While women celebrated on a morning that would be dubbed Democracy Day for a while and hungered for a law that would protect their rights, lawmakers were brewing a cauldron of an unpleasant surprise that would sever their taste buds, a bill that would later send young girls and any kind assistants (no margin is left for error in delicate matters) to spend 7-14 years in prison for engaging in consensual abortion - the fastest solution for unplanned pregnancy - was passed.
23 years later and despite cries from professional bodies (Nigerian Medical Association, Society of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians of Nigeria, etc) who see firsthand the negative impact of this bill on the lives of these poor young girls and women, there is no law in sight protecting women’s choices over their bodies. Well, full choice for the most part.
You see, rape in Nigeria reaps a reward as bountiful as lifeimprisonment or death in some milder cases while cases of sex trafficking are rewarded with an intense penalty of not less than 2 years in prison with a fine. However, in the case of abortions, kindness is extended to women whose pregnancy threaten their lives while the rest who simply are not ready to nurture lives are cut off from mercy. While I acknowledge the exceptions made for dire situations, full inclusion of every woman remains the bone of contention.
How is Africa’s most powerful country still dictating over women?
Nigeria has had its fair share of remarkably successful advocacy campaigns that have fought for a safer space for women, giving them a voice and a choice. For example, in 2020 the UNFPA dedicated 62.7% of its programs to integrating sexual and reproductive health services for women. In short, the Nigerian government is part of a global partnership dubbed FP2030 that is aimed to improve family planning services and maternal health. Laws have been modified to increase the magnitude of penalties for sex offenders yet in the face of all this, no law has been amended to give women a choice of addressing unplanned pregnancies. In simple terms, what the law says is, ‘’Beggars cannot be choosers’’. The contradiction is bewildering. To protect or not to protect?
Another startling concern is Nigeria’s population statistics. In 2020, Nigeria was home to over 206 million people with the female population amounting to over 101 million, almost half the total sum. This same Nigeria has infamously and unashamedly maintained the position of the poverty capital of the world after a tight wrestle with India.
Year after year, the country falls apart with no hope of a messiah, sinking more people deep into the abyss of poverty. Nigeria astoundingly takes 3rd place as the country with the highest number of IDPs in Africa with women making a larger percentage of this figure. With numbers increasing yearly owing majorly to unintended pregnancies, the question of the thousands of children helplessly resigned to a birth of no choice by their mothers becomes bothersome.
With a country growing so rapidly in the face of no visible economic evolution, it is ironic how women having a decision over when to reproduce is the least concern
Claire Mom is a sexual and reproductive health rights and gender equality advocate. She has contributed to projects involving national and international bodies such as the UNFPA and the EU. She can be reached at [email protected]