Gender discrimination and violence against women are global phenomena as old as human history. Women's rights are the freedom and entitlement of women of human rights without discrimination or violation. Women's rights are rights inherent in nature and guaranteed by law. Therefore gender discrimination and violence against women are contrary to fundamental human rights, equity, natural justice and good governance.

Reconstructing women's rights, gender discrimination and violence through library and information services delivery is aimed at making information available to all this topical issue. In human rights issues availability and access to information on the nature of women's rights and dimensions of gender discrimination and violence can never be more appropriate than now.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN (in short as VAW) is a technical term used to collectively refer to violent acts that are primarily or exclusively committed against women. Similar to a hate crime, which it is sometimes considered, this type of violence targets a specific group with the victim's gender as a primary motive. This type of violence is gender-based, meaning that acts of violence are committed against women expressly because they are women.

Violence against women can be explained by the broad categories. These include violence carried out by ‘individuals’ as well as ‘states.’ Some of the violence perpetrated by individuals are rape; domestic violence; harmful customary or traditional practices such as diagnosis planning, honor killings, dowry violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, sexual harassment; coercive use of contraceptives, female infanticide; prenatal sex selection; obstetric violence and mob violence. Some are perpetrated by state such as war rape; sexual violence and slavery during conflict; trafficking in women; forced prostitution; forced sterilization; forced abortion; violence by the police and authoritative personnel; stoning and flogging.

The World Health Organization (WHO), in its research on violence against women, suggested that there is a chance that women can encounter violence and its devastating effects throughout their life cycle. They categorized phases of life cycle into five stages: “1) pre-birth, 2) infancy, 3) girlhood, 4) adolescence and adulthood and 5) elderly” and illustrated the types of violence that women in each phrase might face. The summary table of these categories are provided below

The term "Women's Rights" refers to freedom and entitlements of women and girls of all ages. These liberties are grouped together and differentiated from broader notions of human rights,(Hosken,1981; Wikipedia, 2010) Article 1 of CEDAW defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field.” Violence on the other hand is defined as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal development or deprivation (WHO, 2002).The above definitions denote that women are entitled to freedom of rights, freedom from violence and entitlements pertaining to human beings without discrimination or deprivation.

Women's rights, gender discrimination, and violence are issues as old as humankind, and are part of many religious and cultural traditions. The Bible describes how God made the woman out of the man (Gen 2:22) and charged her to always be submissive to the husband (Eph.5:22-24). Hindu scriptures describe a good wife as "a woman whose mind, speech, and body are kept in subjection, acquires high renown in this world, and, in the next, the same abode with her husband." In ancient Athens, women were always minors and subject to a male, such as their father, brother, or some other male kin. A woman's consent in marriage was not generally thought to be necessary and women were obliged to submit to the wishes of her parents or husband. Islamic women suffered subjection until Muhammad’s early reforms under Islam, including an improved legal status for women in Islam. For example "The dowry, previously regarded as a bride-price paid to the father, became a nuptial gift retained by the wife as part of her personal property" (Wikipedia, 2010).

In the Middle Ages according to English Common Law, all property which a wife held at the time of marriage became a possession of her husband. Eventually English courts forbid a husband's transferring property without the consent of his wife, but he still retained the right to manage it and to receive the money which it produced. (Badawi, 1971) This continued during the 19th century when women began to agitate for the right to vote (suffrage) and participate in government and law making. In the subsequent decades women's rights again became an important issue and by the 1960s the movement was called "feminism" or "women's liberation." Reformers wanted the same pay as men, equal rights in law, and the freedom to plan their families or not have children at all. (Wikipedia, 2010)

Gender imbalance permeates every facet of Nigerian society and comes in several forms. Onyeukwu (2004) outlined some of the gender discriminatory practices and violence against women and female children. Violence against women is the most acute form of gender inequality in Nigeria. A great majority of the violence against women can be described as Harmful Traditional Practices against Women (HTPs). Some of the common Harmful Traditional Practices against Women in our communities include female genital mutilation, child marriage, ritualistic widowhood practices, nutritional taboos, cult prostitution, domestic violence, and sexual freedom for husbands. Other discriminatory practices include traditional land tenure systems and patterns of inheritance, lack of access to credit, family preference for sons, lack of participation in public decision-making, discrimination in housing and employment, discriminatory legislation, and discriminatory religious practices, as well as rape, battery, trafficking in women, murder, kidnapping, and induced prostitution.

