In a world smouldering with hotspots, women’s rights are often at the forefront. In Nigeria, the case of Amina Lawal, 31, sentenced to death in March 2002 by an Islamic court for the “crime” of having sex outside marriage, has ignited national and international outrage. She was sentenced to die by stoning in January 2004, once her child is weaned. Lawal is the second woman to receive this penalty. The campaign to save Amina Lawal, youngest of 13 children and married at 14, has put the lethally oppressive mix of patriarchy and poverty under the spotlight. This case is a test for Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo. He publicly opposes the sentence — in words. But he will not challenge the Muslim clerics or defend the federal constitution.
Oil, misery and the religious Right. Nigeria is the sixth largest oil exporter in the world, and more than 90 percent of the country’s income is from oil production. The oil fields of the southern Niger Delta have produced billions in profits for Chevron-Texaco and Shell, yet most Nigerians get little but a contaminated environment and a bankrupt economy. Women pick up the tab, holding together families without breadwinners and communities with pitiful services.
It’s a breeding ground for repression, and women are receiving the worst blows. Amina Lawal is from Katsina — one of 12 northern states where Muslim fundamentalists reintroduced the Sharia, a religious dogma that includes punishments such as beheadings, amputations and stonings. Although the penalty for “adultery” also applies to men, they can escape it, as Amina’s partner did, simply by denying they had sex.
Defeat the reactionary clerics. Support for Lawal has grown inside Nigeria and throughout the world. Organisations such as BAOBAB for Women’s Rights, which is representing Lawal, see her case as a watershed for the rights of women but also for all Nigerians. Lawal’s appeal hearing, postponed twice this year, is set for August 27.
Last year, women of the Niger Delta made international headlines when they rose up against the oil moguls and their own patriarchs. Their occupation of Chevron’s principal facilities — forcing the multinational giant to concede to their demands for jobs, schools and hospitals — inspired the world. Now it’s the turn of the Muslim reactionaries and their barbaric “legal code.” Save Amina Lawal! Victory to the women of Nigeria!