Law Defending Women’s Participation
February 21, 2023
The laws of a state have often been constructed to exclude women from participation in the running of society, denying their right to vote, their education and ability to serve their country. However, as has recently been demonstrated in the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, the law and legal process can also be utilised to defend women’s rights and stand as a bulwark against those denying women the opportunity to participate in security forces on equal footing with men.
The case in question was brought by Ms Olajide, a policewoman dismissed from her role for becoming pregnant while unmarried, in accordance with regulation 127 from the Nigerian Police Act. Ms Olajide’s lawyer, Funmi Falana, challenged her dismissal on the grounds that it was an act of discrimination as the regulation would not apply to male police officers if they impregnated someone out of wedlock. The judge hearing the case, Justice Dashe Damulak, ruled that the regulation contravened provision 42 of the Nigerian Constitution and article 2 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights, both of which provide for the fundamental right to be free from discrimination for reasons of sex. Subsequently, the regulation was deemed, ‘discriminatory, illegal, null and void’, and as such no longer applies within the Nigerian Police Force. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-64254131)
While this case is directed against a very specific provision in Nigerian state law, it serves to demonstrate the potential of the law, specifically human rights law, to step in and defend women faced with discriminatory regulations in the security forces. The ramifications of thecase could spread to similar provisions in the Nigerian Police Act, but also,to similar provisions within the regulations of institutions across Nigeria and further afield.
The right to freedom from discrimination is enshrined in human rights conventions and national state law across the globe. Generally, it provides that an individual may not be treated differently, or denied their rights, on account of a characteristic such as race, sex, or religious or political opinion. Due to the importance given to these rights, any provision that violates them is nullified. As such, they can be a powerful tool in the hands of women who face regulations in the security sector limiting or restricting their participation more than their male counterparts.
Ultimately, while individual cases may only pick away at the barriers that stand between women and full and equal participation in security forces, they stand to represent the potential of the law to defend and protect women’s participation. If legal cases continue to be brought by women, it is hoped that not only will discriminatory regulations be nullified, but that the institutional cultures, which limit and exclude women, will too begin to erode.
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