The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights in Nigeria and the Discriminatory Effects of Spousal Veto over Family Planning

A woman’s right within marriage and the family greatly affects her ability to control her life and make voluntary, informed reproductive choices. Equal right within marriage was among the first human rights pertaining to women’s status to be explicitly recognised under international law.

Reproductive rights “are the rights of individuals to decide whether to reproduce and have reproductive health. This may include an individual’s right to plan a family, terminate a pregnancy, use contraceptives, learn about sex education in public schools and gain access to reproductive health services.

Although the United Nation’s “Universal Declaration on Human Right” made no mention of Reproductive rights, these rights began to appear as a subset of human rights at the 1968 proclamation of Teheran which states in Paragraph 16 that “Parents have a basic human right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of children. The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which has been ratified by Nigeria, guarantees in article 16(e) that women have equal rights to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing on their children and to have access to information, education and the means to enable them express these rights. This right was thereafter acknowledged by Nigeria’s National Policy on Population in 1988.

In Nigeria, as with many countries, a spouse (usually the husband) can veto a partner’s use of family planning services. The reality comes from the fact that most government hospitals require the approval of a husband before administering family planning treatments on a married woman. Such policy seems to derive its authenticity from the cultural and traditional belief that a man owns the right to his wife’s fertility. This can be seen amongst the Igbo, Obudu, and Swazi Customs which state that the right to a woman’s fertility is acquired at marriage. The resultant effect of such a custom is the direct violation of women’s reproductive autonomy, right to health care and ultimately their right to life.



  •  Ministerial Regulations or Policies that abrogate spousal authorisation requirement
  •  A Specific Legislation that establishes and defines women’s right to sexual and reproductive non-discrimination
  •  Education of Professional health providers who have duties to respect their client’s privacy and autonomy.



Gaining Grounds “A tool for Advancing Reproductive Rights Law Reform”- A publication of Centre for Reproductive Right Cap. 5 (2010) accessed at”;

“Reproductive Rights” At FINDLAW

A Handbook for National Human Rights Institutions – A PUBLICATION OF UNFPA (2014):

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – A publication of UNHCR (2008)

Rebecca Cook and Deborah Maine: Spousal Veto over Family Planning Services

Dr Joseph Nnamdi Muojekwu; Maternal Mortality in Nigeria

This note was contributed by Oluchi N. Azoro-Amadi, Assistant Research Fellow,NIALS,Abuja. She can be contacted on: