The National Human Rights Commission was established by the NHRC Act, 1995 as amended. Its establishment is aimed at creating an enabling environment for extra – judicial recognition, promotion and protection and enforcement of human rights, treaty obligations and providing a forum for public enlightenment and dialogue on human rights issues including advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Commission has ear- marked the rights of women and gender related matters as one of its thematic areas of focus.
Women’s rights are fundamental human rights that were enshrined by the United Nations for every human being on the planet. These rights include the right to live free from violence, slavery, discrimination, to be educated, to own property, to political participation, health, dignity and to earn fair and equal wage. As the saying goes, “women’s rights are human rights”. Women are entitled to all these rights. Yet almost everywhere around the world, women and girls are still denied their rights simply because of their gender.
The underlying factors responsible for women’s rights infringement include the following – inherent discrimination- women do not enjoy equality with men in the society, Unequal access of women and girls to education, harmful traditional practices, inadequate access to economic resources, unequal access to political participation, various forms of violence experienced specifically by women and girls(SGBV) amongst others.
Some international, regional and local human rights framework for promotion and protection of women’s rights are: Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Fundamental Human Rights), Child Rights Act, Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, Sexual Offences Act, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Criminal Code, Penal Code, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Protocol to the ACHPR on the Rights of Women in Africa, AU Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Convention Against Torture and other Cruel – Inhuman or degrading Treatment or Punishment, Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, women are mandated to have equal rights and freedom as men. The key principles in these instruments include non – discrimination, equality of rights, participation, individual autonomy and non-violence.
The Federal Government adopted the National Gender Policy in 2006. Under this policy, the government must be proactive in its commitment in addressing problems affecting women and to ensure the mainstreaming of women issues in the formulation and implementation of all policies and programmes. The policy expressly highlights the problems faced by women in various sectors of economy such as education, health, employment, agriculture, legal reform, legislative protection and in decision making. Another policy is NAP for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace & Security. Presently, the Commission is in the forefront of a Bill on Women Participation in Elections. The Bill seeks to prescribe women quotas for elections into the Senate, House of Representations, State Houses of Assembly and Area Council Elections in FCT in order to support and enhance women participation and representation in certain elective offices.
The NHRC Gender Thematic Team is the Commission’s focal point that deals with all the matters that concerns the rights of women and girls and other gender related issues. The team represent the Commission at all programmes, meetings, seminars, conferences and reports back to the Executive Secretary. It also makes recommendations and proffers suggestions and advice where necessary. The thematic team is headed by an Assistant Director, who is vast in development and programming in that area and well experienced on gender issues .The host department for the thematic team is Women, Children and Vulnerable Groups Department.
Our duty as women human rights defenders is not only to educate the general public on the rights of women but to also expose and denounce as human rights violations those practices and policies that silence and subordinate women. We reject specific legal, cultural or religious practices by which women are systematically discriminated against, excluded from political participation and public life, segregated in their daily lives, raped in ethnic/ religious conflict situations, battered in their homes, sexually harassed in work places and schools, denied inheritance rights, forced to marry, assaulted for not conforming to gender norms and sold into forced labor or sexual slavery etc.
We promote women’s equal rights and human dignity. The realization of women’s rights is a global struggle based on universal human rights and the rule of law. It requires all of us to unite in solidarity to end traditions, practices and laws that harm women. It is a call for freedom to be fully and completely human and equal without apology or permission. Ultimately, the struggle for women’s human rights must be about making women’s lives better everywhere all the time. In practice, this means taking action to stop discrimination and violence against women and the promotion of women’s rights.
The NHRC calls on us all to unite in solidarity to end traditions, practices and laws that harm women. It is a call for freedom to be fully and completely human and equal without apology or permission.