By Henry Umoru
Three of Nigeria’s serving female senators have bemoaned the failure of the National Assembly to approve proposals for affirmative action in appointive positions in the country.
The Senate during the recent Constitution Alteration Exercise failed to push through the proposal that would have entitled women to 35% of all appointive positions in the country.
The three, Senators Biodun Olujumi, the Senate Deputy Minority Whip, Binta Garba, APC, Adamawa and Rose Oko, PDP, Cross River were united in alleging that their male colleagues were unfair in rejecting the proposal for affirmative action.
The female senators stressed that the action of the male senators was indicative of the fact that the country was not prepared to fulfill its international obligations undertaken through the ratifications of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child among others.
Even though the women lost out, they have not given up as they were quick to insert a proposal on affirmative action in another bill, the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill, GEO Bill.
Pleading for understanding from their male colleagues, Senator Olujumi, the highest ranking woman in the Senate said:
“The Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill seeks to achieve equal opportunities for men and women and boys and girls in all spheres of life specifically in the fields of health, education, governance, employment as well as in the social and economic fields. Its focus is on the elimination of discrimination in these areas and on the grounds of gender, age or disability.
“The bill protects the widow from inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment and guarantees her the rights to guardianship and custody of her children after the death of her husband, unless this is contrary to the interests and the welfare of the children; the right to remarry the person of her choice; the right to a fair share in the inheritance of the property of her husband and the right to continue to live in the matrimonial house provided that in the case of re-marriage, she shall retain this right only if the house belongs to her.”
Also speaking with Vanguard on the rejected Bill, Senator Binta Masi Garba, APC, Adamawa North said, “it is rather unfortunate that the Nigerian Senate could not stand behind the affirmative action of appointing a percentage of women into positions. It is rather unfortunate, these are the same women that you use during campaigns, these are the same women again that are just asking for just a fair share of governance so that they can now be participating in the activities of government.
“But today, unfortunately, the northern legislators kicked against it bringing in some certain sentiments on religion. Saudi Arabia is the custodian of Islam, but it has opened its doors and allowed women to participate fully even in elective positions. The shura of Arabia has more women than the American Congress holding elective and appointive positions, Dubai and others.
“I don’t know why we hide under sentiments of religion which is not going to take us anywhere. We thought we were supposed to be partners in progress. There are eligible women who want to contribute their quota to nation building.
“Must it be during politicking that you will look for women to dance and sing for you? We are supposed to come together and be partners in progress. I implore most of the male senators that stood by us, almost 43 of them, if 43 believe in our course, there is still light in the tunnel, and one day, we will overcome.
Also speaking to Vanguard, Senator Rose Oko, PDP, Cross River North said, “ I will say it is unfortunate, it happened in that way, I would have thought that we had come to a point when issues on affirmative action especially in a country like Nigeria would have been more favourably looked into.
“In other climes, East Africa, Rwanda and South Africa, there is already legislation. As a matter of fact in Rwanda, it is a constitutional provision that women have to fill a certain percentage of elective positions not even appointive. But this we are seeking for 35 per cent in appointive positions specifically in appointment of ministers and commissioners in the state, but it didn’t go through.