Constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of sex and women employment rights are further protected under the Labour Act. Nevertheless, the reality is that Nigerian women are far from enjoying equal rights in the labour market, due mainly to their domestic burden, low level of educational attainment, biases against women’s employment in certain branches of the economy or types of work and discriminatory salary practices. In some establishments women are not allowed to get married or pregnant because it is thought that it will reduce their productivity and of course profit.
The legal protection granted by the constitution and the Labour Act has little or no effect in the informal sector – agriculture and domestic services where the vast majority of women are employed.
Women are mainly involved in arduous manual task in farming and food processing. They do not have access to land but can only use the land at the benevolence of their husbands and brothers. Women also have limited access to agricultural inputs. Women tend to be disadvantaged, because when compared with men, they do not have access to obtaining credit facilities and so are rarely engaged in the production and marketing of lucrative cash crops, such as cocoa, which tends to be a male preserve.
With the prevailing socio-economic crises in Nigeria as a result of the IMF/World Bank dictated neo-liberal policies, jobs are lost at an increasing rate. Expectedly women are the worse hit. In some cases, women can retain their job if they do not mind becoming the objects of sexual satisfaction of the bosses or the employers. Some women particularly the young ones are only employed as long as they are ready to use their bodies to woo customers for their business organisations. This is what is called "corporate prostitution".
WOMEN AND VIOLENCE
Over a decade now, numerous cases of women’s rights violation such as acid baths, murder of women, rape, widow abuse, and physical assaults, have occurred in Nigeria. Unfortunately it is only extreme cases of women’s rights violation which results in death or permanent disability that earn the media attention and the police interests. Critical cases like female circumcision or genital mutilation, wife battery, marital rape, sexual harassment, verbal and emotional abuse, incest, termination of employment as a result of pregnancy, etc. are not considered problematic enough to be highlighted in the media as well to be taken seriously by the police.
More so the victims of violence, especially domestic violence and rape, hardly report to the appropriate authorities. For instance wife battery is considered a private affair between the husband and wife. Moreover, the tradition or culture and religious beliefs in Nigeria as a typical patriarchal society see the wife as a property of her husband, who has moral right to beat her as penalty for insubordination and or perceived wrong doing. In the case of rape, women consider some girls consider it a social stigma if their ordeal becomes a public knowledge.
A former Minister for Women and Social Developments, Mrs. Hajo Sani at the 19th United Nations Session, in New York in 1998, captured the state of women who are victims of violence in Nigeria. She said, "there is no record of the prevalence of violence against women especially within the home. This is because women hardly report violence to the police for fear of reprisal from both the husband and wider family. In addition, the law enforcement agents do not readily entertain complaints of domestic violence. They treat such complaint as a minor offence of ‘two people fighting’ or laugh it off as ‘husband and wife problem’…"
In the same vein, in Nigeria, laws to protect women from violence are inadequate. For example, marital rape is generally not recognised as an offence in any system of law in Nigeria, even when the wife is wounded in the course of forced sexual intercourse. Formal mechanisms to seek redress in cases of domestic violence or rape, through police investigation followed by a court proceeding, are often ineffective. This is particularly the case in rape cases, where police are not adequately trained to handle such cases and the burden of proof remains with the prosecution, requiring a woman to prove that she did not consent, or where a woman’s testimony, under Muslim law, is not as valid as that of a man.
As a result of the foregoing, women’s right issues and situation in Nigeria is not given the seriousness it deserves by both government and individuals.
WOMEN AND RELIGION
Generally religion is used as an instrument in defence of class society and patriarchy. It discriminates against women. As a result of the theocratic character of the governance of the northern part of Nigeria before the advent of the British colonialists Islam has been institutionalised as a culture - the way of life - of the majority of the people of the region. Islam like most religious beliefs gives hope of fantastic heaven – the paradise - to the adherents.
Knowing fully well the emotional attachment of the northern Nigerian Muslims to religion and the psychological equanimity they derive from it, politicians ruling the northern Nigerian states introduced Sharia law in order to enhance their political prospects and divert attention away from their own looting and failure to improve living standards. Of course, Sharia as religious law gives central place to paternalistic interpretation to women’s appropriate roles and socio-political arrangement of the society.
