The exclusion of the equal rights Bill in the amendment of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution by the country’s lawmakers sparked protests by different women and fundamental rights groups against what they call an open bias against women.
Activists say the decision of the lawmakers of the Nigerian parliament —both upper and lower house— will further worsen the discrimination faced by Nigerian women if left unchallenged.
The lawmakers’ action that stirred the hornets’ nest happened on Mar 1, 2022, the beginning of women’s history month. For many of the activists, it was not surprising that some of the Bills were killed by the parliament that has 95.9 per cent male membership.
The equality bill which was rejected for the third time in five years was first introduced in the eight Senate in March 2016. Following a protest on Tuesday, March 8, members of the House of Representatives rescinded their decision on three of the five Bills earlier rejected; the three Bills are on indigeneship, citizenship, and 35 per cent affirmative action for women.
If they pass the Bills, it will be a step ahead in ending all forms of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) against girls and women in Nigeria, said Dorothy Njemanze, founder of the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation.
Basically, there have been growing cases of child marriage, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, and all forms of sexual abuse against women in Nigeria. Njemanze, an activist fighting for women’s rights in Nigeria bemoaned the action of the lawmakers.
Njemanze said the Bill by the National Assembly was a step towards reducing gender-based violence.
According to her, “a lot of the gender-based violence was perpetrated through sexual activity. Sexual and gender-based violence is the scope of the issues that we are looking at generally.”
For Njemanze and other activists in Nigeria, the acceptance of some of these laws and amendments to the constitution will help tackle GBV while the rejection automatically becomes institutionalising GBV.
She further said, “It’s important to point these out because the proposed changes to the constitution would take care of some gender biases that are not favouring the women.”
The activist urged women never to relent and keep raising their voice as women and be deliberate about ensuring that there is more representation of lawmakers that recognise the rights of women in the National Assembly.
The lawmakers voted on the 68 constitutional alteration Bills, with only five Bills specifically seeking to promote more opportunities for women in political parties, governance, and the society at large last week.
One of the legislation sought to grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women. Already, a Nigerian man’s foreign-born wife can become a Nigerian citizen.
Also, another sought to allocate 35 per cent of political positions based on appointment to women. There was also separate legislation to create special seats for women in National and State Assemblies.
However, out of the five Bills, the House of Representatives decided to revisit three Bills on indigeneship, citizenship, and 35 per cent affirmative action for women.
How it all started
Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, co-convener of Womanifesto, during the March 8 protest said the demands of Nigerian women include urgent re-convening, reconsideration, and immediate passage of the five women/gender-related bills – Bills number 35, 36, 37, 38, and 68.
Akiyode-Afolabi said Nigerian women are also demanding for the immediate ‘Domestication of the African Charters Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which Nigeria ratified in 2004 and the immediate domestication of the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Nigeria ratified in 1985.
Reacting to the issues, Chioma Agwuegbo, Convener, State of Emergency, GBV Movement said the way forward is the full representation of the gender Bills before the National Assembly and the acceptance of those bills during the constitutional amendment process.
Agwuegbo said Nigeria has a Violence Against Person Prohibition Act (VAPP) of 2015 which has not been domesticated by at least 10 states of the federation. “This is 2022 and there are still at least 10 states that have not adopted or domesticated the Act.”
“We also have quite a number of states that have domesticated the Act but have not put in place a state action plan, they do not have a sexual assault referral centre, we even have some states that have these two but some states have not gazetted this bill which means that it cannot be cited in courts. We also have states that are budgeting for sexual and gender-based violence but the monies are not getting where they should go so I don’t think we need to review the constitution or amend the VAPP Act,” she added.
Adenike Aloba, the Managing Editor of Dataphyte, said the ongoing agitations over the failure of the Parliament to pass all the equality Bills is one way to keep the fight going.
She said advocacy backed by strategy for increased participation of women in politics and governance is another approach. “Women must not only be in the rooms where critical decisions are being made, there must be enough of us to make a difference,” Aloba argued.
According to her, with SGBV, there is a huge capacity gap for law enforcement agencies, and the need to test the existing laws in courts so that judicial precedent becomes an advantage.
“Stakeholders like the media who are actively involved in behavioural change communication need to take a more decisive and mindful approach to the reportage of SGBV, carefully shaping language so as to shape culture positively. It is indeed an uphill task but there are glimpses of hope along the path,” she said
Also, Chido Onumah, Coordinator, African Centre for Media and Information, said there is the need to have a new constitution that takes into account what women and other oppressed groups in the society are going through.
“Nigeria is one of the worst places for women (in terms of protecting their rights) for children, for youth, for people with disabilities, etc. We need to raise awareness about the dangers of SGBV, empowering boys and girls, men and women to speak out and creating opportunities for victims to seek redress,” Onumah said.
He said the fight against gender inequality in Nigeria is a golden opportunity to address this age-old discrimination. “We should not see this struggle as something to be left to women. Women constitute one half of the country. Every sector of the society: professionals, faith-based organisations, academia, labour, must get involved.”
“If we build an inclusive society, gender will not matter. As citizens, we all should enjoy what the country can offer. It doesn’t matter your gender, social background, religion, or ethnicity. We must create equal opportunities in education, employment, access to health services, etc.”
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