Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights’– Hillary Clinton
As some of you are aware, the Nigerian National Assembly failed to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill after its second reading , so now a new version of this bill has been put forward by the senate. Apparently, this differs significantly from the original version, twitter User @Saratu in a series of tweets shared these differences which I shall list (rephrase) below;
- The section of the original bill that ensures women have equal rights to citizenship and indigeneship was removed. It also removed the rights of women to confer their citizenship on their children. So basically if you are a Nigerian woman married to a non Nigerian man, you are legally not permitted to confer your Nigerian citizenship on your child.
- It removes the section of marriage which asserts that women can purchase property, puts age limit at 18 , and asserts the need for consent to marriage for both parties. So all this talk of underage marriage and the prevalence of VVF (Vesico Vagina Fistula) in Nigeria (we have the highest rate in the world) means nothing to them. SIGH!
- It does not address the need to ensure protection for young women and girls
- It focuses narrowly on maternal health while excluding sexual and reproductive health. Not surprising, given that many of them view women as solely baby manufacturing machines.
- The new bill does not automatically transfer guardianship of children to a woman if her husband is deceased. Apparently, the emotional, financial and physical trauma many women have to endure when they lose their husband means little to them.
- It is also vague on some issues for example it states that ‘a woman shall have right to a fair share of inheritance’ without explicitly defining what is meant by ‘fair’.
That we have to debate a basic issue as equal rights for men and women in Nigeria in 2016 is stunning at best and pathetic at worst. When nations are taking bolder initiatives to increase parity, we are yet to even agree that men and women are equal! In all sincerity however, this should hardly come as a surprise as only 7 out of the 109 Senate seats and 14 out of the 360 House of Representative seats are occupied by women. So the reality is that women do not have a strong voice in the highest levels of decision making, leaving these largely sexist bunch to be the sole determinants of the rights women should have. The critical question is what can be done to remedy this? The obvious answer would be to increase the representation of women in those offices. I agree but its obvious that this would be a long term process because of the amount of hard work involved in organising, training and empowering women to occupy such offices. Given this, I think every avenue and opportunity available to start a conversation, build momentum and accelerate the attainment of equality of this goal should be explored.
One thing that I have always pondered on is the proliferation of Women empowerment, summits, conferences, workshops, seminars etc. across the country which are largely organised by churches, NGOs, government agencies etc. I understand that many of these organisers are motivated by the need to empower these women socially, financially or otherwise and increase their potential for upward mobility. While most of these initiatives I assume are beneficial, I can’t help but think that by focusing exclusively on women we are failing to reach a key and the most powerful demographic- the men. Come to think of it, who passes the laws? the men; who are the CEOs and board members of companies? the men; who are the CEOs of Banks? the men; Who are the chairpersons of the political parties? the men. I could go on but I think my point is if we are keen about increasing political participation for women; access to finance; fair workplace policies favourable laws etc. the people with the real power (the men) have to be actively involved in this conversation.
Many of these men in the positions of power, including the educated ones are largely ignorant (I want to believe) and hide under the cover of religion and culture to propagate their misogynistic nonsense. I think these are the ones that need the talks, seminars, workshops, conferences etc. They are the ones who need to be schooled on how it is actually possible for men and women to have equal opportunities; how much of a moral failure it is for a country to permit and in fact perpetuate gender-based discrimination; how women are actually more than cooks or sex objects; how women can actually seat on boards and be CEOs; how the economy loses when about half of the population is constantly deprived of the opportunity to fulfil their God-given talents and how everyone ultimately loses out when women lose. They should be informed of what Justin Trudeau did in Canada or better still be shown pictures of Angela Merkel, Theresa May so they can see that women are just as intellectually competent, if not more. Actually they should also be shown pictures of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Joyce Banda before they tell us how allowing women occupy such powerful positions is alien to African culture. In addition to these, they should also be made to read President Obama’s essay on Feminism, maybe it will help them understand what a male feminist looks like or that it is actually possible to be a male feminist. They are the ones that need the empowerment and enlightenment all the way from the politicians/CEOs to little boys in primary schools.
I know this sounds as though we would be pleading as opposed to viciously demanding for our rights and in some sense it is but sometimes in life, I believe, we have to settle for the second-best option. Or maybe we should try to meaningfully and substantially engage them with the hopes that some will be reasonable enough to actively and vocally lend their voice to the fight for equality before we do something drastic. Or heck!Who says we can’t go out with our entire arsenal- engage them whilst simultaneously coming up with radical and even revolutionary means of attaining equality in the land.
I am just really angry that a time when the National assembly should be focusing all of its energies into solving our economic mess, they are pouring our limited resources into discussing what should ideally be a non-issue. Worse still, by trying to pass this mockery of a bill, its as though they are just mocking the entire ‘gender equality’ agenda..I’m sure in their private discussions they would be like ‘Abi, you guys want gender equality, here you have it’ – a sham of a bill! No, we want an actual bill with no ‘ifs’, ‘buts’, or grey areas!
These people want to frustrate us but we wont stop demanding..at least I won’t.
What do you really think is the best way forward?
Note; If not already apparent, I culled the changes in the revised bill from the Twitter timeline of user @Saratu