Women’s Rights in Conferring Citizenship

Photo by Dayvison de Oliveira Silva from Pexels by Emono Bwacha A citizen of a country is basically someone who has legal ties to that country. One of the most common definitions of citizenship is that it is “the sum total of rights and duties ensuing for a given person by reason of his legal affiliation to a certain State”[1] The concept of citizenship legally ties an individual to a particular region or country. As a direct result, the individual has obligations to said region or country and in return, the region or country grants the individual rights to enjoy as a citizen. There are different ways by which a person can become a citizen of a country. It can be by birth, naturalization, registration, marriage, and an honorary citizenship can also be conferred on a person by the government of a country. Regardless of how one becomes a citizen of a country, he/she – ideally – gets to enjoy all the rights applicable to citizens of the country regardless of age or gender.    In Nigeria, Section 42 of the Constitution prohibits any form of discrimination and promotes equal enjoyment of rights by all. On paper, it seems like a pretty straight forward segment of the constitution. In reality however, there are certain other provisions of the law that seem to promote the unequal enjoyment of rights between men and women, one of which is the right to transmit citizenship.   Take Section 26 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) 1999 (as amended) which relates to citizenship for instance. The law allows Nigerian men the right to confer citizenship on another person, but Nigeria women cannot enjoy that same right. This Section clearly states that the president may confer citizenship on “any woman who is or who has been married to a citizen of Nigeria”. By legal interpretation, this limits Nigerian women from transferring their citizenship to their foreign husbands. This is in direct contradiction of the provisions of Section 42 which prohibits discrimination based on sex, religion, and/or ethnic group.   The experience of women’s citizenship is that it is treated as being of secondary or devalued status relative to men’s. The solution to this would be an amendment to the provision as there is no excuse for why men can transfer their Nigerian citizenship to their spouses, but Nigerian women cannot.   Also, in many countries, women cannot transfer citizenship to their children. This has caused some issues of statelessness as outlined by the United Nations (UN).[2] According to the UN, equality between men and women in relation to conferral of nationality upon their children has not yet been attained in 25 countries over the world, with a significant number of these States found in the Middle East and North Africa (12 countries).[3] More than fifty countries have nationality laws with gender-discriminatory provisions, with most denying women the same rights as men to pass nationality to a noncitizen spouse.[4]   Under the 1962 citizenship law of Somalia, mothers have no ability to confer their nationality on their children. In Eswatini (formerly the Kingdom of Swaziland), the constitution stipulates that a child born after 2005 can only acquire nationality from their Swazi fathers, unless the child was born out of wedlock and has not been claimed by the father in accordance with customary law: in which case the Swazi mother can pass on her nationality. In addition, Eswatini’s 1992 Citizenship Act contains the same provisions applicable to children born after 1992.[5]   In a country like Nigeria where citizenship is experienced differently at both National and State levels, this brings in another issue women face with regards their ‘State of Origin’. Citizenship at the State level is defined in a patriarchal way, in terms of the ‘State of origin’ of one’s father but never their mother. In simple terms, children cannot identify with the State of origin of their mothers. They can only identify with the State of origin of their father. It becomes harder for women when they get married because they are then expected to abandon their fathers’ ‘State of origin’ and claim that of their husbands. In practise however, when the woman wants to run for office in her ‘new’ State, people from the State deny her this right because ‘she wasn’t born here’. If she then goes back to her father’s State of origin, people from there claim she’s no longer from that State because she is married to someone from another state. This has created confusion for many women, especially those vying – and are deserving – of leadership positions across many sectors of the economy.   When women are denied these rights that are meant to be accessed by all citizens, it means they are looked on as second-class citizens. It is therefore important to amend these segments of the constitution to ensure women are treated as equally as men are. Equality in citizenship rights is not only fundamental to women’s rights but also supports child’s rights and sustainable development.   [1] Ordor A. “Sharing the Citizenship of Women: A Comparative Gendered Analysis of the Concept of ‘Legal Personhood’ in Africa” (2000). [2] UNHCR, “Background Note on Gender Equality, Nationality Laws and Statelessness” (2014). [3] UNHCR, ‘Background Note on Gender Equality, Nationality Laws and Statelessness” (2020). [4] The UN Refugee Agency, “Time for all nationality laws to uphold women and men’s equality, says UN and civil society leaders” (2020). [5] UNHCR, ‘Background Note on Gender Equality, Nationality Laws and Statelessness” (2020).

