Linkages must also be drawn between the principles of the provisions of the Protocol and those in other national and international instruments of law or policy that many of the African Union (AU) member states are signatories to.
Once the Protocol comes into force its implementation by member states (subject to internal processes of domestication), places an obligation on governments to establish institutions and mechanisms that assure women of protection from practices and attitudes that allow for the perpetration of violence and discrimination, including differential opportunities in education, political participation and access to justice.
The provisions of Article 14 (Health and Reproductive Rights), and Article 15 (Right to Food Security) of the Protocol provide some bench marks that we may aspire to attain once the Protocol is domesticated in Nigeria. The health and reproductive rights of women and their right to food security is a contingent factor to their fundamental right to life. The two together cover the extent and quality of the lives of women in Nigeria. Statistics from the 2003 Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) indicate a direct relationship between womens education status, economic disposition, and access to nutritional diet or micronutrient supplements to their fertility rates, their access to clean drinking water, antenatal and postnatal care - thereby underscoring the high rates of maternal mortality registered by Nigeria in the last ten years.
The right of women to control their fertility in respect of defining the number and spacing between their children is obscured by the dictates of patriarchy where the decision lies with the man. In many instances the issue of male-child preference pushes many women into multiple deliveries, mostly in close succession or in competition with other wives, in search of the preferred child. Even where women are able to negotiate some respite, they may loose out in the proposal for family planning or the method of contraception they choose to use. Womens right to health is further undermined by poor nutritional indices in the value content necessary for normal body function and good health.
Social and gender taboos typify foods that men and women can or cannot eat at all times or during specific conditions such as pregnancy and breastfeeding. The penalties for violation are disproportionately high while the womens incapacity to meet with the cost of the items of appeasement keeps them unattracted to high value content food items. Food supplements are available largely in urban centres with hardly any reaching rural women who may go through a pregnancy without the basic iron supplement meant to prevent anaemia, which is a confirmed factor of disorders in the foetal development and is usually a reason for premature delivery or low birth weight. Anaemia is also an underlying cause of maternal and perinatal mortality.
At another level scanty or total ignorance of prevalent diseases, methods of contraction and what to do or where to go for help remain a bottleneck in womens access to protection and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV/AIDS. Many women, apart from being ignorant about their health status, have limited ways of determining the health status of their partners and the results are devastating for families and communities in most of the member states of the AU. Aggressive initiatives have not yielded the desired results due to the absence of a strong political will or due to societal and individual denial of the existence or scale of some of the diseases. This is compounded by the weak bargaining position of women in power relations and the pervasive cultural endorsement of male liberty to have free and multiple sexual relationships (in and out of marriage) thereby escalating the redistribution impact of STDs and leading to the high prevalence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaging communities and nations all over Africa.
Land ownership for the average subsistence female farmer is an important right that would give her food security, and enhance her capacity for food production and an economic base. The tens of miles women trek to get water (never mind the quality they find) and domestic fuel is a factor that tasks their physical and mental capacity and pre-occupies them to the extent that they are absent from decision making and in most instances reduced to being beasts of burden.
In Nigeria, Chapter II Sections 13 to 24 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provide for the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. The provisions, which for now are not justiciable draw a lot from the United Nations Charter of Social and Economic Rights, and provide a framework that impacts significantly on the quality of the fundamental human rights of citizens as guaranteed by Chapter IV of the same Constitution. Specifically, section 13 states clearly and unequivocally that:
It shall be the duty and responsibility of all organs of government, and of all authorities and persons exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of this Chapter of the Constitution.
The implication of this provision is the imposition of an obligation on the Nigerian State to take positive action for creating socio-economic conditions that uplift the dignity of citizens, makes it real and accessible to all especially the weak and vulnerable. Therefore the provisions of the Protocol in Articles 14 and 15 go a long way in concretizing the obligations of the Nigerian government and upon domestication make the rights in the key areas of health, reproductive rights and food security for women justiciable. Petitions, especially for redress against violations or non implementation, can be initiated at national level and where desirable can go up to the African Court for Human and Peoples Rights.
Furthermore, our collective campaign and advocacy should tie government delivery on the provisions of the Protocol to the basic deliverables of good governance. This is to provide a framework that defines for women, the quantity, quality and the means of accessing the indicators in the implementation of the Protocol.
The number and quality of basic healthcare structures, especially at rural levels, will be an indicator while the services rendered must cover the spectrum of detection and medication for simple ailments, health intervention initiatives such as iron fortification programmes, prenatal and postnatal services, training and retraining of rural/traditional birth attendants (TBAs), family planning services, information on sexuality as well as voluntary testing and counselling for STDs and HIV/AIDS.
Other indicators include provision of quality drinking water using simple and affordable technology and governments commitment to the development of alternative energy for domestic purposes. At the legislative level, laws aimed at prohibiting social and cultural constructs that deprive women of control over land must be enacted while extensive reorientation and advocacy is embarked upon to support implementation of the laws and a shift in the right direction. The most important indicator is a demonstrated political will to eradicate the barriers and impediments affecting the quality contribution of women to the development of their communities and nations.
* Saudatu Mahdi is from the organisation Womens Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) in Nigeria
(Source: Pambazuka, January 20, 2005)