Real World Change: When Academic Research Informs Policy

Women are still being discriminated against in Nigeria across a range of areas from Labour Laws to Sexual Violence Laws but using this research to inform NGO policy can effect real world change.

In 2021, I was pleased to find that research I had undertaken into women’s rights in Nigeria had been used to inform policy decisions for several key Non-Governmental Organisations and international agencies. My publications offering a reappraisal of women and the law in Nigeria were cited in both the Swiss Refugee Council country of origin report on Nigeria entitled Nigeria: Discriminatory Laws and Access to Justice for Women Victims of Gender-Based Violence and the Federal Republic of Nigeria Education Sector Analysis Report 2021, published by UNESCO.

My research (Women and the Law in Nigeria: A Reappraisal; Protecting and Promoting Women’s Rights in Nigeria: Constraints and Prospects; and Women and Access to Environmental Justice in Nigeria) has shown that women in Nigeria face many challenges and discrimination under some of the extant laws and in a society that is inherently patriarchal. Within Nigeria, women are seen as the ‘weaker sex’ and prejudicial practices by the State and society (especially by men) are commonplace and accepted. Many laws discriminate against women in Nigeria, whether this be via some aspects of customary law practices, the Labour Act, Sharia Law or as a result of some constitutional provisions. In some areas of Nigeria, unfortunately, even within present times, women and children are still treated unfairly by the Nigerian legal system. This creates a vulnerable group who are at extreme risk of discrimination in Nigeria where several injurious provisions can be discerned in the labour laws, police force and other similar paramilitary services, in sexual violence laws, legislation on domestic violence, laws on citizenship status, marriages and across a range of other areas.

My research has shown that fortunately reform is on its way and progress is being made by Government, NGOs and internationally to mitigate the effects of the discriminatory laws. For example, in a case from 2010 where the law prevented a deceased man’s daughters from inheriting his property, Justice Niki Tobi ruled ‘Nigeria is an egalitarian society’ [and] ‘the civilised society does not discriminate against women’. However, my research concluded with the acknowledgement that women are still being discriminated against in Nigeria and it will take NGOs to use the machinery of justice in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as one of the strategies to improve their plight.

These NGOs include such organisations as the Swiss Refugee Council and international agencies including UNESCO who have both cited my research. The Swiss Refugee Council, established in 1936, is a non-governmental, politically and religious independent umbrella association of all of the Swiss relief organisations working for refugees and asylum seekers. Its raison d’être is to ensure the humane treatment of vulnerable people. UNESCO’s Education Report aimed to assess the status of education in the Nigerian Federation and Oyo, Adamawa, and Katsina States. The report conducted an extensive education sector analysis as Nigeria progresses towards actualising the Sustainable Development Goals in its education system and revealed what the system was (or was not) achieving in terms of equity of education and who was (or was not) benefitting from these services. The work of these organisations is key in ensuring gender equity for women in legal and societal matters and safeguarding the rights of Nigerian women for the future.

I was delighted to see that my research had been cited by NGOs and international agencies and my recommendations essentially acted upon in that these organisations are using their capacity to air discriminatory practices still extant in Nigeria and recommend real world change. As the Nigerian Government progresses towards actualising the SDGs, the tide is changing for Nigerian women. Lobbying by powerful NGOs can only increase the pace of this positive change. I am pleased and proud to have played a small part in this via NGO engagement with my research. I feel that my academic work, by influencing the policies of NGOs and international agencies, has made a step towards making a small part of the world, a better and more equitable place to live.

Dr Eghosa Ekhator is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Derby. He is an expert on environmental rights and justice issues in developing countries (including Nigeria and the African Union). He has published extensively on international environmental law, African international legal history, natural resource governance and human rights, especially women’s rights.


Posted 17/06/2022 09:21

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