Women: No to war, fight for women’s rights and socialism

NIGERIA IS a neo-colonial country under the shackles of imperialism and its multinational agents. Women in Nigeria are marginalised and oppressed, as are women in capitalist society generally. Women are doubly oppressed, first as workers whose employers seek to maximise profit by exploiting their labour power, and secondly as women in patriarchal society. Women’s oppression is rooted in class society and has been with us since before the advent of capitalism.

International women’s day.

TO CELEBRATE International Women’s Day (8 March), the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) – the socialist International which the Socialist Party in England and Wales is affiliated to – is organising a speaking tour by Titi Rasheed of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in Nigeria. Titi has been campaigning against the death sentence imposed on Aminat Lawal for having a child outside of marriage and for the rights of other women condemned to death in similar situations. Alongside other members of the DSM, she opposed holding the Miss World contest in Nigeria last year. Titi was a student activist involving in fighting for women and student’s rights and against military rule in Nigeria. She is now the women’s secretary of the Campaign for Independent Unionism and is fighting for the right of women workers in Nigeria. Titi spoke to The Socialist about the conditions facing women in Nigeria and the struggle for women’s rights and socialism.

No to war, fight for women’s rights and socialism

In Nigeria as elsewhere, religion and tradition are instruments of women’s oppression. Many of the religious beliefs and traditions date back to the feudal era. They were designed to justify and sustain private property.

Patriarchal society sets the parameters for women’s structurally unequal position in families and markets by condoning inequality in inheritance rights and law, by tacitly condoning domestic and sexual violence and sanctioning differential wages for equal or comparable work.

Women and work

78% OF women in Nigeria are mostly engaged in the informal sector, which includes farming and petty trading. But women’s unpaid labour is twice that of men, and its economic value is estimated to be up to 30% of Nigeria’s Gross National Product.

The 1999 Constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of sex and women’s employment rights are protected under the Labour Act. Nevertheless, the reality is that Nigerian women are far from enjoying equal rights in the labour market, due mainly to their domestic burden, low level of educational attainment, biases against women’s employment in certain branches of the economy or types of work and discriminatory salary practices.

In some establishments women are not allowed to get married or pregnant because it is thought that it will reduce their productivity and of course profit.

The legal protection granted by the constitution and the Labour Act has little or no effect in the informal sector – where the vast majority of women are employed.

With the prevailing socio-economic crisis in Nigeria as a result of the IMF/World Bank dictated neo-liberal policies, jobs are lost at an increasing rate. Women are the worst hit. In some cases, women can retain their job if they do not mind becoming the objects of sexual satisfaction of the bosses or the employers. Some women particularly the young ones are only employed as long as they are ready to use their bodies to woo customers for their business organisations. This is called "corporate prostitution".

Women and violence

Numerous cases of women’s rights violation such as acid baths, murder, rape, widow abuse, and physical assaults, have occurred in Nigeria. Unfortunately it is only extreme cases which result in death or permanent disability that earn media attention and police interest.

Critical cases like female circumcision or genital mutilation, wife battery, marital rape, sexual harassment, verbal and emotional abuse, incest, termination of employment as a result of pregnancy, etc. are not considered problematic enough to be highlighted in the media or taken serious by the police.

The victims of violence, especially domestic violence and rape, hardly ever report to the appropriate authorities. Wife battery is considered a private affair between husband and wife. Moreover, in Nigeria – a typical patriarchal society – a wife is viewed as the property of her husband, who has the moral right to beat her as a penalty for insubordination or perceived wrong doing. In the case of rape, women consider it a social stigma if their ordeal becomes public knowledge.

Women and religion

Religion is an instrument of defence of class society and patriarchy. It discriminates against women. As a result of the theocratic character of the governance of the Northern part of Nigeria before the advent of the British colonialists, Islam has been institutionalised as a culture – the way of life – of the majority of the people of the region.

Knowing full well the emotional attachment of Northern Muslims to their religion, politicians introduced shariah law in order to enhance their political prospects and divert attention away from the failure to provide the necessities of life. In the same manner, the capitalist elites in the southern part of the country are hypocritically pretending to be championing the interests of their people.

The major victims of political shariah are women. Examples that readily come to mind are the cases of Safiya Hussein Tungartudu and Hafsat in Sokoto State and Aminat Lawal in Katsina State who were sentenced to death by stoning because of their alleged commitment of adultery while their male ’accomplices’ are considered innocent. While Safiya and Hafsat have been spared the death penalty as a result of local and international campaigns, the fate of Aminat Lawal still hangs in the balance.

The DSM defends the right of all religious believers to practice their religions. We fight against discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, ethnic origin or race. The right of Muslims to practise those aspects of sharia which pertain to worship, mode of dressing, naming of children and other personal or family matters must be respected.

Religion should be a personal affair and should be separated from the state. This is even more imperative in a multi-religious society like Nigeria.

The failure to adhere to this principle by successive capitalist governments in Nigeria, both military and civilian, is one of the main reasons for the rising wave of ethnic and religious conflicts in the country, particularly since the beginning of the introduction of sharia law by some states in 2000.

About 10,000 lives have reportedly been lost to ethnic and religious violence since military rule ended in May, 1999.

Women and political participation

This year is election year. All the politicians are warming up for another four years in office. There are two female presidential candidates, the first time in Nigeria that a woman will be facing the electorate, thanks to the liberalisation of the political system with the registration of 30 political parties. This was a result of a struggle spearheaded by the National Conscience Party. This is a significant development but the participation of women in elections still leaves much to be desired.

Different reasons are put forward to explain the low level of involvement of women in politics. Some say that women by nature do not have the strength to weather the storm of politics. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is society which is shaped by religion, tradition, folklore and fables, which relegates women to the background and prevents them from being more politically involved.

Any woman who attempts to break this ’rule’ is seen as a non-conformist and treated with scorn even by women. This is besides the fact that she may not even be able to mobilise enough resources to compete with her male counterparts, since politics is often heavily "monetised" and women are always economically disadvantaged.

Societal obstacles of religion, culture and tradition must be broken. Women should have the same right as men to work and participate in society. They should have access to free, quality education and health care. The electoral process must not be a preserve of the rich.

DSM members support and operate within the National Conscience Party (NCP) and call on working-class women and men as well as students, the youth, the unemployed etc. to join and vote for it in the forthcoming general elections.

The NCP is not a socialist party, but with its pro-people, anti-privatisation programmes it has the potential of improving the lot of women as well other strata of the oppressed. The NCP is campaigning for equal pay for work of equal value, an end to discrimination, harassment, violence against women, a reversal of cuts in all welfare spending and the sharing of work to provide real jobs for all on decent living wages.

However, we have argued that for the NCP to be able to have enough resources to achieve its laudable programmes, it must do away with the neo-liberal policies of commercialisation, privatisation, trade liberalisation etc. It must not just renationalise or bring back under public ownership the already privatised companies, but has to break from capitalism and embrace the ideas of genuine socialism.

Ultimately, there is a need for the socialist reconstruction of society as a solution to end women’s oppression. As we celebrate this International Women’s Day together, we of the Democratic Socialist Movement dedicate ourselves to building a powerful socialist alternative, which will emancipate working women along with all other exploited sections of the society.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, the CWI in England and Wales

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March 2003