Women in International Law Network

The Olive Schill Society

by Adaeze Aniodoh

“I believe the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st Century”

Hillary Clinton

The world is yet to reach the same equilibrium on the privileges and rights that are accorded to men. Despite the collective achievements that the modern woman has attained in science, arts, research and development, a trajectory that has been woven over the years to the detriment of the women folk is the dominance of patriarchy which has made it very difficult for women to climb up the career ladder behind men. Although power is not inherently sexist, it has been historically perpetuated and harnessed to oppress women. Thanks to the feminist movement, the stereotypical image of women is gradually being erased and there is now recognition of women’s rights which hitherto had been ignored.

However, many developing countries are yet to catch the drift towards modernism and the universal recognition of the rights of women and are still more inclined towards the subjugation of women in more subtle way that can never be imagined.  Despite the giant strides made by international women’s right movement, in some countries, women are still denied access to education and political participation and some are unfortunate to be victims of war, where rape is the order of the day.

Numerous examples exist in different global sphere ranging from cultural, political and economic situations where issues concerning women’s right are grossly overlooked. In Nigeria, young women and girls are still forcefully married off or trafficked into forced labour and sex slavery, and a woman can be beaten by her husband to ‘correct’ her in so far as he does not inflict serious bodily harm. Women are still denied the chance to make personal decisions that affect their health and the mortality rate of pregnant women is needlessly high.   In Tanzania, the 1971 Law of Marriage Act sets the legal age for marriage for women to be 15 years while that of men is 18 years. ‘Women’ of such tender age can be easily married off in so far as the parents’ consent has been obtained.

In Singapore, India and Yemen, a non-consensual intercourse in a marriage does not qualify as rape. In Cameroon, a man can prevent his wife from working if he feels that her job is not in the best interest of the family, thereby leaving the woman trapped perpetually in poverty with no source of income and ultimately no financial independence. In Egypt and Syria, honour killing is a trivial offence compared to standard murder. According to Syrian Law, a man who catches his sister, wife, mother or daughter in illicit sex and kills her is liable to a minimum of two tears imprisonment while the standard punishment for murder is twenty years imprisonment with hard labour. As ridiculous as some of these examples may sound, they are indeed prevalent practices in this global age.

In 1975, the United Nations in order to reaffirm the rights and dignity of all persons irrespective of their sex adopted the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of all Women (CEDAW). Of the 161 countries that have ratified the Convention, about 44 countries have made reservations about implementing certain provisions of the convention on cultural, political, constitutional or religious reasons, while some countries have ignored the convention in its entirety. Most of the countries that have made reservations have objected to Article 2 of the Convention which compels member states to enter into a contractual obligation with the UN to take all necessary measures to ensure the equality of women. Such reservation apparently nullifies the whole concept and sense of the convention.These reservations are heart breaking because they show how states merely become parties to an agreement without truly obligating themselves to achieving a universal goal of equality of women, thereby limiting requirements to make progress in women’s rights.

However, women are better off today in ways that their grandmothers and even mothers could never dream of, but still far from being equal with men. In Rwanda, there is now an increasing level of participation of women in the parliament, the highest in the world at 48. 75%; while women generally constitute only 17.0 per cent of representatives in parliaments across the world. Also, the recent approval of women to drive and the lifting of long-standing prohibition of women from movie theatres in order to diversify the industry in Saudi Arabia is a victory which can be credited to the feminist movement. However, more grounds needs to be covered for women all over the world to enjoy total liberation from oppression. The key message in this global age is to encourage everyone to embrace the all-powerful message of feminism in order to create a positive meaning for womanhood and the society at large.