International Women’s Day: 9 oppressive, sexist Nigerian laws that should not exist in 2020

Nigerian women protest against violation and sexual abuse during the World International Women’s Day in Lagos, Nigeria. (Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Every year, the world celebrates International Women's Day on March 8th.
  • While applauding the wonderful accomplishments of women, this day highlights gender inequality and stresses the need to bridge the gap.
  • In honour of today's agenda, Business Insider sub-Saharan Africa is taking a look at certain prohibitive laws that hold Nigerian women back.

Gender inequality is a huge issue all over the world. It is an even bigger problem here in Nigeria which is currently ranked 128 out of 153 countries on the global gender parity index.

Almost 60 years after this West African country gained independence, its women are still bound by oppressive traditions, religion and discriminatory laws.

From allowing husbands to beat their wives and get away with it to prohibiting married women from certain jobs, here are nine discriminatory laws that have no place in today's world:


The Penal Code (applicable in the Northern (Muslim) states) Section 55. Correction of Child, Pupil, Servant or Wife states

Nothing is an offence which does not amount to the infliction of grievous hurt upon any persons which is done:

(a) by a parent or guardian for the purpose of correcting his child or ward ...

(b) by a schoolmaster for the purpose of correcting a child ...


(c) by a master for the purpose of correcting his servant or apprentice ...

(d) by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife, such husband and wife being subject to any native law or custom in which such correction is recognized as lawful.

This encourages violence against women and enforces the belief that a woman is her husband’s property.

In Nigeria, there is no such thing as marital rape. This means you are giving consent to all sexual activity within the marriage once you exchange wedding vows.


A lawyer we spoke to added that this "means that even if a couple have been separated for 15 years and the man forcibly has sex with the woman, it is considered consensual sex in the eyes of the law, based on the doctrine of implied consent."

This is because Section 6 of the Criminal Code defines ‘unlawful carnal knowledge’ as something that takes place outside of marriage.

Section 55 of the Labour Act bars women from being employed in night work except as nurses or in management positions for those who are not engaged in manual labour.


Section 360 of the Criminal Code makes the indecent assault of women a misdemeanour punishable with a two-year prison term.

The same crime is called a felony when it is done to a man and it is punishable by a three-year prison term according to section 353.

Section 127 of the Police Act states that once an unmarried police woman is pregnant, she should be discharged from the police force.

She can only be reinstated on the approval of the Inspector General of police.


By virtue of Section 127 of the Police Act, married women are prevented from seeking enlistment in the Nigerian Police Force.

Under Regulation 124 of the Police Act, a woman police officer who is interested in getting married must initially apply in writing to the commissioner of police for approval.


Section 26 of the constitution provides that the president may confer Nigerian citizenship on “any woman who is or who has been married to a citizen of Nigeria."

However, the president is not empowered to confer Nigerian citizenship on “any man who is or has been married to a citizen of Nigeria."

The law states that “the foreign spouse of a Nigerian woman can only acquire citizenship by naturalisation, which is a much longer process (at least 15 years).


By virtue of Section 18 of the Marriage Act the written consent of the father of either party to an intended marriage is required if he or she is under 21 years of age.

The mother can only give consent if the father is dead or of unsound mind or absent from Nigeria.

The Immigration Act requires that married women applying for Nigerian passports are required to submit the written consent of their husbands.

Apart from the few mentioned here, there are several discriminatory customary laws - ‘unwritten customs and traditions, which have been accepted as obligatory by members of a community’.


These customary practices/laws prevent women from owning land and inheriting her husband's estates in many parts of the country.

It is important to add that the Nigerian government has introduced some reforms like;

  • the signing and ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • adoption of a National Gender Policy
  • the enactment of the Child Rights Act 2003 (this law domesticated the Convention of the Rights of the Child in Nigeria) 
  • the enactment of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act 2003
  • establishment of Women Development centres in all the states in Nigeria.

However there is still so much to be done like finally passing the Sex for Marks Bill.

According to the CFR Women and Foreign Policy Program’s new digital report, Growing Economies Through Gender Parity, Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) could grow by 23 percent—or $229 billion—by 2025 if women participated in the economy to the same extent as men.

This report has been supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which also stated that gender equality in Nigeria would result in higher productivity and greater economic stability.


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