It is painful to state that the concept of violence against women could begin from the time of her conception to the time of her death. A pregnant woman’s quest to know the sex of the child in her womb is sometimes not unconnected with her intention to abort the child if it is found to be a girl so as to avoid societal rejection.  In some societies women may be killed for bearing female children.In other communities, the death of a wife is seen as the final pep or respect to the burial of her husband and she could be burnt alive on his funeral pyre.

The justice system and indeed religion seem to have failed women in many respects. Very often there is the pretence that justice is blind to the issue of gender of an accused person or in the exercise of fundamental human rights and that if anything, being female could work in favour of the woman.

Women have over the years experienced either total rejection by the society or are imposed upon liabilities for the misdeed of men because the society finds it easier to do so especially since most of the lawmakers are men.

Claiming to wear the blindfold of impartiality when dealing with issues relating to humans can create inequality especially if we deal equally with those who are unequal. Real equality means treating as equals while taking into account the historic imbalances and differences.

In most cases, because of the general belief that female children cannot bear the name of theirlineage to the end due to the fact that they will marryand bear other people’s names, they are rejected by the society.In such cultures, when it is discovered that a woman is pregnant, what will determine whether or not she should abort will be the sex of the child. While the male child is celebrated, the female is abhorred and viewed as a source of waste of resources.Her right to education and dignity are often violated during her life time and in most cases she is seen as the reason for every wrong in the society.


The Chambers 20th century Dictionary defines a girl as‘a female child, a daughter, a young unmarried woman, a woman irrespective of age.’ This definition throws up a further question as to who is a female? The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines a female as, ‘a woman or a girl, an animal that can lay eggs or give birth to babies.’ A woman is defined as an adult female human.

The Black’s Law Dictionary defines violence as, ‘physical force unlawfully exercised with the intent to harm.’ It further defines Human Rights as‘the freedoms immunities and benefits that according to modern values (esp. at an international level), all human beings should be able to claim as a matter of right in the society in which they live.’


In Nigeria, the fundamental Rights of persons are enshrined in chapter 4, sections 33 to 46 of the Nigerian1999 Constitution. Every girl, like all other humans is entitled to these rights which shall be considered where necessary.

1. Right to life

S.33 of the constitution provides for the, ‘Right of life’ irrespective of gender. In a similar vein, Article 5 paragraph (1) of the O.A.U Charter, provides, ‘Every child has an inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law.’ Paragraph (2) stipulates that, ‘state parties to the present charter shall ensure, to the maximum extent possible, the survival, protection, and development of the child.’ Paragraph (3) affirms, that ‘Death sentence shall not be pronounced for crimes committed by children.’This right is impuned when a woman is allowed to abort a child merely because the foetus is found to be female. A woman’sright to life is violated when a widow is to be burnt on her husband’s funeral pyre. In RoopKanwan case, an eighteen year old University student was on September 4, 1987 burnt alive on her husband’s funeral pyre in Deorala, Rajasthan, India. Her husband, an unemployed University graduate died from cancer. Many believed she was a goddess and her shrine became a place of pilgrimage where it was believed that offerings to her could cure them of cancer, the illness that took the life of her husband.

This case sent the human rights community in India into crisis as the debate as to whether sati was right or wrong raged for weeks in the newspapers. While some thought it was a breach of human rights, others thought it was an ethnic culture and was therefore acceptable if the victim does it voluntarily in honour of her husband. Urban centered women’s groups as well as groups of women from all over India were horrified and organized a march in Rajasthan. The Rajasthanis retaliated by filling the streets with thousands of their own ethnic groups. The right to commit sati, they claimed, was part of their ethnic culture. After months of delay, the police finally arrested Roop Kanwar’s  father-in-law and five other members of the family for abetment to suicide. Three months later, the Indian Parliament passed a tough law banning sati, even though an old law already existed, as a sign of central government’s intolerance of these ethnic practices. Though the feminist movement had scored a legal victory, the case exemplified the terrible gulf between human rights and women’s rights activists on the one hand and those who see the status of women as an integral part of their ethnic identity, on the other.

Having identified the most important of all rights, the right to life via the aforementioned document, it is apt to see what other ways violence can be inflicted against women.


Sexual abuse of girls is prevalent in our country Nigeria. Article 16 Paragraph (1) of the O.A.U. Charter is to the effect that, the child should be protected from all forms of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, sexual abuse, physical or mortal injury, neglect or maltreatment while in the care of a parent or guardian or schools or any other person. Paragraph (2) is to the effect that monitoring units should be provided to identify, report and treat instances of child abuse.

