By Victoria Ojeme
The Nigerian Senate, UNWomen and other development partners have called for widespread support for the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill before the National Assembly.
The law in Nigeria has provided women and girls legal claims to demand freedom from violence, discrimination or abuse on the basis of gender. However, the full enjoyment of their human rights remains elusive as they continue to face extensive discrimination that violate the principle of equality of rights.
Here are the facts: Nigeria globally sits within the 0.1 – 4.9 % range for women’s representation in government and it is at the bottom of the whole African continent in terms of representation of women into elective offices.
Girls account for 60% of Nigeria’s more than 10 million out-of-school children, facing barriers such as child marriage, poverty, and discriminatory social norms.
Startling as this data may be, the true scale of the problem of poverty in Nigeria only becomes more apparent when you consider the fact that women, who make up slightly less than 50% of Nigeria’s population, account for more than 70% of those in extreme poverty.
Hence, poverty is a gender issue. So too are the massive inequalities spiraling out of control – across wealth, health and every other socio-political determinant in Nigeria. Recognising the centrality of gender to these issues is not only critical to fully appreciating the scale of the challenges, it is the most effective route to achieving shared progress and prosperity in Africa’s most populous country.
All these informed today’s stakeholders meeting on the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEOB), which is championed by the senator representing Ekiti South Senatorial District, ‘Biodun Olujimi.
She said that the purpose for the meeting was to discuss the “Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEOB), the proposed legislation which we have been working on, for several years to bridge the gender inequality in Nigeria.”
“The Bill has passed through several reviews and with the technical assistance of our partners, UNWomen and our Civil Society, we have arrived at our present stage,” the Senator said.
She reiterateted that the Bill is development-oriented and includes provisions which will promote equal access for women and men for instance across all sectors.
The Bill also has key provisions such as the adoption of temporary special measures to eliminate discrimination of women and widen the space for women to occupy leadership positions in politics and public office. It also seeks to address several forms of discrimination against women such as land ownership, inheritance, education, employment, and sexual and gender-based violence.
“The Bill has had a very long journey, and during this period, it has faced much resistance and criticism along the way. This may be put down to the lack of awareness and misunderstanding/ misinterpretation about its aims and goals amongst other reasons,” she said.
On her part, Ms. Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS said the Passage of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill provides an invaluable window of opportunity to implement legal frameworks to address gender inequalities and prevent, protect, and redress gender-based violence.
“Over the past 18 months or so, we have witness how COVID has exposed preexisting gender inequalities in countries across the world. Here in Nigeria for example, the cases of gender-based violence skyrocketed during the lockdown period. Data from March to April indicate a five-fold increase in cases across 23 States – causing the President to declare a State of Emergency on GBV.
“In the political realm, we all recall the high aspirations of women who vied for political office in the 2019 general elections. The highest ever number of women seeking political office. Yet, the result of the elections saw a regression in the number of women elected to political office. In fact, women’s representation in Nigeria has been on a steady decline since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999,” she said.
Speaking also, the Australian High Commissioner to Nigeria, John Donnelly said “Gender equality and women’s empowerment is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.” He explained that the economic and development benefits are clear as protecting women and girls, investing in their rights, and providing opportunities for them to prosper benefits not only their communities, but the whole country.
“We at the Australian High Commission have recognised this, with targeted funding in Nigeria through our Direct Aid Program. Separate from our support for UN Women’s work on the GEOB, we have also funded through the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism the production of a handbook for journalists on reporting on gender-based violence,” he said.