Sharia law conflicts with national secular principles, especially in relation to women’s rights, on which Nigeria is formally based. It places a lot of restrictions on the rights of women. The major victims of this political Sharia are women. Examples that readily come to mind are the cases of Safiya Hussein Tungartudu and Hafsat in Sokoto state and Aminat Lawal in Katsina state who were sentenced to death by stoning because of their alleged commitment of adultery while their male "accomplices" are taken as innocents. While Safiya and Hafsat has been left off the hook as a result of the local and international campaign, the fate of Aminat Lawal still hangs in the balance.
In spite of the aberration of Sharia in relation to Nigeria’s secular constitution President Obasanjo has refused to call spade a spade by being afraid to rock the boat. Obasanjo recently in an interview with the BBC stated that Sharia is legal. This was done obviously because of the need to sustain the political support of the northern elite particularly for his re-election bid, more so when the candidate of the other major big business party, ANPP, General Buhari has openly declared his support for the Islamic legal code. While there is provision for Sharia in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria this is limited by the secularity of the country, which is equally provided for in the constitution.
We will defend the rights of religious believers, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to practise their religions. We fight against discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, ethnic origin or race. In this sense, the right of Muslims to practise those aspects of Sharia, which pertains to worship, mode of dressing, naming of children and other personal or family matters must be respected.
However, religion should be a personal affair and should be separated from the state. This is even more imperative in a multi-religious society like Nigeria. The failure to adhere to this principle by successive capitalist governments in Nigeria, both military and civilian, is one of the main reasons for the rising wave of ethnic and religious conflicts in the country, particularly since the beginning of the introduction of Sharia law by some states in year 2000. About 10,000 lives have been reportedly been lost in ethnic and religious violence since military rule ended in May 1999.
The bourgeois politicians who introduced the Sharia penal code with severe punishments such as stoning and amputation for crimes like stealing, prostitution or so-called adultery, argue that these type of law and punishments are necessary to curb the increasing wave of crime in the society. Even some sections of the working masses both within and outside the Sharia states, perturbed by the violent crimes and social decadence which pervade society, genuinely support the penal code in the belief that it is the solution to these problems.
The penal code is also informed by the belief that the harsher the punishment the lesser the crime rate. But these are erroneous views. Crimes, violence and other social vices are products of worsening mass poverty and unemployment, which are engendered by the Nigeria’s crisis-ridden neo-colonial capitalist economy. Only the abolition of the causes of endemic poverty, the provision of decent living, full employment with a living wage, free and qualitative education and medical care, plus adequate housing for all can lead to the reduction, if not eradication, of crime.
On the contrary, amputations, stoning and other harsh sentences being used in the Sharia states will on the long run fail to reduce or eliminate crime. Since the early 1970s armed robbery has been punished by execution in Nigeria. But this has failed to reduce armed robbery. On the contrary, violent robberies have continued to escalate due to worsening economic crisis and huge youth unemployment.
In reality, the introduction of Sharia by the capitalist politicians in some of the northern states was a deliberate strategy to seek cheap popularity using religion to divert the masses’ attention away from their failure to provide the basic necessities of life, jobs and social security for the populace. In the same manner, the capitalist elites in the southern part of the country are hypocritically pretending to be championing the interests of their people, through agitation for resource control.
Most importantly, the Sharia penal code as presently enacted and practised in these states discriminates against the poor working people in general and poor, marginalized women in particular. Since the introduction of the code, several poverty-stricken peasant farmers and traders have had their limbs amputated and been incapacitated for life for allegedly stealing items like cattle, goats or hens. Many ordinary workers and traders have been flogged and humiliated in public for consumption or sale of alcoholic drinks. All those who have been sentenced under the code have been poor working masses, women and men. In contrast, the capitalist politicians and top civil servants who enacted this degrading and inhuman penal code continue to get away with brazen acts of fraud and looting of several millions of naira from the public treasury. In addition, these rich elements have relationships outside marriage without having to suffer the indignity of being dragged to court or sentenced to death by stoning. Surely, if anybody deserves to be sentenced to death, it is these corrupt and rich elites who embezzle public funds which ought to have been used to provide jobs, education, food and medical care for the populace but doing otherwise.
The hypocrisy of the ruling elite as regards application was shown for instance in Dutse in Jigawa State, where on 27th of January 2003, a 20 year old prince was arrested by a local committee and caned for an offence of drunkenness. It was the second time he was being flogged for the same crime as he was convicted for the sin of drunkenness on December 11, 2002. The emirate council embarrassed by the publicity the committee gave the incident, consequently declared war on the Sharia police. The council’s action has led to the partial suspension of the activities of the Sharia implementation group. (The Guardian, Lagos, February 7 2003). In contrast, in the same Dutse a man was arrested for drinking alcohol and was given 100 strokes of cane at the market place. This is a typical example of the class discrimination in Sharia implementation.