Concrete instances of sexual abuse abound in our schools, both secondary and tertiary. They include lecturers and teachers coercing girls to have sex with them on the threat of failing them in their exams or on the promise of giving them good grades in their exams. Inducement means when a person with greater advantage over a girl uses his powers to trick, entice or coerce a girl into succumbing to sex. This has strong administrative penalties. Note that sexual abuse does not only entail the physical act of sex, but also includes acts like fondling a female or touching her buttocks or private part or even making sexual passes against a girl to her disapproval. Rape constitutes the highest manifestation of sexual abuse. In simple terms, rape is when a man forcefully has sex with a girl without her consent. Indeed sexual abuse in all forms should be condemned in the strongest of terms. The law enforcement agencies should enforce the law in this regard to the letter. A positive law must be positively enforced or else it loses its essence.

Because of the taboo attached to issues of rape by communities, such as, reduction of prospects as wives or mothers, bringing dishonour to the family, etc. most women prefer to bear the shame of the horrifying, degrading and humiliating experience on their own. By so doing they waive the protection of the law so as to avoid public knowledge or being turned to accused rather than victims during cross examination. Nothing can be more painful to a woman than to watch her rapist walk away free. In Pakistan, there was a celebrated case of Safia Bibi. Safia Bibi was a blind girl who was raped. Because she was still a minor, her father filed a complaint of rape two days before she delivered the child of that union. Her parents claimed that although Safia had told them of the rape, they kept silent for fear of humiliation. Under the Hudood Ordinance, Safia could only prove rape through the evidence of four male witnesses. If she failed then she was liable to conviction and a jail term for adultery if married or fornication if unmarried. In this case, the alleged rapist retorted that the blind girl was of loose virtue and the victim got three years imprisonment term for violation of the Zina Ordinance. This was later set aside on technical grounds. The rapist did not spend a day in jail due to insufficient evidence. You can only imagine how demoralized the poor girl would have been for daring to disclose that she was raped. It is doubtful that the act of rape would be done in a public place that would anticipate four male witnesses viewing it so as to enable them give evidence. It is therefore almost impossible to prove rape in a man’s world.


 It is unfair to see girls as young as the ages of 10 and 13 being given out in marriage. This practice is mostly prevalent in the northern part of Nigeria. To think that a girl of that age who should be under parental care and protection would be expected to give birth to and train children of her own is quite disheartening. This is unacceptable and in fact, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)condemns the act in the strongest of terms. Article 16 bluntly states as follows;

1) State parties shall take all appropriate measure to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to Marriage and family relations, and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:

   (a) The same right to enter into marriage.

   (b) The same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent.

Paragraph (2) informs us interestingly that:

‘the betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action including legislation shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of  marriage in the official registry compulsory.’

 Nigeria is yet to embrace this provision or practice it and as such has encouraged violence to girls. To contract a statutory marriage, the minimum acceptable age is 18 years. This is recommended for people engaging in traditional or customary marriage. When the former governor of Zamfara State Ahmed Sani Yerima, now a serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, took a 13 year old Egyptian  girl as a wife he defied public outcry to justify the relationship on grounds of its acceptability to his culture  and religion.

The consequences of early child marriage are dire. The child’s pelvic will naturally not be fully mature and ready for child birth. It can make a girl suffer from a medical disease known as VESICO-VAGINAL FISTULA (V.V.F.). This is a pathological communication between the bladder and vagina thereby leading to true inconstinence (a hole is thereby created between the human storage tank of urine, the bladder and the private part of a woman, the vagina) A fistula is a hole connecting two structures. This pathological communication could occur between the rectum and the vagina and could result in uncontrollable leakage of faeces through the vagina, known as Recto-vagina fistula or could be between the ureter and vagina known as uretero-vagina fistula which occurs as a result of complications of surgical procedures.What happens is that the continuous pressure of the baby’s head against her bony pelvic may compromise blood supply to part of the bladder and the vagina. This leads to death of that portion and when it sloughs off, it leaves a hole from which continuous drainage of urine or faeces may occur. The story of a girl who drips urine or faeces is definitely beyond the leakage. The situation can bring about irritable smell which may send the husband running and in extreme cases, the girl may even die.Worst still is the fact that, no man would want to date a lady suffering from V.V.F.

Secondly, the girl child, being too young to appreciate the concept of marriage, may succumb to intimidations and beatings from her husband. She can even become disfigured in the circumstance or end up in a divorce and she stands the risk of not being able to re-marry. This irritable act of early child marriage should be put to a halt.


