• Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Legal feminism, an initiative for justice


Ayodele Atsenuwa, a professor of Law at the University of Lagos, has stated that Legal feminism can be used as a tool to be engaged in institutionalizing transformative justice for both men and women.

Speaking at the inaugural lecture delivered by the professor, held at the Main Auditorium of the University of Lagos on Wednesday 23rd July, Professor Atsenuwa explained that legal feminism seeks to bring about gender equality and not just a selfish fight for the interest of the female gender as it is misunderstood to be.

“Permit me to clarify the relationship between both concepts, while gender comes from the persuasions of an idea and politics of ‘gender’, feminism is aimed at equal justice for all-that is, justice for both men and women.

“Suffice is to say, legal feminism’s call to interrogate male hegemony in law’s formation and formulations, to enable us to better identify what limits the law in its capacity to deliver on its promise to do justice to all- Men and women alike”, she said.

According to Professor Atsenuwa, Legal feminism holds the law, which she noted wasinitially designed to respond to a male world-view.

“Law therefore, is biased and exclusionary and needs to be redeemed from a male-dominated theory and praxis if it is to effectively deliver justice that is transformative for both men and women”. She said.

She noted that ‘male’ and not ‘human standards’, have been the measure of membership within the legal community.  “When women were later admitted to the bar and bench, they had to transform into men. Till today, it is usually said in Nigeria that there are no females at the bar, so that female and male lawyers are referred to as Gentlemen of the Bar and judges, including female judges are referred to as Brother Judges.

“This says further that even if women are now physically present, they are only in so far as they accept to be and are in fact, transformed into men”. She emphasised.

Citing sections 15(2) and 17 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which states that no citizen of Nigeria may be subjected to discrimination on the basis of sex, among other grounds and Section 42 guarantees a right of redress against threats or actual breaches of this constitutional right (Section 46).

She said, “The constitution which is the supreme law of Nigeria affirms gender equality, this constitutional right to equality are seen in a number of judicial decisions, notable amongst which are the recent decisions of the Supreme Court in the landmark cases of Mrs. Lois Chituru Ukeje & Anor. V Mrs. Gladys Ada Ukeje, (2014) LPELR 22724 (SC) and Onyibor Anekwe &Anor. V Mrs. Maria Nweke, (2014) LPELR 22697 (SC).

Professor Atsenuwa stated that the logic and justice aspiration on which rests the women’s rights campaign can be used to address gender-based discrimination against men, illustrating how gender stereotypes gender-based discrimination harms men, she said, “ Gender stereotypes about masculinity and family breadwinning as well as cultural belief in men’s marginal role in childcare have been used to deny men the opportunity of effectively participating in family life, especially in child care and child nurturing.

“Where the breadwinning role is assigned to men, it is used to construct their identity and social value. They are compelled to spend long hours outside the home to ensure that they appear responsible and a man who does not fall in line with this expectation is stigmatized as lazy and irresponsible.

She stated further, “As men spend virtually all their waking moments outside the home, the burden of responsibility for child care and nurturing is heavier on women. This explains why the blame is usually heaped on women for crime in the society as the individual mothers are said to have failed in the discharge of their responsibilities, yet, there is sufficient knowledge from criminal researches that paternal deprivation or absence of paternal involvement in child nurture correlates with deviance in much the same way as maternal deprivation”.

The professor stated that there is evidence linking the declining mental and reproductive health status of men to the pressures they face as a result of the deeply gendered notions of work and responsibility for family and producing family income.

She said, “Men therefore, need to be extricated from the binds of gender stereotype. Thus, I submit that arguing that women’s rights are human rights mean it can and should be argued that men’s rights are human rights. To this, I can categorically state that it was the legal feminism’s initiative which gave room forthe new Lagos State policy that allows male civil servants, a 10-day paternity leave”.

She stressed on the urgent need for not just a constitutional reform but a general law reform to enhance gender justice in Nigeria. “Our constitution aims at a coherent legal framework, it is unacceptable that there should continue to be in place, statutes and regulations that are discriminatory and in violation of the constitution.

“Moreover”, she continued, “The Attorney General of the Federation and the AGs of the 36 states should undertake comprehensive law review exercises to ensure that laws that have been struck down by the courts are removed from the statute books. It cannot be allowed that the law continues to send conflicting messages as to what is the law”, she explained.

“It is said that ‘Law is the hope of the common man’. The proselytism of legal feminism has only one goal-to evolve transformative justice that law may also become the last hope of the common woman also. If the reality of gender injustice was too remote for many to appreciate, I dare say that the recent abduction of 200 young girls in Chibok for sexual slavery brings it home”, said Professor Atsenuwa.

Judith Amarachi Ugoh