Women in Nigeria

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Women in Nigeria
A young girl pictured with her friends, Nigeria (38758526845).jpg
Nigerian women in traditional dress
Gender Inequality Index
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)630 (2010)
Women in parliament6.7% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary educationNA
Women in labour force50% (2017)[1]
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value0.621 (2018)
Rank133rd out of 153

Women's social role in Nigeria differs according to religious, cultural and geographic factors. Women's role is primarily understood as mothers, sisters, daughters and wives.[3][4] Additionally, women's roles are in accordance with ethnic differences and religious background, with women in Northern Nigeria being more likely to be secluded in the home,[5] than women in Southern Nigeria, who participate more in public life.[6] Modern challenges for the women of Nigeria include child marriage[7] and female genital mutilation.[8]

Social issues[edit]

Child marriage[edit]

Child marriage is common in Nigeria, with 43% of girls being married before their 18th birthday, and 17% before they turn 15.[7] The prevalence, however, varies greatly by region.[7] Nigeria's total fertility rate is 5.07 children/woman.[9] Nigeria's high fertility rate is causing socio-economic problems and fueling under-development.[10][11]


Participation in politics[edit]

In The World's Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap report 2018 Nigeria was placed 139th out of a total 149 countries in terms of gender gap in 'political empowerment'.[12] During 2015 Nigerian elections, Nigeria had 20 women out of 359 in its Lower House (5.6%) and 7 out of 109 in Upper House (6.4%). In 2019 elections 7.3% of the Nigerian Senate and 3.1% of the House of Representatives are women. There are no state governors that are women.[13] There are no laws implemented to improve the gender gap. In 2014, the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) and the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) outlined “Nigerian Women Charter of Demand” that demanded to have 35% of women incorporated in all sectors of government. The barriers to women participation in politics are various attitudes to gender, negative attitude towards to women in leadership in particular, female candidates often suffer from election violence, threats or hate speech and political parties have exclusively excluded women, do little to encourage the participation. To help rise the number of women working in the government, The Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund (NWTF) uses funding, networking opportunities, mentoring, training for leadership, and advocacy. It is supported by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development (MWASD), UN Women. [14] [15] [16]


Female genital mutilation[edit]

Female genital cutting (also known as female genital mutilation) in Nigeria accounts for the most female genital cutting/mutilation (FGM/C) cases worldwide.[17] The practice is considered harmful to girls and women and a violation of human rights.[18] FGM causes infertility, maternal death, infections, and the loss of sexual pleasure.[19]

Nationally, 27% of Nigerian women between the ages of 15 and 49 were victims of FGM, as of 2012.[20] In the last 30 years, prevalence of the practice has decreased by half in some parts of Nigeria.[18] It was reported that about one fourth of Nigerian women reported having ever experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) as of 2013.[21] Studies carried on the prevalence of IPV in four Geo-political zones of Nigeria indicated that South East had 78.8%,[22] North had 42%,[23] South South had 41%,[24] and South West had 29%.[25][21]

Girl child labour[edit]

Girl Child Labour in Nigeria is the high incidence of girls ages 5–14 who are involved in economic activities outside of education and leisure.[26] The prevalence of the girl child labour in Nigeria is largely due to household wealth[27] but other factors such as the educational accomplishment of parents, peer pressure and demand factors such as high demand for domestic maid and sex all contribute to the high incidence of girl child labour in the country.[28] In addition, in many rural and Muslim communities in Northern Nigeria, children are sometimes asked to aid religiously secluded women or mothers in running errands.[29]

Many girls work as maids, shop helps and street hawkers. The use of young girls in economic activities exposes them to the dangers and other problems such as sexual assault, missing classes, lack of parental care and exploitation.[30] In addition, the work of girls is not recognized by law and any form of employee benefit is negligible.

Domestic violence[edit]

Domestic violence in Nigeria is a problem as in many parts of Africa.[31][32] There is a deep cultural belief in Nigeria that it is socially acceptable to hit a woman to discipline a spouse.[33][34] Domestic violence is widespread and shows no signs of lessening in Nigeria. The CLEEN Foundation reports 1 in every 3 respondents admitting to being a victim of domestic violence. The survey also found a nationwide increase in domestic violence in the past 3 years from 21% in 2011 to 30% in 2013.[35] A CLEEN Foundation's 2012 National Crime and Safety Survey demonstrated that 31% of the national sample confessed to being victims of domestic violence.[36]

Domestic violence takes many forms including physical, sexual, emotional, and mental. Traditionally, domestic violence is committed against females. Common forms of violence against women in Nigeria are rape, acid attacks, molestation, wife beating, and corporal punishment.[37]

The Nigerian government has taken legal proceedings to prosecute men who abuse women in several states.[33][38][39][40] There is currently a push in Nigeria for federal laws concerning domestic violence and for a stronger national response and support for domestic violence issues.