As mentioned earlier, CEDAW[13] in Article16 (1) (a) and (b) and (2) prohibits forced marriage. It is unimaginable to think that in this era, Parents would still want to contract marriages on behalf of their children.It will therefore be of good use to ask: What is a marriage? Lord Penzance in the English case of Hyde v. Hyde [14] defined a monogamous marriage as: ‘The voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

William Shakespeare in his classic book: Twelfth Night defined marriage as:

A contract of eternal bond of love, confirmed by the mutual joinder of  hands, Attested by the holy close of lips, strengthened by interchangement of your rings.

From the foregoing definitions of marriage, it is clear, that a party cannot contract a marriage on behalf of another. It is on this note I submit that forced marriage should be done away with as a way of protecting the rights of the girl.


Article 21paragraph (1) (a) and (b) of the O.A.U. Charter condemns harmful social and cultural Practices. Some customs and traditions promote this barbaric act. Female circumcision known as Female Genital Mutilation FGM is done by removing a woman’s clitoris so as to reduce her sex drive. If sex is ordained by God, why should a girl’s sex drive be reduced by some barbaric behavior?  Female circumcision should be a relic of the past.

The World Health Organization (WHO) through its technical committee in 1995 classified female Genital mutilation into four types namely;

   1. Incision or excision of clitoral prepuce.

   2. Excision of part or the whole clitoris.

   3. Infibulation.

   4. Undetermined procedure

Whichever form is adopted can bring about sever harm to the girl. FGM can be the direct cause of VVF if the surgeon’s knife nicks the bladder. Poor technical knowhow or lack of experience of quack doctors can bring about this complication which can also sometimes lead to obstruction of labour. The use of unsterilized implements can also sometimes lead to the deadly Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). There is definitely no medical reason for its sustainance. It should, therefore, be stopped.


 The 20th day of November 1989 was an epoch making day. It was the day that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (C.R.C.) came into existence. Nigeria in line with the dictates of constitutional and international law ratified it on the 21st day of March 1991.Girls 18 years and below are children, so any act of child labour does them violence and is inimical to their general well-being. Article 32, paragraph 1 of the C.R.C. defines child Labour as ‘Any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development.’  It is good to ask whether it is all work engaged in by children that constitute child Labour? The answer is No! Imeh Ekanem illuminates the position clearly when he wrote: ‘It is clear from the definitions proffered that it is not all work which the child carries out that can be referred to as child Labour. As members of the family, children are expected to have duties which unquestionably include cleaning up the house and going on errands. Work becomes child Labour when it is inimical to the development of the child.’ He further stated that: ‘from the description given above, it is clear that child Labour includes children working in streets and market places as traders, vendors, young beggars ,hawkers, welders, bus conductors, service girls, domestic servants among others’[19]

Article 15 paragraph (1) and (2) (a) – (d) of the O.A.U. Charter also Legislates against child Labour. In a similar vein, S.34 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the right to dignity of the human person. There can be no doubt that any sort of child labour can encourage sexual molestation of a girl which amounts to violence and affects her dignity. 


Article 6 of CEDAW reads: ‘State Parties shall take all appropriate measures including Legislation to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation or prostitution of women.’ Female trafficking is no doubt rampant in Nigeria. It is a process where women or girls are taken out of Nigeria for the purpose of prostitution or slave labour.  National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Person (NAPTIP) seemsto be doing a lot of work in seeing to the prevention,return and rehabilitation of such victims.We remember vividly the Nigerian Ladies deported from Italy for prostitution a few years ago through the efforts of Mrs. Titi Atiku the wife of the former Vice President of Nigeria.

Furthermore, S.40 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the right to peaceful assembly and association, while S.35 provides for the right to personal liberty. These rights cannot thrive in a society that has female trafficking as its hallmark. It is true that female trafficking is inhumane, unjust and ungodly.


Article 10 of CEDAW prohibits discrimination against women in education. The era that females should be seen and not heard has passed. Today, notable names like Margaret Thatcher of United Kingdom, Hilary Clinton of United States, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and in Nigeria, ladies like Ngozi Okonjo lweala, Dora Akunyili, Obiageli Ezekwesili, Farida Waziri, Cecilia Ibru, Margaret Ekpu, Olufunmilayo Ransom Kuti, Hajiya Gambo Sawaba, Laila Dogonyaro, Margaret Ekpo and a host of others ring a bell both within and outside the shores of Nigeria. A female former Soviet writer Katarina Tomasevski remarked: ‘Women martyrs are rarely known, but in every generation, in every society, there were women who led the way.’ Nigerian women too can lead the way globally. This can only be done through the education of our Girls. 



