YNaija Editorial: The Nigerian Senate goofed on Gender Rights and Equal Opportunity


On Tuesday March 15, 2016, the Nigerian Senate took a stand on the very important issue of gender rights, equal opportunity and the protection of women when the Gender Rights and Equal Opportunities Bill 2010 came up for second reading.

Sadly and shamefully, the myopic and chauvinistic tendencies of the greater percentage of the Senate came to the fore.

The Senate chose to be on the wrong side of history when it voted against the bill, in an attempt to keep Nigeria in the status quo where people are discriminated against due to their gender, age and disability; and where the rights of women are not guaranteed, especially in marriage and in cases of violence.

The bill- which was being introduced into the Senate for the second time after the first attempt by Senator Chris Anyanwu (Imo East) in 2010- is meant to domesticate the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which was ratified by Nigeria in 1985.

The bill made provisions for the establishment of a Gender and Equal Opportunities Commission, and sets out how the Commission will function and its members appointed.

It aims to buttress Chapters II and IV of the 1999 Constitution as well as the International Convention on Human Rights which affirms the principle of non-discrimination and proclaims all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that everyone is entitled to all the rights set out without distinction of any kind including distinction based on sex.

It would have been expected that such a bill will enjoy the overwhelming support of the senators who will be enthusiastic in helping to promote gender parity in Nigeria- in education and the workplace; protect women from violence, abuse and harmful cultural practices especially in marriage issues; and increase their participation in governance through the temporary measure of 35% affirmative action.

However, Nigerians were shocked that the Senate refused to toe the path of progressive thinking- allowing the bill further passage to the third reading, and subsequently becoming law.

The arguments some of the senators have given against the bill cannot be said to be tenable: whether it is that of Senators Emmanuel Bwacha and Ahmed Sani Yerima of Taraba and Zamfara States respectively who said the bill was not in line with Christianity and Islam; or those of Senator Adamu Aliero of Kebbi State that the Constitution already guarantees the rights of men and women.

While Chapters II and IV of the Constitution spells out the objectives of government towards citizens and gives rights to all persons in Nigeria respectively, the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill takes it further by prescribing in detail acts which are now prohibited, such as denying widows custody of their children or their husbands’ properties; and also clearly outlawing discrimination with the establishment of a commission to enforce that.

This bill is necessary because Nigerian women are still a vulnerable group in our society, and mostly on the receiving end of gender-based abuse and violence by persons who see women as beneath them, and mostly use culture or religion to justify acts which are barbaric and ought to have been left behind ages ago.

This bill, together with the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act which was signed into law in May last year, is designed to fully protect vulnerable groups such as women in our society. It also sought to firmly establish 18 as the minimum age of marriage in Nigeria, a much-needed law in a country, where according to the UNICEF, 43% of girls are married off before they turn 18.

Other aspects of the bill such as ensuring educational placement and school enrollment, awards of scholarships and bursaries are balanced, are to ensure that women catch up on education. As it currently stands, women in Nigeria are 4% less likely to attend primary school than men, and the gap widens as the educational level rises.

One would have expected that the Senate would, on the back of this, have seized the opportunity to propel us forward by helping to pass laws that will protect and empower women, who make up half of our population, as well as other vulnerable groups in our society.

While Senate President Bukola Saraki has said that there is a chance for the bill to be reintroduced, it is up to him and his colleagues in the 8th Senate to either write their name in gold by passing it when it comes up again, or kill it and be confined to the history books as obstructionists of progress.

We hope that they will choose the right side of history next time.

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