The Stress of Being A ‘Tomboy’

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels I woke up, went to my wardrobe, opened it and stared at my clothes, wondering what to wear for the day. I have dresses on the right side, shirts in the middle and sweaters on the left. I looked at the dresses, most of which I had not worn since I bought them, and said yet again, ‘maybe some time in the future’. Then I went through my shirts and as I touched each one, I knew just what trousers would go with them and what shoes would be perfect for each look.  Shoes.  This was another thing to worry about. I had many stilettoes but as I thought through what shirt and trouser combination to wear, I didn’t envision myself pairing them with those stilettoes. I thought of my flats, sneakers and boots. In my head, ‘stilettoes are great and all but was I willing to go through my day in pains?’ Knowing just what a full day I was going to have, the answer wrote itself out.  So, I dressed in my comfortable shirt and pants, got my boots and set out to work. But this was not before I looked in the mirror and was transported to the very first time I was asked, ‘why do you always dress like this? Why don’t you ever dress like a girl? Are you a tomboy?’ Tomboy.  That word didn’t hurt the first time I heard it, chief because I really didn’t know its meaning. But trust that as soon as I could get my hand on a dictionary, I searched for it.  tomboy in British English (ˈtɒmˌbɔɪ ) NOUN “a girl who acts or dresses in a boyish way, liking rough outdoor activities” My first reaction was, ‘oh’. This was because I didn’t think I was ‘acting like a boy’. I was just wearing (and doing) what was comfortable to me, what was natural to me. Then the overthinking side of me went into overdrive.  From my earliest childhood memory, I recalled dressing the same way as I did when I was a teenager, when I had this word hurled at me for the first time. I loved big clothes. I loved the look. Women who inspired my fashion included Missy Elliot and Queen Latifah. Yes, there were some factors that influenced the look, like my parents buying us bigger clothes so we could wear them longer, but when I began to choose my clothes, I went for those same types. So, when that word was used to describe my style, I felt self-conscious for the first time in my life. But I had a devil-may-care attitude and couldn’t be fazed by what people thought.  Around this time, I watched a basketball game and fell in love with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. I started actively watching sports: the Olympics, track and field meets, and football. I had been following Real Madrid and Raúl when I stumbled on a Manchester United game with Ruud van Nistlerooy scoring a screamer that was the definition of…beautiful. Then and there, I knew I had become a Manchester United fan. After watching a couple of other sports, I determined that basketball and football would be my major thing. So, I learned about the games, followed them weekly and talked about them with friends.  And oh, I played too. I wasn’t the best player – heck, I wasn’t even a good player – but I could run run, so I made the team. I played full back, defending my goal post well and once I got the ball, you were sure I could run with it and give the striker – who happened to be my sister and an exceptional player – who would then go on to score. In my time as player and later coach of our junior and senior teams, we had some of the best records in inter school football competitions in my school’s history.  All these didn’t help me. Girls were not supposed to care about sports and definitely not enough to know about the game, play it or even argue with boys about them. Even though these came naturally to me, boys and girls started calling me – and everyone like me in my school and neighborhood – a tomboy. My unbothered attitude was shaken when I had a crush on someone and heard him tear me down for being ‘like a boy’. He didn’t know I was there when he and his friends went at it. My look was analyzed piece by poor piece and the laughter was raucous. Again, I felt very self-conscious.  But nothing made me as ashamed of my look as much as a teacher telling me to be more lady-like, cut out the interest in sports and the boyish behavior. She said, ‘girls who behave like this are usually lesbians. Are you a lesbian?’ At this point, I was homophobic from my religious and cultural upbringing and the disgust she used to enunciate ‘lesbian’ made me feel dirty and ashamed.  I began to look at my clothes from a completely different point of view. For the first time in my life, I changed my look. I started to wear makeup, and I bought my first snug jeans and shirts. And you will not believe that I bought my first high heels. I became more conscious of doing my hair, wearing seemingly better clothes and acting like a lady. The biggest change however was that I stopped playing any sports. I still followed games and remained interested in all kinds of sports – except wresting and boxing of course – but a huge part of my life was completely shelved into the recesses of my memory.  Ooooh! Despite all I did, I got laughed at a lot. Many of my attempts were a miss, with someone even saying I always looked ‘old school’. I put on a façade like it didn’t hurt but deep down, I was dealing