In a related development, the Kaduna mayhem that broke out around the Miss World Contest was not unconnected with the Islamic view on women. Yes, it was the Isioma Daniel’s article in This Day that ignited the violence and the attendant senseless killing and destruction of property, but the country had been sitting on the gun powder since some Islamic fundamentalists raised religious objections against Nigeria playing host to this beauty pageant.
WOMEN AND THE LAW
Nigeria criminal law has a number of provisions relating to sexual and domestic offences that are especially relevant to women’s rights. However different laws, for instance on rape, apply to different parts of the country.
Rape is defined in a gender-specific manner, as "carnal knowledge" or sexual intercourse with a woman or girl without her consent or under duress. Besides the restrictive nature of the definition, which does not extend to the rape of males, it must be pointed out that in practice most rape victims are unable to benefit from these provisions. The way in which a rape trial is conducted and the nature of the evidence required exposes women to indignity, making it a man’s trial but a woman’s tribulation. The law needs to be extended to cover marital rape. Currently the Penal Code specifically excludes "sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife" from the definition of rape, so long as she has attained puberty.
With respect to the criminal law, it is also necessary to remove the gender disparity in punishments applicable for indecent assault. Presently, there is a dichotomy, which creates the impression that one gender is superior to the other. Sections 350 and 363 of the Criminal Code cover the same offence (unlawful and indecent assault) but provide for a lesser punishment when the victim is female (two years imprisonment) than when the victim is male (three years imprisonment).
In northern Nigeria the Penal Code specifically precludes as an offence any act which does not amount to the infliction of grievous injury and which is done by "a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife, such husband and wife being subject to any natural law or custom in which such correction is recognised as lawful". The law through the Penal Code condones the widespread problem of domestic violence, by encouraging beating of wives in as much as it does not amount to grievous harm.
In case of traditional laws the wife herself is often regarded as property and she is generally not expected to entertain any expectation. In fact, under some traditional customary law systems, especially in south east Nigeria, she is one of the chattels to be "inherited" after the death of her husband.
WOMEN AND EDUCATION
Lack of education has been a strong visible barrier to female participation in the formal sector. The social pressures on females such as early marriages, and other extraneous factors as well as consideration of female education as secondary to that of boys and certain inhibitive religious practices in some parts of Nigeria are the major causes of the high illiteracy rate amongst women.
As the impact of teenage pregnancy and early marriage makes abundantly clear, girls are at a double disadvantage in educational access, especially in the north, where these practices are most widespread.
More generally, girls’ educational opportunities tend to be circumscribed by patriarchal attitudes about gender roles, which result in some parents attaching greater importance to the education of boys than girls. This is always the likelihood when the parents lack resources to enrol all children in schools. One must quickly add that there would not have been cause for that if the government has been committed to the provision of free and functional education as a social service. But this is not so under capitalism more so in the era of neo-liberalism when all the concession towards social services has been removed in line with the dictate of IMF/World Bank.
In some families, investing in girls’ education is regarded as investing for the benefit of the family she will eventually marry into, unlike in the case of boys. This argument holds in particular for higher education, which involves greater expenditure and is seen to be less necessary for females whose main role will be in home keeping and child raising.
What definitely still exist is the gender stereotyping in the school curriculum and the academic streaming process. For instance, certain subjects, such as the sciences, mathematics and other technical disciplines are tagged masculine, while secretarial studies and home economics are tagged feminine, thereby denying both sexes the opportunities to benefit from exposure to all subject areas or a wider choice or subjects. In general, the female inferiority complex established from childhood through social interactions in the home, including the differential levels of support and motivation, influence the aspirations and eventual learning achievement of boys and girls.
WOMEN AND TRAFFICKING
Since independence, hundreds of thousands of women have been sold into slavery, as wives or prostitutes, after being kidnapped or tricked into going with traffickers.
Although in International law, trafficking, has long been recognized as a form of human rights abuse, only recently has it been recognized by the international community as a violation of women’s right.