Very often, cultural and societal beliefs that men are more important than women have influenced the thinking of men when dealing with issues relating to women. Female animals are rare and powerless. This has inevitably meant that women have had to secure advantage by less crude and abnormal methods than men, and as a result have often been labeled liars devious and cunning, as though such traits are never present in the men. Female criminals are also portrayed as a rare species, and rarity is sometimes quickly translated into abnormality.

One of the major criminology studies conducted in the nineteenth century, by Lombroso and  Ferrero, described women as congenitally less inclined to crime than men. However, it seems that they make up for this by the excessive vileness of the crimes they do commit. ‘Rarely is a woman wicked,’ wrote Lombroso, ‘but when she is, she surpasses the male.’ They are tagged liars and deceivers because of their subtitle nature which allows them to manipulate and dissemble men. To those contemporary women who are confident and comfortable with their sexuality it all seems visible, but remnants of such thinking remain the fear of the manipulative, dissembling female which lives on. The belief is that women manipulate men into committing offences while they remain immune from prosecution themselves because of their look of innocence.

When it comes to ‘economy with the truth’, experience shows that men are quite as good at dishing out the stories or embellishing the dossier as women. Women are rare amongst the ranks of confidence tricksters. Yet if you listen to many judges directing the jury in a rape case, you would think most women suffered from an inherent defect which he feels he must reluctantly spell out. They are not always trustworthy, is the insidious message. Very often their actions are linked with their biological make up such as mensturation, child birth, the need for sex or lack of it or mental disfunction.

The mystery of women’s child bearing properties can play a part in the rating of the women and any disorder or disability linked to child bearing, menstruation or menopause is treated sympathetically with names such as postnatal depression, baby blues, menopausal blues, post abortion tristesse or premenstrual tension. The effect of this is to make women victims of their own physiology and show that the function of all women might be intrinsically impaired.

In the nineteenth century, menstruation was a prominent explanation in cataloguing women’s crime, especially if the offences were atypical or if the woman was not of low-class. Most women who stole could not afford a lawyer who would have them diagnosed as kleptomaniac. For any woman with enough funds for a doctor as well as a lawyer, her aberrant behavior will be attributed to nymphomania, pyromania and all manner of manias which may be invented to explain it. Hysteria was the Latin word for the womb. Because of the dysfunction they were tagged with, men were regarded to be more stable and important. Men have devised certain excuses for giving more value to their kind. Example, women will marry and live home and cannot continuethe father’s name. Boys are rated very important that even from birth the celebration of the father would say it all. Need to abort foetus when child is found to be female is abound in certain cultures.


When a man commits a crime, a woman is used as a smokes screen. They were either deceived or manipulated into it. The story of creation is quite illuminating. All things were created male and female. These include all creatures on earth. However, women were not created out of a desire for their existence like other things but to provide Adam a help mate. The drama of her creation from Adam’s rib shows her nonexistence but for Adam. This creation as an appendage to Adam does not give a woman a sense of independence. Secondly, Adam having been created first was older and already had control over the garden including the apple tree before the creation of Eve. If he ate the apple, he was a victim of his own appetite. As a lawyer, I have wondered so much not only about why she should be made to answer so heavily for Adam’s transgressions but also why her responsibility for original sin and eternal damnation should be based on the uncorroborated testimony of a co-accused. Eve was not asked any question at all. I wonder if her right of fair hearing was exercised. Adam sited her as his excuse for disobeying God when he had a good sense of reasoning and could appreciate good and bad. Hardgrave put the prosecution’s case in the following words; “that is to say women are the cause of directly or indirectly a large amount of crime in men for which they receive no statistical credit… obeying that instinct for working mischief to the opposite sex which women would seem to have inherited from mother Eve. Poor old Eve. What a burden to take without being heard. I cannot agree any less with Helena Kennedy that Eve was framed. I wonder if she would have done better with a good defence lawyer. Transportation from Paradise is one thing, but a sentence of eternal damnation on the basis of the un-corroborative testimony of a co-accused must surely constitute a breach of International standards of human rights.

Another story that exhibits sexual prejudice in favour of men is that of the adulterous woman in the Bible. There a woman was caught in the act of adultery and the society wished to stone her to death until Jesus came to her rescue. Why was her accomplice not mentioned? Did he not also commit adultery? Why will the society and religion open their eyes to the sin of the adulteress and wear a blindfold for the man she committed it with.

