Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law addresses sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence, harmful traditional practices, and socioeconomic violence. The law cites spousal battery, forceful ejection from the home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), other harmful traditional practices, substance attacks (such as acid attacks), political violence, and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) as offenses. Victims and survivors of violence are entitled by law to comprehensive medical, psychological, social, and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies, with their identities protected during court cases, although during the year these services were often limited. As of September, 20 of the country’s 36 states (Abia, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Jigawa, Kwara, Nasarawa, Ondo, Kaduna, Anambra, Oyo, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Osun, Cross River, Lagos, Plateau, and Bauchi) and the FCT had adopted the federal law. State-level implementation remained limited as states struggled to ensure effective implementation.
The law criminalizes rape, but it remained widespread. According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, approximately 31 percent of women between ages 15 and 49 had experienced some form of physical violence and 9 percent had experienced sexual violence. In February police announced that in 2020 it arrested more than 2,790 suspects of sexual and gender-based violence. In April the minister of women’s affairs announced that 3,491 sexual and gender-based violence cases were reported in 2020. As of April, 11 of these cases had resulted in a conviction, 188 cases were closed, and 742 cases remained open.
Sentences for persons convicted of rape and sexual assault were inconsistent and often minor. Federal law provides penalties for conviction ranging from 12 years’ to life imprisonment for offenders older than 14 and a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for all others. It also provides for a public register of convicted sexual offenders and appointment of protection officers at the local government level to coordinate with courts and provide for victims to receive various forms of assistance (e.g., medical, psychosocial, legal, rehabilitative, and for reintegration) provided by the law. The law also includes provisions to protect the identity of rape victims and a provision empowering courts to award appropriate compensation to survivors of rape. Because the relevant federal law had not been adopted in all states, state law continued to govern most rape and sexual assault cases and typically allowed for lesser sentences. While some, mostly southern, states enacted laws prohibiting some forms of gender-based violence or sought to safeguard certain rights, most states did not have such legislation. Survivors generally had little or no recourse to justice. In September 2020 Kaduna State enacted laws increasing the maximum penalty for rape to include sterilization and the death penalty. The Kaduna state law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both for conviction of spousal battery. It also authorizes courts to issue protection orders upon application by a victim and directs the appointment of a coordinator for the prevention of domestic violence to submit an annual report to the federal government.
Domestic violence remained widespread, and many considered it socially acceptable. A 2019 survey on domestic violence found that 47 percent of female respondents had suffered from domestic violence or knew someone who had; 82 percent of respondents indicated that violence against women was prevalent in the country.
Police often refused to intervene in domestic disputes or blamed the victim for provoking the abuse. In rural areas courts and police were reluctant to intervene to protect women who formally accused their husbands of abuse if the level of alleged abuse did not exceed local customary norms.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): UNICEF estimated that almost 20 million girls in the country had undergone FGM/C between 2004 and 2015. The southern part of the country accounted for the majority of reported FGM/C cases, with high rates in the South West and the South South regions. Federal law criminalizes female circumcision or genital mutilation, but there were few reports that the government took legal action to curb the practice. The law penalizes persons performing female circumcision or genital mutilation or anyone aiding or abetting such a person. Enforcement of the law was rare. The federal government launched a revised national policy on the elimination of FGM/C for 2020-2024.
The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey found that 20 percent of women ages 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C. While 13 of 36 states banned FGM/C, once a state legislature had criminalized FGM/C, NGOs found they had to convince local authorities that state laws applied in their districts.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to the law, any person convicted of subjecting another person to harmful traditional practices may be punished with up to four years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. Anyone convicted of subjecting a widow to harmful traditional practices is subject to two years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. For purposes of the law, a harmful traditional practice means all traditional behavior, attitudes, or practices that negatively affect the fundamental rights of women or girls, including denial of inheritance or succession rights, FGM/C, forced marriage, and forced isolation from family and friends.
Despite the federal law, purdah, the cultural practice of secluding women and pubescent girls from unrelated men, continued in parts of the north. “Confinement,” which occurred predominantly in the North East, remained the most common rite of deprivation for widows. Confined widows were subject to social restrictions for as long as one year and usually shaved their heads and dressed in black as part of a culturally mandated mourning period. In other areas communities viewed a widow as a part of her husband’s property to be “inherited” by his family. In some traditional southern communities, widows fell under suspicion when their husbands died. To prove their innocence, they were forced to drink the water used to clean their deceased husbands’ bodies.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a common problem. No statutes prohibit sexual harassment, but assault statutes provide for prosecution of violent harassment. The law criminalizes stalking. The law also criminalizes emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse and acts of intimidation.