Abortion is a controversial topic in Nigeria. Abortion in Nigeria is governed by two laws that differ depending on geographical location. Northern Nigeria is governed by The Penal Code and southern Nigeria is governed by The Criminal Code. The only legal way to have an abortion in Nigeria is if having the child is going to put the mother's life in danger.[41] However, sex-selective abortion has long had acceptance in Nigeria.[42][43]


The 12 Muslim majority states in Nigeria's north where polygamy is legal.

12 out of the 36 Nigerian states recognize polygamous marriages as being equivalent to monogamous marriages. All twelve states are governed by Islamic Sharia Law. The States, which are all northern, include the states of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara [44] which allows for a man to take more than one wife.[45]

Elsewhere, both Christians and traditionalists in polygamous unions are recognized by customary law. These unions are contingent upon the absence of prior civil marriage, as bigamy technically applies, but even when present, men are seldom ever prosecuted for bigamy in Nigeria.[46]


Prostitution in Nigeria is illegal in all Northern States that practice Islamic penal code. In Southern Nigeria, the activities of pimps or madams, underage prostitution and the operation or ownership of brothels are penalized under sections 223, 224, and 225 of the Nigerian Criminal Code.[47] Even though Nigerian law does not legalize commercial sex work, it is vague if such work is performed by an independent individual who operates on his or her own accord without the use of pimps or a brothel.[48]

The Nigeria criminal system prohibits national and trans-national trafficking of women for commercial sex or forced labour. Nigeria is a signatory to the 2000 United Nations[48] Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

Women's education[edit]

Nigerian women in traditional dress

Women in Nigeria have had various challenges in order to obtain equal education in all forms of formal education in Nigeria.[49] Education is a basic human right and has been recognized as such since the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.[50] A positive correlation exists between the enrollment of girls in primary school and the gross national product and increase of life expectancy.[51]

Because of this correlation, enrollment in schools represents the largest component of the investment in human capital in any society.[52] Rapid socio-economic development of a nation has been observed to depend on the calibre of women and their education in that country.[53] Education bestows on women a disposition for a lifelong acquisition of knowledge, values, attitudes, competence and skills.[54]

To ensure equal access to education, the National Policy on Education states that access to education is a right for all Nigerian children regardless of gender, religion and disability.[55]

Women's advocacy[edit]

A national feminist movement was inaugurated in 1982,[56] and a national conference held at Ahmadu Bello University.[56] The papers presented there indicated a growing awareness by Nigeria's university-educated women that the place of women in society required a concerted effort and a place on the national agenda; the public perception, however, remained far behind.

For example, a feminist meeting in Ibadan came out against polygamy and then was soundly criticized by market women, who said they supported the practice because it allowed them to pursue their trading activities and have the household looked after at the same time. Research in the north indicated that many women opposed the practice, and tried to keep bearing children to stave off a second wife's entry into the household.[57] Although women's status would undoubtedly rise, for the foreseeable future Nigerian women lacked the opportunities of men.

Yinka Jegede-Ekpe, herself HIV-positive, set up the Nigerian Community of Women Living With HIV/AIDS in 2001. The group intended to inform women about the risks of HIV/AIDS and to empower them to speak out.[58]

Regional differences[edit]

Northern Nigeria[edit]

In the north, practices that were introduced in terms of women's position in society have been mainly as a result of colonialism and the introduction of salafism and wahhabism thought into the traditionally sufistregion[citation needed].[59] This process has meant, generally, less formal education; early teenage marriages, especially in rural areas; and confinement to the household, which was often polygynous, except for visits to family, ceremonies, and the workplace, if employment were available and permitted by a girl's family or husband. For the most part, Hausa women did not work in the fields, whereas Kanuri women did; both helped with harvesting and were responsible for all household food processing[citation needed].

Urban women sold cooked foods, usually by sending young girls out onto the streets or operating small stands. Research indicated that this practice was one of the main reasons city women gave for opposing schooling for their daughters.[60] Even in elite houses with educated wives, women's presence at social gatherings was either nonexistent or very restricted. In the modern sector, a few women were appearing at all levels in offices, banks, social services, nursing, radio, television, and the professions (teaching, engineering, environmental design, law, pharmacy, medicine, and even agriculture and veterinary medicine).

This trend resulted from women's secondary schools, teachers' colleges, and in the 1980s women holding approximately one-fifth of university places—double the proportion of the 1970s. Research in the 1980s indicated that, for the Muslim north, education beyond primary school was restricted to the daughters of the business and professional elites, and in almost all cases, courses and professions were chosen by the family, not the woman themselves.

