The importance of strong laws and male supporters

In Niger, the National Day of the Nigerien Woman celebrated on 13 May has its own standing next to the International Women's Day.

Ramatou Hassan in her home in Tahoua, Niger.
Islamane Abdou Soumaila
08 March 2022

On 13 May 1991, women from all walks of life took to the streets of Niamey and fought for their political rights and inclusion. One year later, 13 May was declared a national holiday. The date is considered by many a turning point for the increased participation of women in Niger and the modernization of the laws.

"Strong laws are important, as well as their enforcement," explained Ramatou Hassan, an outspoken retired public servant in Niger's Tahoua Region who remembers how she and her friends closely followed the events in the Nigerien capital and how the women's march reverberated across the country.

Ms. Hassan regularly holds sessions in schools, where she sensitizes students on their rights and the different forms of violence against children, building on her years of experience working for the Regional Education Directorate of Tahoua.

We need to use days like the International Women's Day and the National Day of the Nigerien Woman to come together and spread the word on our rights!

Ramatou Hassan

"Once the laws and their enforcement are in place, we need to sensitize the young and old so that they know the law and break the silence. If they do not know that a certain behavior is a crime they cannot denounce it and protect the children," she said.

Ms. Hassan with a leaflet stands in front of group of women sitting on the ground during a sensitization session in front of her her home.
Islamane Abdou Soumaila

Ms. Hassan is well known in her neighborhood, with a dozen women sitting under a tree at the entrance of her house, waiting for one of her sensitization sessions on healthy child's nutrition, hygiene, menstrual health hygiene management or children's rights that she holds regularly on Saturdays.

Stopping a child marriage from taking place

All girls and boys have the right to a childhood where they can play, rest and be protected from harm, abuse and exploitation. But for thousands of children in Niger, childhood is cut short by marriage. UNICEF estimates that around 3 in 4 young girls were married before the age of 18, and 1 in 4 before the age of 15. 

The country's Civil Code puts the minimum age for women to be married at 16 years, the one for men at 18 years. However, marriages at lower ages remains frequent, mostly with the girl being underage.

"These examples show that we women are not doing this alone: We have men who support us!"

"I heard from my own children that a 12-year-old girl from their school was supposed to be married," she said. She went to talk to the local neighborhood chief, a man, who immediately tried to verify the rumor which turned out was true.

"The father of the girl was then subpoenaed by a police officer, also a man, who explained to him that child marriage is forbidden and he would go to prison, if he married his daughter at this age. The marriage was canceled."

Ms. Hassan added: "These examples show that we women are not doing this alone: We have men who support us! We need to use days like the International Women's Day on 8 March and National Day of the Nigerien Woman on 13 May to come together and spread the word on our rights!"