Groups threaten no vote over gender equality bill

National Assembly Complex
National Assembly Complex

Some civil society organisations in Nigeria have called on the National Assembly to pass the Gender Equal Opportunity (GEO) Bill or risk being voted out in the forthcoming elections.

The GEO bill seeks to modify socio-cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, and other forms of gender-based violence that abuse the human rights of girls and young women in Nigeria. The bill has been in the National Assembly since 2015.

Speaking to journalists on Thursday during a march in Abuja to commemorate the 2019 Global Women March, the Executive Director, Vaccine Network for Disease Control in Nigeria, Chika Offor, said the day provides opportunity for Nigerian CSOs to speak up over the delayed passage of the GEO bill.

“The GEO bill promotes human rights in matters relating to marriage/family life. It is a bill that benefits all individuals across Nigeria especially girls and young women,” she said.

“By not taking the bill serious means that the National Assembly don’t consider the safety and welfare of Nigerian girls and women important. This time around we will simply vote the unserious assembly members out. The voice of girls and women matter and we will continue to advocate for a second public hearing on the bill and an immediate passage by the Assembly,” Mrs Offor said.

“In a patriarchal society like ours, and a male dominated Assembly, we can see how a very important bill is being treated by the National Assembly, this is not fair to the safety and welfare of Nigerian women and girls.”

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In the last one decade, Nigeria has witnessed increase in rape cases and violence against women. The CSOs said the bill provides a legal framework on punishment for girls and women violators and should be taken serious.

According to Executive Director, Education as a Vaccine (EVA) Nigeria, Olabukunola Williams, the bill prohibits discrimination of all sorts and promotes equality and fairness among sexes.

“The GEO bill is important because no person should discriminate against any person on the ground of gender, age or disability. It provides a legal framework for girls and young men and women to live their lives free of gender-based discrimination and violence,” Mrs Williams said.

The Communications Officer for White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria, Tariah Adams, said it is the responsibility of the legislators to ensure that bills like the GEO is not delayed in a society where rape and violence against women have become a social norm.

Mrs Adams said gender equality will “promote equality, ensure development and advancement of all persons, including young women and adolescent girls through promotion of their rights and equality in society and under the law.”

In her response, the Senate Minority Leader, Biodun Olujimi, assured the CSOs that the National Assembly will organise a public hearing and see that the bill is passed for the safety of Nigerian girls and women.

Ms Olujimi promised that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, will respond to the bill in good time.

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