The pursuit of equal rights for women through international law has been a slow process. The principle that everyone is entitled to rights "without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex..." was given voice in Article 2 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Declaration was non-binding and it took campaigners over 30 years to cajole the international community into concrete legal action against gender injustice. This commitment came in the shape of the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979. CEDAW has been described as a bill of rights for women; it spells out the areas in which women experience discrimination and commits countries to amend their laws, construct national gender policies and create institutions to deliver them. Although CEDAW has been ratified by almost all countries, ineffective enforcement of national legislation has further restrained the pace of reform, e.g., the failure of the US to ratify the treaty (Shah, 2010; Wikipedia 2010).

Nigerian law on testate inheritance/succession includes the Wills Act and its Amendments (1837, 1852); The Wills Law Western Nigeria (1987). Succession Law Edict, 1987 of old Anambra State as amended and applicable to Enugu and Ebonyi States. The Wills Act of 1837 does not place any disability on widows with regards to their right to inherit property under testamentary disposition. These laws/statutes do not extend to widows who contracted customary law marriages (Nwankwo,2004). The need for special protection of women and children under the law rests on the rational belief that all human are entitled to equal consideration and respect. Law has a major role in effecting social change and should be seen as a catalyst in development of our citizenry especially women and children. Laws designed to protect women and girl-child are not far-reaching enough, for example women married under the statute and their children have better protection than women married under customary law and their children.
Nigeria ratified the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1985 (UNND). However, according to Section 12 of the Nigerian Constitution, international treaties can only be enforced once a corresponding domestic law has been enacted by Parliament (Nigeria 1999, Subsection 12 (1)). Such domestic legislation was drafted in 2005 (UN 8 July 2008, Para. 314), but, as of February 2010, has not been passed into law (ibid.; This Day 4 Feb. 2010; AI 2010, 248).
In addition, a bill addressing violence against women has been pending before the Nigerian Parliament since 2003 (UN 8 July 2008, Para. 326; Open Democracy 26 Nov. 2007).

In a report submitted to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, the government of Nigeria stated that it was unnecessary to have a law that specifically addresses violence against women since “[a]ssault and battery have been made subject of both civil and criminal laws, with the criminal aspects attracting very stiff and severe penalties” (Nigeria 5 Jan. 2009, Para. 79). According to Section 360 of the Nigerian Criminal Code:
[Any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults a woman or girl is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable to imprisonment for two years (Nigeria 1990, Sec. 360)
The unlawful and indecent assault of a “male person” is a felony and is punishable by three years in prison, according to Section 353 of the Criminal Code (ibid., Sec. 353).
In addition, Section 55 of the Penal Code, which governs Nigeria’s northern states, allows husbands to “correct” their wives using physical punishment, so long as the woman is not seriously harmed (Tribune 4 June 2010; UN 8 July 2008, Para. 316; Bazza 2009, 185). According to the Bazza article, Paragraph 55 (1)(d) of the Penal Code states:
According to the national survey, of women who sought help to address domestic violence, 65 percent turned to their family for assistance (Nigeria Nov. 2008, 284). A further 31 percent looked to their in-laws for help; and 17 percent went to a friend or neighbor (ibid.). Less than 1 percent went to a social service agency, 2 percent went to the police and 3 percent sought help from a religious leader (ibid.).
Until recently, there was no statute law against FGM. There is now in existence the Edo State Female Circumcision and Genital Mutilation (Prohibitation) Law No. 4 of 1999, Cross River State Girl-Child Marriage and Female Circumcision (Prohibition) Law 2000; Delta and River States have also passed laws to ban FGM and make it a crime.

Women's rights as human rights are indeed fundamental to societal growth and well-being. Gender inequality, discrimination, and violence are anathema to human existence, healthy relationships, and development. Ignorance contributes to gender discrimination and violation of rights. Availability of information can help alleviate these problems. Libraries as agents of information delivery can improve and expand their services in these areas. This no doubt will make our libraries even more relevant and proactive in the Internet age.

Amnesty International (AI). 2010. “Nigeria.” Amnesty International Report 2010. <;
Angya, Charity A. 9 September 2008. “Shelters and Faith Based Organizations in Nigeria: Mitigating the Effects of Violence Against Women.” < Shelters_in_Nigeria
Daily Independent [Lagos]. 21 April 2010. Stella Odueme. “Nigeria: Legislating Against Domestic Violence.” (AllAfrica) <;
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