The practice of demanding sexual favors in exchange for employment or university grades remained common. Women suffered harassment for social and religious reasons in some regions.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Couples and individuals have the legal right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children, to have the information and means to do so, and the ability to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health, including the ability to make decisions concerning reproduction free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Many couples and individuals did not have access to the information and the means to exercise this right. Traditional practices often hampered a woman’s choice on family size. Information on reproductive health and access to quality reproductive health services and emergency obstetric care were not widely available. The UN Population Fund reported that as of 2020, only 46 percent of married or in-union women were free to make their own informed decisions in all three categories of reproductive health care, contraceptive use, and sexual relations.
Cultural and religious views across regions affected access to reproductive services, especially contraceptive use. Not all primary health centers provided free family planning services. The National Health Insurance Scheme did not always cover family planning services. Health insurance covered family planning counseling but not contraceptives. Conversations regarding sex and sexuality issues were taboo in many places, posing a barrier for access for youth who might need services and information from health-care providers.
In some states health-care workers frequently required women to provide proof of spousal consent prior to accessing contraceptives. Pediatricians provided primary care for adolescents through 18 years of age. Adolescent-friendly reproductive health services and interventions were usually not provided within the health system. Pregnant girls were generally not allowed to attend school (see section 6, Children, Education).
Low literacy and low economic empowerment among couples hampered effective access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and delivery. Government insurance policies sometimes provided for free antenatal services. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey reported that 67 percent of women ages 15 to 49 received antenatal care from a skilled provider during pregnancy and 39 percent of live births took place in a health care facility.
Lack of access to primary health care facilities in rural and hard-to-reach areas with poor transportation and communications infrastructure impacted access to antenatal care and skilled birth delivery. The cost of services was also a barrier. Gender roles limited access to maternal health services; women who were financially or socially dependent on men might be unable to access health care without seeking consent from their spouses.
In the northern part of the country, societal and cultural norms played a role in stopping women from leaving the house unaccompanied or accessing reproductive health services. Some women also preferred to deliver their babies using traditional birth attendants because of the belief they could prevent spiritual attacks and due to the affordability of their services.
The government received support from donors to provide access to age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence in all 36 states and the FCT. Sexual violence survivors who sought and had access to care received a minimum package of care, including counseling for trauma, that met the overall physical, emotional, safety, and support needs of survivors. Other care included HIV testing services, provision of post-exposure prophylaxis (within 72 hours), pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV-negative clients, antiretroviral services for HIV-positive clients, provision of emergency contraceptives (within 120 hours), testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, legal support where required, and other services, such as referrals for longer term psycho-social support and economic-empowerment programs.
Emergency health care services were mostly executed by private hospitals. Post-abortion care was limited.
A program supported by international donors encouraged early acceptance of family planning in communities to ensure that young adults were protected and could meet their reproductive goals.
The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey reported a maternal mortality rate of 512 deaths per 100,000 live births due to factors including lack of access to antenatal care, skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and other medical services. According to the survey, 67 percent of births in 2018 were attended by skilled health personnel.
According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, 12 percent of women used modern methods of contraception, nearly 19 percent of all surveyed women stated they had an unmet need for family planning, and 24.5 percent of women stated that they wanted no more children. The UN Population Division estimated that 17 percent of girls and women, ages 15 to 49, used a modern method of contraception. As of 2018, the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey reported that 14 percent of women, ages 15 to 19, had given birth before the age of 18.
The law prohibits FGM/C (see the FGM/C subsection above for additional information).
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and there were no known legal restrictions on women’s working hours or jobs deemed too dangerous for women, there were limitations on women’s employment in certain industries such as construction, energy, and agriculture. Women experienced considerable economic discrimination. The law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value, nor does it mandate nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring.
Women generally remained marginalized. No laws prohibit women from owning land, but customary land tenure systems allowed only men to own land, with women gaining access to land only via marriage or family. Many customary practices also did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit property, and many widows became destitute when their in-laws took virtually all the deceased husband’s property. In March the Akwa Ibom High Court ruled that the Etinan council area must allow women to inherit property.
In the 12 northern states that adopted sharia, religious and social norms affected women to varying degrees. For example, in Zamfara State local governments enforced laws requiring the separation of Muslim men and women in transportation and health care.
Women could arrange but not post bail at most police detention facilities.