.Senate

By Funmi Falana

Today, 8th March 2022 is International Women’s Day but what exactly does an average Nigerian woman get to celebrate? The recent rejection of about five (5) gender equality bills that sought to alter the Constitution by the National Assembly on Tuesday, 1st of March, 2022 has once again brought to the fore the need to consistently challenge the systemic ills and oppression our patriarchal society imposes on women as well as the urgent need to revamp and purge our democratic system of recondite bias.

The decision of the National Assembly to reject the gender equality bills engendered severe criticism, backlash and even protest from concerned and disgruntled members of the society as well as civil society groups. The Deputy Minority Whip of the House, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, who is the only female member of the body of principal officers of the house and sponsored some of the rejected bills, was reported to have been extremely disappointed with the non-passage of the bills.

The rejected proposals which seek to alter the Constitution include Bills 35, 36, 37, 38 & 68 to wit:

•             Bill to “provide for special seat for women in the National and State Assembly”,

•             Bill to “expand the scope of citizenship by registration”;

•             Bill to “provide for affirmative action for women in political party administration”;

•             Bill to “provide criteria for qualification to become an indigene of a state in Nigeria” and;

•             Bill to “give women a quota in the federal and state executive councils or ministerial and commissionership seats”.

Consequent to the rejection of these Bills, the 9th National Assembly has been strongly berated for deliberately missing an opportunity to etch their tenure in gold and for insisting on a pathway that can only take the country backwards. It is also evident that the National Assembly did not consider the salient provisions of section 42 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), Articles 2, 3 and 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in arriving at their disappointing decision to kill the bills on the floor of the house.

Emphatically, section 42 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that, “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:

(a)          be subjected to either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject, or

(b)          be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.” 

Notably, Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights provides that, “Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or any status” while Article 3 states that: “Every individual shall be equal before the law and every individual shall be entitled to equal protection of the law”.

Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights also recognizes the equal right to participate in government as follows:

1.            “Every citizen shall have the right to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with the provisions of the law.

2.            Every citizen shall have the right to equal access to the public service of the country.

3.            Every individual shall have the right of access to public property and services in strict equality of all persons before the law”.

Evidently, the male-dominated National Assembly with extremely poor representation of women does not want a change or alteration of the status quo, hence, the basis for flagrantly ignoring the excerpted provisions above on equality in the right to participate in government.

Interestingly, the rejected gender equality bills, ipso facto, do not seek to “equally” bridge the gender inequality gaps between men and women in Nigeria, rather, the Bills sought the general expansion of women’s rights and for more consideration and inclusion in governance, political party administration, political appointments and what have you. This is evident in Bill 35 which seeks to provide for a special seat for women in the National and State Assembly by creating additional 111 seats in the National Assembly and Bill 68 which seeks the inclusion of at least ten per cent (10%) affirmative action in favour of women in Ministerial Appointments.

Additionally, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to which Nigeria is a signatory, acknowledges the fact that discrimination against women violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity, constitutes an obstacle to the participation of women on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their countries; hampers the growth of the prosperity of society and the family and makes more difficult the full development of the potentialities of women in the service of their countries and of humanity.

Hence, the 189 States party to CEDAW (Nigeria inclusive) , convinced that the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields and bearing in mind the great contribution of women to the welfare of the family and to the development of the society, agreed to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women. To this end, they undertook to do the following among other things:

(a)          “To embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle;

(b)          To adopt appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women;

(c)           To establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and to ensure through competent national tribunals and other public institutions the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination;

(d)          To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation;

(e)          To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise;

(f)           To take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women;

(g)          To repeal all national penal provisions which constitute discrimination against women.”

Furthermore, Article 3 of CEDAW also provides that, “States Parties shall take in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.”

However, it is quite surprising and disappointing that the National Assembly, which is the highest lawmaking body in the country and obliged to implement domiciled Charters and Treaties to which Nigeria is a signatory, has sadly failed in its constitutional task to give proper credence and effect to the ratified and domesticated African Charter as well as the CEDAW in Nigeria.

It is noteworthy that a vote against these gender Bills is a vote to deny women the opportunity for adequate inclusion and representation in governance and stands against the intendment and purposes of the Constitution, the African Charter and the CEDAW as earlier evinced.

The roles and importance of women should not be relegated in this time and age especially since there are legal instruments our lawmakers are duty-bound to fully effectuate their domestications and implementations. Ordinarily, all hands should be on deck to ensure the full development of the potentialities of women, especially in the service of their countries and of humanity.

Lastly, the laudable attempt to inspire women to take their rightful place “in a man’s world” should not by any stretch of imagination be deemed or misinterpreted as a usurpation of men’s rights. It is earnestly hoped the 9th Assembly will reconsider its undischarged constitutional duties, the grave and perpetual injustice meted out to women on a daily basis together with the clamour of the aggrieved constituents they represent and ultimately revisit their stance on the rejected bills because the successful passage of same will manifestly and invariably do justice and crystallize the laudable achievements recorded by the 9th Assembly so far.

MRS FUNMI FALANA FCIArb, wrote from Lagos

Vanguard News Nigeria

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