Ripple Effects of Poverty: Hunger

A young boy leaning on a corrugated Zinc fence.Photo by Ben White on Unsplash Every time I think of poverty in many African communities, I can’t help but mull over how this poverty is experienced on various levels. Thankfully, there is a term that effectively explains this: multidimensional poverty.  According to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), “Multidimensional poverty encompasses the various deprivations experienced by poor people in their daily lives – such as poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standards, disempowerment, poor quality of work, the threat of violence, and living in areas that are environmentally hazardous, among others.” This definition effectively captures the thoughts that race through my head when I think of poverty. It is simple to just equate poverty with low income and end it there. But what are the ripple effects of this low income on the individual? On their families? On the opportunities they get? On the possibility of leaving their social classes and improving their lives? So, the concept of poverty is so much more than how much a person earns or what global benchmarked income they earn less than. For this piece, I want to focus on one direct ripple effect of poverty: hunger.  World Vision postulates that, “In the whole of Africa, 257 million people are experiencing hunger, which is 20% of the population.” In essence, 1 in every 5 people on the continent are hungry. To bring this home, this isn’t saying that 1 in 5 Africans in the continent have a desire for food, which is one of the definitions of hunger. This statistic shows that if you see five people today, there is a possibility that 1 of them has chronic hunger, meaning they may have diets that are either inadequate in quality or quantity, or that they have no food at all.  This is a problem.  Apart from the physical effects of hunger – which (by the way) are many – there are ways that hunger negates a person’s dignity. Because hunger is such a primal need, people who are hungry do not ‘have shame’, which is the Nigerian parlance for self-respect or worth. This is why it isn’t surprising that many people who are in this category of chronic hunger are prone to doing any (and every) thing for a meal.  Years ago, when I was a student at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, I went to a restaurant which students called, Zinc House. Now, ‘restaurant’ is a bit of stretch. This place was a makeshift building with corrugated zinc for walls and roof, and wooden benches where people could sit across each other for their meals. It was a really popular restaurant among students and members of staff, mostly because they served lots of food at a really cheap cost. You were not assured of hygienic meals, but you could get a plateful for whatever amount of money you had. If you wanted food for 200 Naira, you were sure to get it. If you wanted something for 120 Naira, you would have your food.  This place didn’t just have its student/staff traipsing in and the restaurant staff that served them. It also had some almajiris – a collection of young children who earned their meals by begging – hanging around ready to scavenge leftovers for themselves.  On the last day I was there, some guy who came in didn’t finish his food after a fly perched on it. He had not gotten to the thick chunks of meat he had ordered when he abandoned his meal. As soon as it was established that he was done eating, the scramble by these almajiris to get his food took the taste out of my mouth. In their squabble, they turned the food unto the dirt floor and proceeded to eat from the ground. (It is important that I mention that the floor was not just ‘dirty’: it was made of compact clay, thus… dirt floor.) Seeing children fighting themselves to eat off the floor…a floor that was dirty by virtue of it being made of literal dirt and having been stepped on by people from all kinds of places…broke me. I got up, called the smallest child in the group and gave him the rest of my meal. I then hurriedly left this place that displayed their lack of dignity and my shame at being unable to do more. Every time I think of poverty, especially as it relates to hunger, that image comes to my head. And while it isn’t the only one that does, it is the one that always gets me depressed. Every human being deserves dignity and respect. That dignity is lost when people degrade themselves for a chance at getting food. Let me emphasize that: no one should ever think that they need to fight for food; or eat meals that are leftovers; or scrape off the floor to get at their meal; or sell themselves; or any number of things that make them feel less worthy. It is one of the reasons I am fully in support of the Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2, which aim to end extreme poverty and hunger in all forms by 2030. We have about 10 years to achieve this. And be assured, the task is daunting. There are many factors that prevent Africans from having access to the food they need to starve off hunger: communal clashes like the herder-farmer clashes in many parts of Nigeria; multi-pronged issues like drought, famine, conflict and instability in places like South Sudan and Central African Republic; and deeply entrenched corruption by many leaders of our African countries…to mention a few. Ending extreme poverty in our continent is going to require a lot of cohesion by governments and the people.  What are some low-hanging fruits that can accelerate this goal? The major one I can see now is the basic respect and protection of all people, regardless of their social status. I believe this is one of

Join Us to Commemorate International Day of the Girl

Shades of Us is supporting Girls Virtual Summit 2020, an event hosted by SWAG Initiative to commemorate International Day of the Girl. Here is what you need to know about the event.  International Day of the Girl Child is an international observance day declared by the United Nations; it is also called the Day of the Girl. October 11, 2012 was the first day of the Girl Child. The observation supports more opportunity for girls and increases awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide based upon their gender. This inequality includes areas such as access to education, nutrition, legal rights, medical care, and protection from discrimination, violence against women and forced child marriage. The celebration of the day also reflects the successful emergence of girls and young women as cohort in development policy, programming, campaigning and research. To commemorate this day, SWAG Initiative is organizing Girls Virtual Summit 2020, an event scheduled to hold on Sunday October 11, 2020, for girls all around the world. Girls Virtual Summit 2020 will bring together over 200 girls from around the world. It’s going to be a girl-centred event bringing notable and influential women from across the globe to interact and inspire these girls. Having recognised that girls are faced with various challenges, we seek to enlighten, educate, inform and teach girls how to live, stay safe and thrive in a world where girls are being molested, victimised and marginalised. We also intend to produce strong female leaders who will impact their generation, make positive changes and affect the world at large. At the end of the event, girls should be consciously aware of their roles, importance and worth and, should be able to act in their various capacities and step down this knowledge to their peers thereby changing their communities. Before the event, Girls will be asked to send in creative videos of spoken words, drama, talk show, dance, and lots more. Selected videos will be aired during Girls Virtual Summit on 11th October, 2020, and participants will also be rewarded.  Date: Sunday October 11, 2O20 Time: 3PM (WAT) Use this link to register: http://bit.ly/GVS_2020

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