Society often makes excuses for male transgressions, why don’t they also make excuses for women. The reasons are not farfetched. The laws are made by men.

In rape cases, the disposition of the victim can sometimes be made an issue to the woman’s embarrassment. For example, questions relating to when she last had sex could be badly interpreted whichever way it is answered. If she has not had it for a long time then she must have encouraged it. If she had been having it consistently then she may have been promiscuous and if her dressing was sexy or she was walking alone at night, then she may have asked for it. Once a person has carnal knowledge of another without the persons consent, it is rape under section 282 of the Penal code and should not be condoned under any guise.


A woman could suffer a lot of violence in applications for custody of her children following a breakdown in marriage. When a woman who has been badly battered leaves her matrimonial home to escape abuse, the husband is likely to cite that as abandonment of the children. Her case would even be made worse if there is evidence that she had found a new boyfriend. The society is quick to adjudge a woman as being irresponsible or bad when she leaves her matrimonial home without her children no matter the circumstances of her inability to pick them. The violence against her will not be taken into consideration when the society deals with her case. Worse will be her case where she has suffered frequent deaths of children. The presumption would be that she was a bad mother and had killed them notwithstanding that it may have been as a result of cot deaths.


In Nigeria, there is an affirmation for 35% representation for women into political positions. Although women in politics see this as a wonderful development, I look forward to a period when there will be equal representation. The political arena is also not convenient for women since most meetings are held overnight and women still have to take charge of the home front.


Very often women are taunted when they raise the issue of equality. Men never fail to rub it in when adopting that equation to cause untold hardship on women. For example, when imposing custodial sentence on women, the fact that they have young children or had been abused will not be a consideration for soft soaping of women.

Sometimes men are quick to adopt women when they are seen to be doing well. For example in the legal profession, or in the military, women are not recognized. They are seen as men in whatever they do in court or at war. Therefore, they are either gentlemen at the bar, learned brothers, my Lords etc. Although this might sound patronizing, women will prefer to be seen the way they truly are, that is, as women. The justice can only be obtained by giving a fair and unbiased approval of each person and situation, without relying on preconceived notions as to whether a person is black, white, male, female, straight, or gay. Although there are always attempts to waive off issues of gender bias as being things of the past under the pretext that it has been addressed, it is important to note that the changes are only minimal. The problems of women are not only from culture but also from religion and the law. Since lawmakers are predominantly men, it is imperative that the laws they will make will not only favour men but will help them to re-enforce their chauvinistic positions. Over 50% of law school graduates are females and they come out with great degrees. Apart from a handful of them, the majority are scared away from active legal practice and confine themselves to public service jobs while their male counterparts go for career options which are more related to money and prestige. The female feminine vulnerability has often been used to explain why they should be kept in the domestic arena and be excluded from public life. Each time the issue of fairness is raised, equalization is invariably considered towards a male norm and women are merely expected to shape up whether as lawyers, accused or in their public life. It is high time we began to take proper account of the ways that women’s experiences differ from those of men and yet treat them as equals.

Cultural forces, which are also at work, reflect public attitudes which are prejudicial to women. A strong weapon for the maintenance of male power is to deny women their experiences. How else can one explain the fact that a female lawyer is referred to as a gentleman of the bar or my Lord, if a judge? Would she perform any less if she is a Lady of the bar or my lady? The law needs to be sensitive to the realities of the lives of women and accord them the respect that they deserve.

A female professor once said during her house warming ceremony that, “My father has never seen me as a woman. He calls me his son.” By implication she cannot achieve as a daughter. How sad. Justice must recognize the tension between the ideal of equality and the reality of people’s lives. Women therefore need that justice that will see them as women and respect them as such. It is only then that the issue of equality would make meaning.

Conclusively, girls and women generally, should know that they have rights just like men, and be alert and wise enough to recognize violation of their rights and report same so that the long arm of the law can catch up with the offenders. Nothing stops a girl from walking into a law office to lay a complaint, she will be listened to. All hands must be on deck to ensure that our Girls and women are protected against all forms of violence. The law enforcement agencies, parents, Religious institutions, and the mass media must all play a role in our efforts to help our Girls.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, To Bellow Like a Cow: Women, Ethnicity and Discourse of Rights in Cook J Rebecca, Human Rights of Women; National and International Perspective 1994 University of Pennsylvania Press p. 50.

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