Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Law, Women and Health in Nigeria

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Law, Women and Health in Nigeria

Article excerpt


This paper attempts to analyse sexual inequality as it affects the health of women in Nigeria. Various theories that inform the study of women are briefly discussed along with specific areas of women's health concerns. These include: female genital mutilation, violence against women, sexual harassment, and widowhood practices. Other areas of discourse involve women and law, and here, we emphasised the need to re-examine both the customary and statutory laws to reflect justice, dignity and fair play for all members of the society irrespective of their gender. Also, special attention should be paid to some laws that encourage the brutality of women by men in order to repeal them, as for instance, a law that encourages men to correct their wives by flogging. Other suggestions are offered on how to create a better and healthier society for all Nigerians, particularly women.

Keywords: Women's health, gender inequality, law in Nigeria


The focus of this paper is to summarize and analyse sexual inequality as it affects women's health in Nigeria and how the law can be employed to address these challenges. In Nigeria, many women are denied their rights and subjected to some cultural practices that greatly endanger their health (Mama, 1996). For instance, the inhuman widowhood practices in many ethnic groups in Nigeria, genital mutilation which is harmful to women's health, disease like Vesico-Vaginal Fistulae (VVF), and the problem of girl child hawking along the streets that exposes them to a host of problems including: physical and psychological danger, physical and psychological abuse, rape and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (Weekly Trust, 2007:7) as well as unwanted pregnancies and even the danger of being knocked down by a car.

Nigerian law is meant to protect every Nigerian irrespective of sex as is stated in the Nigerian constitution of 1999. However the law in the book and the law in practice seem to be different. Women in Nigeria have continued to experience gender discrimination and their human rights violated (Briggs et al 2003), which results in some ailments suffered by women. Also the general assumption of women's inferiority and their subjugation to men, have subjected them to various abuses and health problems. All these abnormalities are preventable and the law could be effectively employed to bring changes in areas where women are subjected to health problems as a result of their subordination.

The issue of health is very important in a nation's development, because no society can make any progress without a physically and mentally sound populace. For instance, violence against women either physical or mental leads to women's depression, low-self esteem, neurotic disorders, and so on (Adetoun, 1997).

The Sociological Concept of Law: Nigerian Examples

Every society accommodates norms, rules and values that guide the behaviour of the members of the society. In traditional Nigerian societies there were rules guiding the behaviour of individuals and even though they were not written down everyone knew exactly what was expected of him or her (Alemika, 1994). The mode of production was agrarian and members of the society were engaged mostly in similar activities. However, life in modern societies is significantly more complicated and the use of law as a means of social control has become necessary. Large-scale societies with their disparate functions have become increasingly differentiated and interdependent, such that the coercive power of law is necessary, and other means of social control such as religious sanctions, norms and customs do not have the same power of enforcement (Alemika, 1994). Thus law is needed to enforce certain behavioural acts for the general good of the society. Certain behavioural patterns that are dangerous to the society particularly those that affect women's health in modern societies can be prevented by laws. …

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