However, in the last few years, the rate of women's employment has apparently increased as more women have been employed in the modern sector. You find them as cashiers in the banks, teachers in public and private primary and secondary schools, nurses at hospitals as well as television hosts of different TV programs. Although, the issue of women not occupying top positions still remains a huge challenge all over the country and across all sectors as most of these positions are occupied by men with little opportunities for equally qualified women. In addition, young ladies deciding on courses and professions to choose from now have the full autonomy to do that in some households especially in the southern part of the country. However, the north still lags behind in these apparent changes due to cultural laws.

Southern Nigeria[edit]

A Nigerian woman balancing market goods on her head

In the south, women traditionally had economically important positions in interregional trade and the markets, worked on farms as major labour sources, and had influential positions in traditional systems of local organization. The south, like the north, had been polygynous; in 1990 it still was for many households, including those professing Christianity.

Women in the south, had received Western-style education since the nineteenth century, so they occupied positions in the professions and to some extent in politics. In addition, women headed households, something not seriously considered in Nigeria's development plans. Such households were more numerous in the south, but they were on the rise everywhere.

Recognition by authorities[edit]

Generally, in Nigeria, development planning refers to "adult males," "households," or "families". Women were included in such units but not as a separate category. Up until the 1980s, the term "farmer" was assumed to be exclusively male, even though in some areas of the nation women did most of the farm work. In Nigerian terms, a woman was almost always defined as someone's daughter, wife, mother, or widow.

Single women were suspect, although they constituted a large category, especially in the cities, because of the high divorce rate. Traditionally, and to some extent this remained true in popular culture, single adult women were seen as available sexual partners should they try for some independence and as easy victims for economic exploitation. In Kaduna State, for example, investigations into illegal land expropriations noted that women's farms were confiscated almost unthinkingly by local chiefs wishing to sell to urban-based speculators and would-be commercial farmers.

Notable figures[edit]





Notable scientists include:


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/. (Data as of 1991.)

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Further reading[edit]

Violence against women[edit]

  • Factors associated with attitudes towards intimate partner violence against women: a comparative analysis of 17 sub-Saharan countries [1]
  • Intimate partner violence and reproductive health of women [2]
  • Intimate Partner Abuse: Wife Beating among Civil Servants in Ibadan, Nigeria [3]
  • Intimate Partner Violence among Women in a Migrant Community in Southwest Nigeria [4]
  • Intimate Partner Violence: Prevalence and Perceptions of Married Men in Ibadan, Nigeria [5]
  • Influence of Community Social Norms on Spousal Violence: A Population-Based Multilevel Study of Nigerian Women [6]

  1. ^ Uthman, Olalekan A.; Lawoko, Stephen; Moradi, Tahereh (2009-07-20). "Factors associated with attitudes towards intimate partner violence against women: a comparative analysis of 17 sub-Saharan countries". BMC International Health and Human Rights. 9 (1): 14. doi:10.1186/1472-698X-9-14. ISSN 1472-698X. PMC 2718859. PMID 19619299.
  2. ^ Emenike, E.; Lawoko, S.; Dalal, K. (March 2008). "Intimate partner violence and reproductive health of women in Kenya". International Nursing Review. 55 (1): 97–102. doi:10.1111/j.1466-7657.2007.00580.x. ISSN 0020-8132. PMID 18275542.
  3. ^ Fawole, Olufunmilayo I.; Aderonmu, Adedibu L.; Fawole, Adeniran O. (2005-08-01). "Intimate Partner Abuse: Wife Beating among Civil Servants in Ibadan, Nigeria". African Journal of Reproductive Health. 9 (2): 54–64. doi:10.2307/3583462. JSTOR 3583462. PMID 16485586.
  4. ^ Owoaje, Eme T.; Olaolorun, Funmilola M. (2006). "Intimate Partner Violence among Women in a Migrant Community in Southwest Nigeria". International Quarterly of Community Health Education. 25 (4): 337–349. doi:10.2190/q6m3-0270-1284-86ku. ISSN 0272-684X. PMID 17686706. S2CID 45489636.
  5. ^ Fawole, Olufunmilayo L.; Salawu, Tokunbo A.; Olarinmoye, Esther O. Asekun (2010). "Intimate Partner Violence: Prevalence and Perceptions of Married Men in Ibadan, Nigeria". International Quarterly of Community Health Education. 30 (4): 349–364. doi:10.2190/iq.30.4.f. ISSN 0272-684X. PMID 21273168. S2CID 22487187.
  6. ^ Linos, Natalia; Slopen, Natalie; Subramanian, S. V.; Berkman, Lisa; Kawachi, Ichiro (2012-11-15). "Influence of Community Social Norms on Spousal Violence: A Population-Based Multilevel Study of Nigerian Women". American Journal of Public Health. 103 (1): 148–155. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300829. ISSN 0090-0036. PMC 3518349. PMID 23153124.