Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Sometimes human rights organizations have been accused of being elitist and bypassing those with little or no formal education. Amnesty International Nigeria has often recognized that these categories of persons are disproportionately at the receiving end of human rights violations. It is important that human rights education is accessible to all, irrespective of educational background or social status.

Amnesty Nigeria organized a question and answer session with women from the Nyanya community in Abuja Nigeria. It was a learning experience for both Amnesty Nigeria and the women. Many of the questions the women asked could easily be taken for granted as something they would already know the answers to.  Some of these questions are:

  1. Is it illegal for my husband to deprive me of work and not provide for me and the children?
  2. How many times can my husband beat me before he can be wrong?
  3. Can my own husband rape me?
  4. Why is it that men are always said to be right?

A lot of them also shared personal experiences. One of the women, Yaya Ahmed (real name withheld) talked about how her husband did not let her make a living, beat her up and sparsely provided for the family.

“I was helpless. My husband did not care for our four children. It was so normal for us to go to bed with no food. Our children were always dressed in rags and frequently sent away from school because we could not afford their fees. I just could not understand why my husband will not let me do something to earn money. When I could not take it any longer, I decided to fry bean cakes for a living. He did not approve of this, but it did not deter me. I was determined to feed, clothe, and pay my children’s school fees. It did not take time before my husband lost his temper. He beat me mercilessly and threw my bean cakes into a gutter. I was heavily bruised and heartbroken especially because my children watched everything. My relatives and his too maintain that I was wrong. They said I should have done as I was told. I had no business trying to play the role of a man.”

One of the strong themes that emerged during the engagement was the women’s willingness to support each other in combating issues such as physical violence, sexual harassment, emotional assault, bullying etc. An example can be found in the statement of Huawa (not her real name), expressed below.

“My friend married a man who is always telling her that she looks like a monkey. He means this in the most insulting way ever. He has humiliated her the worst way ever and yet people have asked her to be a good wife and remain in her marriage. I have told her that his words are as bad as beatings and will eventually destroy her esteem. My opinion has caused us not to be friends anymore and I know she is dying in silence”.

Interestingly, many of the women said that they thought the best way to solve these problems would be to tackle gender inequality from the cradle. Among themselves, they decided that best practice would be to raise boys differently from how they are generally raised today

Amnesty Nigeria staff talked about some domestic and international legislations that address some of the issues expressed by the women. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the 1999 constitution of Nigeria (as amended) and the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP ACT) are some examples of documents that were referenced in these conversations.

The women also formed a WhatsApp group and urged Amnesty Nigeria to help them form a support group as it would be easier to handle domestic violence, economic deprivation, emotional assault etc. as a community of women.

Finally, Amnesty Nigeria visited the chief of the community who said he appreciates the initiative and pledged his support for similar programs in the community.

The women were educated on human rights issues that concern them without employing traditional classroom approaches. A few of them also promised to organize similar programs so that other women in the same community could benefit from their knowledge and be empowered to fight for a better life.

The COVID-19 heath guidelines in Abuja, Nigeria allow for the convergence of 50 persons at once. As soon as the COVID-19 guidelines are relaxed, Amnesty Nigeria intends to have similar programs with more participants.

The Amnesty Nigeria HRE program is committed to promoting justice, freedom, truth, and dignity by educating and empowering local communities on their human rights.