First Bank Nigeria Plc, one of the oldest and largest banks in Nigeria recently announced a policy banning married couples from working in its employment. The Bank directed that it would retain only one partner out of a married couple working with it. Its reason was that the Bank was undergoing reorganisation and repositioning under a new management and there was a need for discipline and efficiency. First Bank Nigeria Plc announced that the affected persons would be adequately compensated.
Nigeria is traditionally a patriarchal society with an estimated population of 120 Million, with women making 49.5%. In spite of advances in education, women still lag behind in all areas of national development. Nigerian women face barriers to full enjoyment of their rights because of ethnicity, culture, religion or lack of education. The traditions in Nigeria can be characterised as a system of beliefs and practices which put women in a position of inferiority. This inferior status of women is protected in the name of tradition, culture and religion and have deprieved women of their rights as human beings.
Nigeria has a high unemployment rate and women's access to good corporate jobs remains very limited.
This policy pitted First Bank of Nigeria Plc against the Nigeria Labour Congress and Women NGOs who immediately began advocacy campaigns against the Bank.
Women's Rights Watch campaigned against the policy because in a patriarchal society where the man makes the decisions, the wife's career will invariably give way in order to sustain her husband's.
The First Nigeria Bank policy is a reversal of the few gains made in Nigeria for the economic empowerment of women. At present, women have inequal access to employment in Nigeria and the policy could be copied by other corporate organisations in Nigeria.
The policy infringes on women's fundamental human rights to marry and contravenes the UN Convention on Elimination Against All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to which Nigeria is a signatory. Article 11 of CEDAW prevents discrimination against women in employment and provides that States take appropriate measures to prohibit discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage - and dismissals on the basis of marital status.
The Nigerian Government has been very silent on the issue, but the NLC began a nation wide picketing against First Bank in protest of their anti-labour policies.
Happily First Bank Nigeria Plc on Wednesday the 30th of May, 2001 succumed to the pressure mounted on it by the NLC and NGOs and announce that it had reversed its policy against married couples. The bank in a memo dated 25th of May, 2001 and addressed to all heads of departments, branches, regional offices stated
"We are pleased to advise that management has revisited the issue and decided to allow married couples to remain in its employment"
Women's Rights Watch Nigeria (WRW) is of the view that corporate Nigeria is not gender sensitive! Women's Rights Watch is currently involved in a national gender sensitization campaign to lobby our national institutions - the Presidency, the National Assembly (Legislature) the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, and the National Human Rights Commission to pass the UN CEDAW into Nigerian Law. Women's Rights Watch is circulating a petition and has collected signatures from 19 countries. They include Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Canada, Zimbabwe, United States of America, Romania, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Noway, Australia, South Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Thailand, Austria.
Please find below our petition. Send your messages of support to us at [email protected].