Gender parity: The situation in Nigeria

Photo: Stepping Stones — 2011 Rising Star Award Recipient: Africa — Middle East © STARS Foundation, Flickr

Data was accurate at first half of 2013 or as otherwise dated. If you think any of this information should be updated or amended due to inaccuracy, please send me your suggestions and amends. If you would like to contribute information (e.g. LGBTI issues) please also get in touch.

Sources include the World Bank, UNICEF, UN Women, Amnesty International and various women’s organisations.

Text © me, though you are welcome to use the data and information described within the text (attribute original source, e.g. World Bank, accordingly).

In April–May 2014, Boko Haram threatened to sell more than 270 girls, aged 8–15 years, to prospective husbands. They had kidnapped the girls from Borno state, Nigeria, and in the process killed dozens of adults and boys (and many others since). You can join the call to #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter.

Women in politics and governance

Women able to vote?: Yes

Women able to stand for election?: Yes

Percentage of female MPs: 7% (2013)

National Women’s Machinery: Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs

Women were given the right to vote and to stand for election in 1958 in the south of Nigeria, and in 1978 (listed as 1976 elsewhere) in the north. Women make up 7% of the parliament and 28% of ministerial positions. The National Policy on Women includes a stipulation for 30% representation of women in public office.

Notable women in Nigerian politics include: Diezani Alison-Madueke, first woman to serve as Minister of Petroleum Resources and the first to head a country delegation at the annual Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) conference; Ebunoluwa Oyagbola, the first female minister; and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, political campaigner and human rights activist.

Human rights and legislation

CEDAW status: Signed 23 Apr 1984, ratified 13 Jun 1985; Optional Protocol 2004

Maputo protocol: Ratified

Same-sex relations: Illegal, punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment. In states that observe Sharia Law: between men, punishable by stoning to death; between women, by flogging and six months imprisonment

Same-sex marriage: Not recognised

Women (20–24 yrs) married by the age of 18:39% (2013)

Legal age for marriage, women: Differs throughout Nigeria (12 yrs+); 21 according to Nigeria’s Marriage Act

Legal age for marriage, men: 21 according to Nigeria’s Marriage Act

Marital rape recognised: No

The Nigerian Constitution opposes discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, ethnicity, age or circumstances of birth. Despite this, women are under-represented in decision-making roles and discrimination based upon traditional attitudes towards women persists.

The 2008 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) reports that 28% of women aged 15–49 have experienced violence at some point in their lives, while 18% have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner. The Criminal and Penal Codes of the various Nigerian states facilitate the prohibition and punishment of the rape of women and girls. The Office of the Public Defender, set up in Ekiti and Rivers States, offers free legal services to poor and underprivileged women whose rights are threatened or have been infringed.

Nigeria’s federal criminal code penalises consensual homosexual conduct with up to 14 years imprisonment. In states that observe Sharia Law consensual homosexual conduct among men is punishable by stoning to death and among women by flogging and six months imprisonment.

The Human Rights Watch outlines human trafficking as a problem in Nigeria, with people taken mainly from rural areas for the purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation. Recruited women and children are transported to destinations in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of Europe, to be held captive in the sex trade or put into forced labour. EUROPOL has identified Nigerian organised crime to be one of the largest challenges to law enforcement for European governments.

According to Nigeria’s Marriage Act the legal age for marriage without parental consent is 21 years. Customary-law marriage is recognised by Nigerian law and accounts for the high rates of child marriage in the country, which, particularly in northern Nigeria, are amongst the highest in the world. Consummation of a marriage is legal even if the wife is under the age of 16 since unlawful carnal knowledge, as described in the Criminal Code Act, excludes relations between husband and wife. The law differs throughout Nigeria: for example, the minimum age for marriage set at 12, 13 and 14 years in Idoma, Borgu and Biu States, respectively. According to a CEDAW report on Nigeria, The government of Kebbi State has prohibited child marriages, while laws prohibiting the withdrawal of girls from school have been passed in Kano, Borno, Niger, Gombe and Bauchi States.

