DESPITE the last-minute storming of the National Assembly by the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha; and wife of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Dolapo; the affirmative action bills to create special seats for women in the legislative and executive arms of government at federal and state levels flopped.
Sponsored by Nkeiru Onyejeocha (APC, Abia), the Bill sought 111 extra seats in the National Assembly for women – one Senate and two House of Representatives seats from each state and the FCT. It also aimed at obtaining 108 seats in state assemblies for them. The Affirmative Action Bill, on the other hand, sought 35 per cent of political party positions for women.
Had these bills sailed through, Nigerian women would have henceforth become far more visible in all aspects of politics and governance through constitutional empowerment.
Nigeria would have, at last, been on the way to meeting its obligations under the universal protocols for the elimination of gender discrimination to which she is a signatory.
The bills failed for three major reasons. Nigerians are not culturally ready to give women equal opportunities in politics and governance.
This much was implicit in President Buhari’s quip that his wife belonged to the sitting room, the kitchen and “the other room” when Aisha Buhari raised the alarm that a cabal had hijacked her husband’s government in October 2016.
Most men still feel that the level field for electoral positions and token appointment of women into cabinets are sufficient for now.
Secondly, Nigeria is not a country that respects its obligations. It is one of the reasons for the many crises on our hands. From the Aburi Accord to the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU/Memorandum of Action, MOA, to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW, adopted in 1978 and reaffirmed in 1995 at the World Conferences on Women which we endorsed; Nigeria does not keep her word.
Thirdly, the women themselves seem not serious enough in the push for gender equality. Apart from the women advocacy groups, the woman on the street has not been sensitised enough to join the vanguard for gender equality.
What exactly do they do at the Women’s Affairs Ministries and the National Women Development Centre, Abuja? Aisha and Dolapo waited till decision day to get personally involved in securing constitutional approval for affirmative action.
This constitutional fiasco should spur not just women but men of goodwill to prepare better for future constitution alterations to bring women more on board in governance.
The performances of the few women who have been given chances, such as Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the late Prof. Dora Akunyili and others, show what we are losing for keeping half of our society out of political relevance.
The struggle for gender equality must continue.
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