Ohagwu, Rita Adaku (2017). 'CAPABILITIES APPROACH AS FOUNDATION FOR THE RIGHTS OF NIGERIAN WOMEN' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Nigerian women have often been treated as supporters of the end of others, rather than as ends in their own rights. The needs of Nigerian women suffer persistently from acute capability failure. The failure to place human dignity at the core of the Nigerian social paradigm results in laws and social practices that do not protect the weak and vulnerable from domination, exploitation and neglect. This is evident in the failure of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and other extant legal instruments and policies to adequately cater for the rights of Nigerian women. The failure to recognize, promote and enforce the rights, human dignity and self- worth of women has impacted negatively on the Nigerian society at large. The acute capability failure faced by Nigerian women is as a result of extant traditional approaches which focus only on income or utility and do not adequately capture the diverse plural and multidimensional nature of human lives and developmental experiences. Neither do they provide the informational basis of justice in policy making and implementation. This paper therefore aims to provide a philosophical underpinning for an account of basic constitutional principles and provisions that ensure that the rights of Nigerian women are recognized, promoted and enforced by the Government of Nigeria at all levels through the relevant institutions. This is because political egalitarianism and freedoms are key conditions for the expansion and securing of human capabilities. They also serve as the minimum of what social justice and respect for human dignity requires. Consequently, this paper identifies the capabilities approach as espoused by Martha Nussbaum as a powerful normative and theoretical framework that recognizes and promotes the idea of human dignity and inviolability of the human person. The capabilities approach has the potential to offer a powerful normative framework to advance justice in unequal societies and serves as a viable framework for evaluating equality and justice in terms of human wellbeing, freedom and development. The paper adopts a multidisciplinary research methodology which engages the disciplines of Law, Philosophy and Welfare Economics. It employs an engaging method of analysis that revolvesaround critical analysis and exposition in evaluating the capabilities approach as foundation for the rights of Nigerian women. It contrasts the capabilities approach with extant frameworks in the search for social justice while proposing the application of the capabilities approach as a framework in drafting laws and framing public policy which promotes the rights of Nigerian women. It goes further to engage claims from internet, library and archival research of primary and secondary sources to disprove certain assumptions and put ideas in applicable perspective. The primary sources include: The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended); Local and International Instruments and Conventions while secondary sources include: textbooks, academic journals and other material from archives and library. This paper further demonstrates that the battle for the recognition, promotion and enforcement of the rights of Nigerian women is a social, political and legal struggle; and not merely a philosophical and scientific debate. Linkage of the capabilities approach to the women’s rights discourse provides a more inspirational, idealistic and struggle-focused framework for the project of women’s rights in Nigeria. This is because the need to understand women’s rights in terms of capabilities is essential. The capabilities approach is based on a cross-cultural normative account of central human capabilities, closely allied to a form of political liberalism; this type of cross-cultural normative approach is a valuable basis from which to approach the problems of women in Nigeria. As a result one is able to understand that what is involved in securing a right for Nigerian women is usually a lot more than simply putting it on paper. The capabilities approach works to understand and explain inequalities and injustices in the social, political, economic and historical arrangements that shape human experiences, and the valuable functionings that people have reason to choose for flourishing lives. This paper also argues that the capabilities approach, human development theory and the human rights movement can together achieve what neither could achieve alone. Thereby ensuring that the rights of Nigerian women are recognized, promoted and enforced and in the process a just society is created for all Nigerians in general and Nigerian women in particular. It concludes by stating that the interplay of theories and practices of women’s rights affect the kind of change human societies are able to engender and sustain. It therefore recommends that Nigerian lawmakers and policy makers adopt the language of capabilities in drafting laws and policies. There is also need for social institutions like the family, religious institutions, educationalinstitutions, government and other relevant stakeholders to be pioneers in encouraging a revisit to the concept of gender, amending gender norms, dispelling stereotyping, and improving the understanding of gender equality and justice. Additionally, it recommends that the Nigerian government embarks on widespread advocacy drives to modify social and cultural patterns that inhibit the rights of Nigerian women and create an unjust society. This can be achieved through the use of the numerous social media outlets, advertising platforms and even programmes on the mass media – radio, television and newspapers can go a long way in reaching out and creating awareness. Keywords: Nigerian women, 1999 Constitution, Rights, Martha Nussbaum, Capabilities approach Word Count: 867
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