Article by Glory Ayara
In 2020, the members of the senate voted against a motion proposing the inclusion of gender equality in the Nigerian constitution. Regardless, the senate president in a feat of ‘heroism’ ruled in support of the motion. Unfortunately, a majority of the male representatives who were in opposition failed to give reasons for their opinion. In spite of this, it can easily be assumed that their reasons rests heavily on religion and tradition, especially considering the fact that a bill designed to stop the inhumane treatment of women was rejected on these grounds in 2016. I guffaw at the thought that these leeches believe themselves as superior to my mother.
When looking to history, it becomes evident that the Nigerian woman has not always been subject to this subordinate treatment, rather it is as a result of the problematic ‘Victorian woman’ idea introduced through colonization. The underlying premise of the ideology rests on the belief that women are observers as opposed to actors in the affairs of their household, and ultimately, the country. It is ultimately not surprising to notice invisible leftovers of the extortion filled era.
The on-going reluctance to further ‘integrate’ women into the Nigerian society leaves them, represented by a ‘minor-minority’ of 3% in the national assembly, despite constituting almost 50% of the country’s population. To put this into perspective, around 1 in every 33 members of the assembly is female. Hence it is easy to see how laws aimed at protecting women are often poorly drafted, indicating a lack of understanding or sheer apathy towards the group by the draft’s men (notice I use ‘the’ not ‘our’ to accentuate how disconnected they are from the general populace). Take for example, performing Female Genital Mutilation [FGM] could only set-back the perpetrator 100,000 naira without risks of jail time.
Amongst all the effects of poor representation of women in Nigeria, the issue of permitting abortion seems to stand out primarily because it is one specific to women: a decision only they can evidently feel and understand the implication of. Currently abortion is criminalized under the Penal code inNorthern Nigeria, the Criminal code in Southern Nigeria, and Sharia Penal Code in states that have adopted the Sharia legal system. Nevertheless, there is an exception to the rule under both the Penal and Criminal code, when abortion is performed to save the life of the woman. Regrettably, the courts have not yet established whether this exception extends to the ‘mental health’ of the woman in context. As mentioned earlier, based on the fact that positions of authority, not devoid the judiciary, is heavily ‘baby-boomer-male’ dominated, it is difficult to see an adoption of such interpretation in the near future.
As a result of the legal status of abortion, a significant number of women have resorted to unsafe illegal means, accounting for the death of about 1000 women per 100,000. Sadly, findings have indicated the use of items like chicken bones, bicycle parts, iron hangers and means such as jumping from heights to traumatize the abdomen. In a recent study conducted by Chigbu et al. they sought to establish a lack of connection between the illegality of abortion and women seeking unsafe abortion, however, their study suffers significant gaps, most especially the fact that the study sample represents less than 0.001% of the Nigerian female population.
In light of the issue’s resulting from the restrictive position on abortion, it is important to discuss whether the laws are in need for reform. In my opinion I would say yes, but we would need to tread with extreme caution. Firstly, considering the fact that Nigerian women are heavily silenced on almost all facets of life, it would not be impossible to assume that on the matter of abortion a woman’s fate may eventually be left to the ‘council of extended families’, shushing her at any point she tries to weight in her opinion on what she wants done to her body. Secondly, abortion being a serious matter may require therapeutic and psychological support to the party who has sought/seeks abortion. Now considering the fact that the current state of such services are nothing to write home about in Nigeria, coupled with the rather clandestine ‘god dey’ attitude of most Nigerians, such individuals may eventually be left to their own whims which may unfortunately spiral out of control into suicide, which ironically, is also a crime in Nigeria. Finally, and more importantly, the topic of abortion is treated as a taboo in Nigeria, and barely discussed in schools, if ever at all it is, the subject is damned as an evil to society, however, in the absence of education, the masses are blinded to its potential benefit in certain situations, and hence shape their opinions on the complications resulting from the unsafe methods that currently exists.
Although brief, the matters highlighted previously evidence that indeed, legalising abortion would need to be approached carefully and systematically. Considering the fact that in 2015, Nigeria agreed to implement the 2030 global Sustainability Development Goals which includes granting women universal access to sexual and reproductive health services (which predictably includes abortion), it is possible to expect pressures from international organizations on the Nigerian government to consider implementing such laws. However, with the scarcity of the experiences/opinions and voices of the most important stakeholders of the issue in policy making i.e. women, and an unnerving silence on the matter, brings me to fear that Nigeria’s ‘male-heavy-governance style’ may carelessly implement such laws and leave it serving as a sword rather than a shield.