Economic empowerment

Maternity leave: 12 weeks, paid at half of mother’s regular wage

Paternity leave: No

Nigeria is among the 30 most unequal countries in the world in terms of income distribution.

Almost three-quarters of Nigerian women live in rural areas, where they provide 60–79% of the labour force and remain five times less likely to own land than men. Women with dependents are automatically charged more tax than men, as men are defined as breadwinners. Women make up approximately one in three employees in the non-agricultural formal sector. Women consistently earn less than their male counterparts regardless of educational qualifications, while occupying less than 30% of posts in the public sector and 17% of senior positions. According to the 2008 DHS, 71% of married women aged 15–49 are employed compared with 99% of married men. The survey also shows that 17% of employed women and 30% of employed men are not paid at all.

The Nigeria Labour Congress adopted a Gender Equity Policy in February 2003, resulting in two women being placed on their national executive council to serve as vice president and auditor. In 2011 Funke Opeke, the CEO of Main One Cable Company, was named one of the top 10 most influential women in Africa for her involvement in the ICT sector in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. This was the first time a female Nigerian business executive entered the top 10.


Abortion: Legal only in cases where it will save the mother’s life, or preserve her physical or mental well-being*

Prevalence of FGM: 30% (2008)

The HIV prevalence in Nigeria is high at 4.4% for women aged 15–49 and 2.9% for men of the same age group, totalling 4.1% overall. The rate shows a reduction from 5.8% in 2009, as recorded by UNAIDS. A multi-sectorial approach has been taken to the rising HIV/AIDS infection rate, where women account for 59% of all cases (55% in 2007).

In 2007–11 Nigeria had a reported maternal mortality ratio of 550 deaths per 100,000 live births (this figure was estimated at 630 deaths per 100,000 by UN agencies/World Bank in 2010). In the period 2007–12, 39% of births were attended by a skilled health professional.

Traditional practices that are harmful to the physical and mental health of women and girls persist, with the 2008 DHS reporting that around 30% of Nigerian women are circumcised.

There is a disparity in health-related findings for the north and south of Nigeria, with women living in the south more likely to be tested for HIV, less likely to have teenage pregnancies (rate of teenage pregnancies recorded at 8% in the south east of the country and at 45% in the north west in 2008) and on average wanting fewer children. Maternal mortality is significantly higher in the north than it is in the south, and similarly higher in rural areas than in urban.

*‘Nigeria has two abortion laws: one for the northern states and one for the southern states. Both laws specifically allow abortions to be performed to save the life of the woman. In addition, in the southern states, the decision of R v Bourne is applied, which allows abortions to be performed for physical and mental health reasons.’ (Progress of the World’s Women Report, 2011–12)


In 2010 the female-to-male ratio for participation in primary education was 0.91:1, dropping to 0.88:1 for secondary education. Data for tertiary education was unavailable.

The 2008 DHS showed that 36% of women 15–49 have had no education compared with 19% of men. An average of approximately 89% of children are enrolled in primary education, though this figure covers evident regional differences with primary completion rates in different areas ranging from 2% to 99%.

The National Policy on Education 2004 promotes the provision of incentives to all students, but with a focus on female students, who study science subjects. Furthermore, all-female science secondary schools have been established in selected Nigerian states to promote female participation in the sciences. The subject of Reproductive Rights and Maternal Health Education has been introduced into the school curriculum with the aim of increasing awareness and understanding of maternal health issues, as well as the reproductive rights of women and girls. In some states, the withdrawal of girls from school has been prohibited.

Civil society and non-governmental organisations

Girl Child Empowerment Nigeria (GCEN) promotes children’s rights to education by focusing on inclusion of girls, working children and disabled children in education.

Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ) is a non-profit organisation aiming to increase the success rate of female entrepreneurs and also the proportion of women in senior positions in corporate organisations. WIMBIZ runs mentoring programmes, lecture sessions and conferences.

Relevant reports

Gender in Nigeria Report 2012, British Council Nigeria

Originally published at on May 8, 2014.

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