Beijing Platform for Action: Critical Areas of Women’s Human Rights
I will discuss two vital areas of concern for women’s rights outlined in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action document; they are violence against women and the girl child. Furthermore, the comparative analysis approach will be utilized to explore similarities and differences in the types of gender-based discrimination women and girl children that are pervasive in Ghana and Nigeria, respectively. My goal is to inform readers about the prevalence of gender inequality and its varied manifestations.
High-level government officials from every corner of the globe convened together in Beijing in September 1995 for the Fourth World Women’s Conference to conceptualize the Platform for Action document comprising of 12 crucial areas of concern. The impetus was attributable to a myriad of structural factors, such as discrimination, prejudice, colonization, etc. that continue to impose impediments for women and girls to achieve their full potential. To this day, it is considered a blueprint agenda for UN member states, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society actors to achieve gender equality and empowerment for women and girl children in private and public spheres. It borrows various elements of diverse international human rights law instruments and UN conference documents.
Nigeria was one of the member states in attendance at the 1995 Beijing conference. Since 1995, the country has undergone progressive strives to achieve gender equality for all. The harmful practice of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) is undergoing the process of eradication. A constellation of laws has been implemented at the federal and state levels to abolish this practice through the avenues of advocacy and mobilization. A significant accomplishment worth highlighting is the passage of the Child Rights Act in 2003 at the state and federal levels, respectively. The practices of child marriage and child betrothal(engagement) are unlawful. Moreover, individuals who engage in any of these practices will be penalized and will serve time in jail.
Although the country is making remarkable signs of progress to achieve gender parity, I would be remiss if I fail to mention challenges that continue to plague the country. One challenge that is pervasive in the Nigerian culture is deeply entrenched patriarchal norms. As a result, it hinders women and girl children from fulfilling their potential to accomplish their endeavors. A second issue that’s ubiquitous in Nigeria is the high prevalence rates of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C), sexual violence, and child marriage. According to the Multiple Indicator Survey 2016-17 report, approximately 25% (25.3%) of girls between 0-14 years old have undergone some form of FGM/C. The most common FGM/C procedure was flesh removal, which accounted for about 77% (76.5%). Another observation is that the FGM/C practice is heavily concentrated in rural populations than in urban areas.
Sexual violence is another enormous issue that affects many girl children across Nigeria. A disturbing statistic I read is about 25% of girls endure sexual violence at the hands of a significant other or family member. Sexual abuse has affected roughly 33% of girls before they reached 18. Furthermore, 20% of girl children have experienced sexual abuse before reaching 13. A final statistic I would like to share is 15% of girls became pregnant after engaging in forced sexual intercourse, e.g. rape. I share these statistics to expose readers to the different indicators of gender-based violence that disproportionately affect girls and women in Nigerian society.
Child marriage, also a traditional practice, is commonplace in Nigeria. According to the MICS 2016-17 report, approximately 18% (18.5%) of women got married before 15 years old. About 45% (44.1%) of women got married before 18 years old. There is a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and educational background. The data convey that women from impoverished rural areas with little to no formal education were more likely to get married before adulthood.
Regrettably, the act of violence against women is prevalent in Nigeria across all genders and ethnic groups. A surprising statistic is 34% of women believed domestic violence is justifiable on the premises of refusing sex with her partner, neglecting her children, leaving the house without consulting with her partner, arguing with him, and burning food. On the other hand, about 22% of men think violence against women is warranted based on turning down sexual advances, neglecting the children, arguing with him, leaving the house without approval, and burning food. Nigerian women have been conditioned to believe that domestic violence is tolerable and a normal way of life, which is very unfortunate.
The second country I will focus on is Ghana. Like Nigeria, the country has achieved many positive strides to achieve gender equality for all since the 1995 Beijing Conference. There has been an outpouring of the new policy and legislative frameworks to fully realize gender equality, equity, female empowerment, and international development. Some examples to highlight are an endorsement of the “He For She” campaign to stimulate awareness of the manifestations of gender inequality in Ghanaian society, the establishment of mentoring programs geared toward girl children, and the implementation of the National Gender Policy and Strategic Plan.
Although Ghana is on the fast track to achieving gender parity between men and women, human rights violations that hinder the country’s growth. Harmful practices and gender-based violence in all forms are commonplace. A confluence of societal and cultural factors can be attributed, such as patriarchal beliefs and stigma around violence. Lamentably, domestic violence occurs in public and private spheres. It is tolerated in Ghanaian society and normalized, which is reprehensible on so many levels.
Victims of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence face a myriad of barriers when attempting to seek help. One common hindrance is the dearth of rehabilitative services available to victims, such as counseling; coordination among sectors is often weak and fragmented. Another obstacle that victims of domestic violence endure is the unavailability of knowledge about resources and rehabilitative services they would need. Fear and mistrust of authority figures to report abuse is another obstacle many victims face.
Other human rights violations that occur are child labor, child discipline, female genital mutilation and cutting, and the high number of children with unregistered births. To sum it all up, there were a few key trends that stood out to me. According to the Multiple Indicator Survey Ghana 2017-18 report, about 60% of females and 40% of males believe discipline against children is justifiable and necessary for their overall development. Another alarming trend I detected was the age group with the highest prevalence rate of FGM/C procedures was between 0-14 years old; the most performed FGM/C procedure of this age group was flesh removal. This is very unsettling to hear! On the bright side, a consensus among Ghanaian women is that the practice should be discontinued. A commonality I observed is individuals living in rural areas were more likely than their urban counterparts to engage in harmful practices and lag behind their urban equivalents from a developmental standpoint.
Although the problems seem insurmountable to many, I remain optimistic that gender equality can be accomplished in every country by 2030. It is a global effort to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence and traditional harmful practices. It is not, and should not, be the sole responsibility of government officials to solve human rights violations. I implore readers to address any form of injustice and advocate for change at the local, national, and international levels! Our world has never been more interconnected as now! I would like to end with this powerful quote by the late Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.
Ghana Statistical Service, 2018. Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS2017/18), Survey Findings Report. Accra, Ghana: GSS.
1995 Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women
Beijing+25 Report Ghana
National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 2017 Multiple Indicator
Cluster Survey 2016-17, Survey Findings Report. Abuja, Nigeria: National Bureau of Statistics and United
Nations Children’s Fund.