The Nigeria government has repeatedly committed itself to eliminating the trafficking of women, yet it continues to restrict information about this crime, thus failing to mobilize society to combat it. The persistence of trafficking is officially attributed to feudal thinking and thus contemporary factors; legal, political, social and economic, which have contributed to the resurgence of this practice are overlooked.
The trafficking of women is not a purely local phenomenon, within Nigeria’s borders. It has a significant regional and international dimension too. Criminal rings are involved in the smuggling of women across international frontiers, mainly for menial work in the heavily immigration, dependent economy of Gabon, plantation work in Cameroon and commercial sex in Europe.
According to the Guardian newspaper of 9th August 1998, children between the ages of seven and sixteen are frequently transported to Gabon and Cameroon, from various points in the east of Nigeria, in the states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers and Imo. The period between March 1994 and January 1997 at least 400 children were rescued in Akwa Ibom State, which is one of the main departure points to Gabon.
In the last 10 years, there has been large scale trafficking of adolescent girls and young women, to Europe, particularly Italy, for work in the sex industry. These women are lured abroad by traffickers promising them legitimate and lucrative work, but on arrival they are handed over to prostitution racketeers.
They are forced to engage in sex work to pay off large debts supposedly accumulated to pay for their travel documents, tickets and accommodation. And to avoid non-compliance, they are threatened with physical abuse or death or exposure to the authorities and possible imprisonment or deportation. In effect, these women are held under duress in a form of debt bondage.
Some young women who have succeeded in escaping or who have been deported by the Italian authorities have described how the system works. At the going rate, in the city of Rome in which one of them worked, she would have had to have sex with 3,000 partners to achieve the targeted sum. After 25 days and scores of partners, she managed to escape and found her way to Nigeria (Minaj broadcast international television report and Yahoo news, 6th June, 2001). This portray that under capitalism everything is commodity and this includes women’s bodies.
WOMEN AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH
Reproductive rights implies that people should have the ability to reproduce, that women can go through pregnancy and child birth safely and that reproduction is carried to a successful out come .It further implies that people should be able to regulate their fertility without risk to their health and that they are safe in having sex. In essence it includes fertility regulation and STD prevention as well as child survival and safe motherhood. But these rights are mere dream in Nigeria due to abandoning by the government, in line with the dictate of IMF/World Bank, the essential responsibility of providing free and functional health care to the people as a social service among other factors.
In Nigeria not less than 5000,000 women die from complications arising from pregnancy and about 200,000 die from abortions. Statistics by the NCP/UNICEF, a-1998 Report gave a breakdown of causes of high maternal mortality rate in Nigeria as obstetrics (complication arising from pregnancy), haemorrhage, sepsis, preclampsia, and anaemia.
Because of restrictive abortion laws in Nigeria, induced abortion is widely practiced. In recent years, illegal abortion has been recognized as a major cause of mortality rate in young women. These deaths could be avoided if women had easy access to family planning services and people have a right to make a choice as regards abortion.
International experience shows that de-criminalizing of abortion leads to decrease in abortion related complication and death.
Studies have also shown that the sexual practices of male partners are likely to be the primary source of risk to women of infection with HIV or other STDs. Women (including wives) are often not in the position to negotiate safe sex and many have not yet imbibed the condom culture, as a means of protection against AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Reproductive health counselling for women and adolescent girls is crucial to overcome this problem
There is the demand that husbands should accompany their wives on their first visit to government funded family planning clinics means that women are denied their rights to control of their fertilities.
Also by this demand, the sexuality of single, divorced and widowed women are restricted. It means that women can only express their sexuality in marriage.
The provision in the National Population Policy that allows a woman to have a maximum of four children while men invariably can have as many as possible infringes on women’s reproductive and sexual rights.
As we have argued and can be concluded from the above analysis on the situation of women in Nigeria, capitalism and patriarchy are the causes for the women’s oppression and sexual inequality in Nigeria as it is elsewhere in the world. Some of the way forwards have been provided in the course of this piece. But in general term, the problem has to be confronted transitionally and ultimately. Transitionally under capitalism, we have to agitate for equal opportunity for men and women, free functional health care and education, provision of gainful employment, etc. Ultimately, there is need for socialist reconstruction of the society as the total solution to women’s oppression and to allow some temporary gains that can be achieved under capitalism as a result of mass struggles of the oppressed masses to be permanent.
As we celebrate this International Women’s Day together, we of the Democratic Socialist Movement dedicate ourselves to building a powerful socialist alternative, which will emancipate working women along with all other exploited sections of the society.