DISCRIMINATORY SOCIAL NORMS THAT ACT AS A BARRIER FOR GIRLS’ AND WOMEN’S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

Do you think discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes act as a barrier for girls’ and women’ economic empowerment? Can you bring examples? What can governments do to address this?
Discriminatory social norms are formal and informal social norms and practices that restrict women’s and girls’ rights, access to empowerment opportunities and resources.  They influence the decisions, choices and behaviours of groups, communities and individuals. These norms include both informal constraints such as sanctions, taboos, customs, traditions, and codes of conduct and formal rules like constitutions, laws, property rights.

Society: In Nigeria, the general belief system that the best place for women is in the ‘Kitchen’. This a huge misrepresentation of women in the family and society. Because the Nigerian society is patriarchal in nature, inheritance rights are abused, domestic and sexual violence are tacitly condoned. Men are being trained for leadership activities while women are limited to domestic activities; roles ascribed to them by culture which affect them later in life, thereby making them to lose self-worth in their careers.

Education: Women in Nigeria are worse-hit than men by poverty due to the non-challant attitude of parents to female education by attaching greater importance to the education of boys than girls and the prevalence of early marriage which tend to further impoverish the womenfolk thereby subjecting them to more discrimination

Another form of discrimination is gender stereotyping in the school curriculum and the career counseling process, where certain subjects and courses 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.

Labour force: The proportion of women in the formal sector is very minimal. Women are mainly involved in petty trading, selling wares in the market and street hawking in urban areas. 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 Nation Product.

Career Advancement: Women’s career 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 rising and homemaking. They are far from enjoying equal rights in the labour market, due mainly to their domestic burden, low level of educational attainment, poverty, 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.

Agriculture and Property rights: Rural women mostly 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.

Violence Against Women and Girls: 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 earns 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.

Marital rape is generally not recognized as an offence in any system of law in Nigeria, even when the wife is wounded in the course of forced sexual intercourse.

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. 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.

Government roles: With respect to the laws, it is necessary to remove the gender disparity in punishments applicable for indecent assault and repeal all gender-discriminatory laws in the Nigerian constitution.

The recommendations of Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women CEDAW and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be enforced to ensure women’s rights are protected and they can achieve their full economic potentials.

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