Nigeria’s patriarchal society limiting women’s rise in law
Only four of Nigeria’s 37 attorneys general, and 33% of that country’s senior judiciary are female, says a recent report published by the International Bar Association (IBA) Legal Policy & Research Unit (LPRU).
According to the data accumulated for the50:50 by 2030: A longitudinal study into gender disparity in law – NIGERIA RESULTS REPORT, women make up approximately 40% of all lawyers in Nigeria. The country’s public sector has the highest representation of women in senior positions, with 61% of practitioners being female, followed by the corporate sector, with 55%. Law firms have the second lowest number of women in senior roles (43%), behind the judiciary (33%).
The report highlights that while there are roughly the same number of female and male law students across faculties of law within the country, the gender disparity continues at the most senior positions. “Only four per cent of the 732 lawyers who are awarded Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) status, the highest level in the Nigerian legal profession, are female,” says the report.
In the foreword to the report, Professor Sylvia Ifemeje, Attorney-General of Anambra State, laments the “gross underrepresentation of females in senior legal positions”. She points out that “of the 128 [Nigerian Bar Association] branches across the country, only five are currently headed by women. In the Nigerian judiciary, only one woman has ever been the Chief Justice of Nigeria, and in the Court of Appeal, only two women have been the president.”
Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, OON, SAN, President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), noted that “the NBA has consistently maintained the position that for us to achieve transformative change in the world, issues relating to gender equality and empowerment must be prioritised and addressed head-on.”
The report acknowledges that Nigeria has introduced policies and founded institutions to promote gender equality within the country, but that “despite these constitutional guarantees, many argue that the country’s gender parity ambitions are undermined by the ‘heavily patriarchal nature’ of Nigerian society.”
Ibi Ogunbiyi, partner at Olaniwun Ajayi explained: “I would attribute the disparity in female representation to social conditioning in the Nigerian girl-child, which at times is subconscious but quite prevalent – whereby traditional societal and cultural norms require females to aspire to marriage rather than professional excellence, eschew ambition which is seen as arrogance or to downplay their competencies and skills so as not to appear threatening or intimidating in the workplace.”
Ogunbiyi said, “Law firms need to have in place policies that enable women to fulfill their professional and familial roles more effectively.” She suggested this include increasing maternity leave and pay, increasing the length of paternity leave, creating opportunities for female inclusion in decision-making, management and leadership roles, and “frowning upon (and sanctioning as appropriate) divisive practices or cultures that disenfranchise women in the workplace”.
Despite the overall inadequate representation of women at senior levels, the report says “there is a basis for optimism in the coming years as the country commits to advancing gender equality through its recently revised National Gender Policy”.
This project is a nine-year global study aiming to uncover the root causes of gender disparity at the top of the legal profession, to examine the impact of equality initiatives and to produce a blueprint for gender equality at all levels. Access the full Nigeria report here.
Last year, as part of the annual ranking of Africa’s largest law firms by headcount, Africa Legal and Law.com International asked firms to share data on the gender diversity of their partnerships. The average percentage of female partners at the 32 participating firms was 35% which is ahead of UK firms which averaged 27%.
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