AGAIN, infuriated by the composition of the defunct national conference on political reforms – 31 women out of 400 delegates-our women had resorted to court action, to compel the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to reconstitute the conference with at least 200 women.
In the legal suit, filed by a coalition of women groups led by Mrs Jadesola Akande, a professor of law and a former Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University, the women insisted: “That the composition of the conference, as it is now, is discriminatory, illegal and unconstitutional as it violates the women’s fundamental rights to freedom from discrimination guaranteed by section 42 of the Constitution and Article 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Cap. 10 Laws of the federation of Nigeria, 1990″.
And that “the issues of gender inequality, citizenship, infant mortality, illiteracy, unemployment, indignity, popular participation, reproductive health rights, female genital mutilation, child trafficking, discriminatory treatment under Sharia and customary law which are peculiar to women cannot be adequately protected in a male-dominated conference”.
The women’s demands stand on slippery ground. The long-standing, valid argument against the constitutional entrenchment of women’s political rights, and ethnic minorities’ rights, is that no group deserves to have its right entrenched forever in the constitution. The rights being sought by women and the ethnic minorities are not quite different from the fundamental human rights spelt out in past and present constitutions.
We should be concerned with rights for individuals, not groups, nor rights based on gender, genes, or accidents of birth.
The same argument instructs against the retention of Ministry of Women Affairs for promotion of exclusive rights of women. What exactly do the Nigerian women want a ministry for women to do for them that other ministries or government agencies can’t achieve for them.
Perhaps they want different standard to be set for women. And their insistence on a woman as minister of their ministry is part of the grim irony of their struggle against sexual inequality. They want to conquer sexual discrimination but adopt sexual difference in all their calculations.
The country’s journalists formed Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ and the women bolted away to furl another umbrella they call National Association of Women Journalists, NAWOJ. Again, the lawyers came together under the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA and at a time chose a female to lead them, yet the female lawyers scurried away to seek refuge in International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA.
If this type of emphasis on sexual discrimination is the women’s demonstration of their inability to cope with men in smaller organisations or professional unions, why do our women think they can successfully preside over the whole country or any of its federating units, if given the chance?
Following the recently concluded elections in Nigeria, women won a total of 23 seats in the National Assembly (16 in the House of Representatives and seven in the Senate), and three deputy governorships, and two speakerships (including one in Anambra State House of Assembly where they won five of the 30 seats). Also, of the 34-ministerial nominees, there are eight women. So, as always, to make up for lost opportunities, the women are demanding 35 percent of elective and appointive positions.
Have our women ever tried to know why they lose elections in most cases, despite their claim to be greater in number, or why women electors cast their votes largely for men. The interpretation is that the Nigerian women voters do not even believe women are better rulers than men.
It is the same trend elsewhere. The British Social Democratic Party launched itself with trumpet of sexual equality-half the elected members of its national committee would be women, and many women did join, perhaps for that reason.
Labour Party, of the same Britain, rode on the tide of the time to propose a Ministry for Women. But the women voters let them down. Perhaps British women don’t care a fig for gender-based politics, or do not believe women are better rulers than men.
Nigeria and other emerging democracies have provided a chance for women to share real, rather than cosmetic, power. Rather than overcome their handicaps and snatch the chance, say, by adopting a comprehensive empowerment programme and by fighting “life behind the veils”, Nigerian women always aspire to be Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s former primer minister; Gro Brundtland, Norway’s former prime minister, and the late Israeli prime minister.
Golda Meeir-all who had to struggle against traditional demands of gender in order to impress their vision on national policies.
Signing of the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill in Nigeria is otiose. It is a duplication of political and other rights of women already enshrined in the country’s constitution. The women’s problems are not quite unique, in the sense that they are not quite different from those of the entire populace-illiteracy, unemployment, hunger and disease.
From time immemorial women have played the most crucial role in the development of every society. The family is the mother, the bedrock of any society. The political responsibility our women are seeking to discharge are not as critical as their family role in the development of this society or any other.
Yes, Nigerian women of this generation are more savvy than those of preceding generations about sexism, about discrimination, about balancing work and family. They may be wiser, too, about seizing fresh opportunities without losing sight of tradition. The special heritage of values and priorities that have been traditionally associated with women as wives and mothers can be seen as sources of strength to create an enlarged vision.
Mr. IFEANYI UBABUKOH, a comentator , wrote from Awka, Anambra State.