The clamour for gender equality has been on for years with many women and civic groups advocating change, parity, an end to negative stereotypes and gender-based violence.
The Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill captures the objectives of that advocacy and of the International Women’s Day being marked across the world on Monday.
The bill was first introduced in the eighth Senate in March 2016 by former minority leader, Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South).
It seeks to guarantee the rights of women to equal opportunities in employment; equal rights to inheritance for both male and female children; equal rights for women in marriage and divorce, equal access to education, property/land ownership and inheritance; protect the rights of widows; guarantee appropriate measures against gender discrimination in political and public life and prohibit violence against women.
The bill was rejected by some male lawmakers who argued that the Nigerian Constitution was clear on rights of citizens, including women.
Mrs Olujimi, however, reworked the bill and represented it to the Senate.
She again stressed that the bill seeks to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and will guarantee equal opportunity, development advancement for all Nigerian citizens irrespective of gender.
She said it will also promote girls’ access to education, freedom for women to participate in any economic activity and their right to freedom from sexual abuse, and violence in public and domestic spaces, she assured her colleagues.
This time, no senator spoke against the bill and the Senate referred it to its committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters headed by David Umaru (APC-Niger).
There was, however, no public hearing on the bill till the end of the eighth Senate.
She again reintroduced the bill in November 2019 but it is yet to be deliberated upon.
International Women’s Day
The International Women’s Day (IWD), an annual global event marked on March 8, celebrates women around the world, promotes gender quality and seeks to eliminate gender stereotypes.
The theme for this year’s IWD is #ChoosetoChallenge.
In addition to eliminating gender bias and promoting gender equality, this year’s event seeks to celebrate women’s achievements in all sectors.
To celebrate this year’s #IWD, this piece looks at the poor representation of women in governance and the provisions of the Gender Equality Bill.
Poor representation of women
Women make up about 49 per cent of Nigeria’s population but as much as this number presents potential human resources that can be channelled to improve the system of governance as well as economic productivity, the disparities between men and women especially in politics have never been starker.
Nigeria is recorded to be one of the countries with the lowest number of female lawmakers/politicians in Sub-Saharan Africa and ranks 180th in the world, according to the International Parliamentary Union.
Since the Fourth Republic, all the presidents and vice presidents have been men. There have been female aspirants who contest for such offices in general elections but they lost to the eventual male winners.
In the same vein, no woman has ever been elected governor. The deputy governorship is the highest executive level position women have been elected into since 1999; although a former Anambra deputy governor, Virginia Etiaba, served as governor of the state for three months when the then governor, Peter Obi, was controversially impeached and removed from office. She returned back to deputy governor when the appeal court reversed Mr Obi’s impeachment.
As of today, there are only four states with female deputy governors – Enugu, Kaduna, Ogun and Rivers – while no state is governed by a woman.
In the Senate, women occupy only eight of the 109 seats and only 11 of the 360 seats in the House of Representatives.
Provisions of the Gender Equality Bill
Purpose of the bill
The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to:
*Chapters II and IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the lnternational Covenants on Human Rights, which affirm the principle of non-discrimination and proclaims that all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that everyone is entitled to all the rights set out without distinction of any kind, including distinction based on sex.
*Certain provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the protocol of the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa.
*No person, organ or agency of government, public and private institution, commercial or corporate body shall either through words spoken, acts, inactions, omissions, laws, regulations, administrative procedures, policies, guidelines, rules, customs or practices discriminate against any person on the ground of gender, age or disability;
*Any law, regulation, custom or practice, which constitutes discrimination, shall be null and void and of no effect and shall not be enforceable against any person and no rule or directive of an organ or agency of government, public or private insurance, corporate, social or communal entity which is a violation of the Provisions of this bill shall be enforced against any person.”
Promotion of Equality, full development and advancement of the persons
*The bill mandates every organ or agency of government, public and private institution or commercial or corporate body in Nigeria to take all appropriate measures, including regulatory policy, fiscal and administrative measures, to ensure the full development and advancement of all persons, especially young women and girl children.
This, it says, is for the purpose of guaranteeing to them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of non-discrimination and equality of all persons.
Women, children, and other persons are to be accorded equality before the law – to conclude contracts, administer property, in all stages of proceedings in courts and tribunals etc.
35 per cent affirmative action for women in offices, appointments, etc.
The bill directs all organs of government, public or private institutions and corporate bodies to ensure: in the case of political and public sphere, that a minimum of 35 per cent of all offices, positions, or appointments is reserved for women.
In the case of employment, credit or other economic sphere in the public or private sector, a minimum of 35 per cent of all offices, facilities, positions or appointments should be reserved for women.
In the case of educational placement and school enrollment, including award of scholarships, bursaries, or such allocations, that parity is ensured for boys and girls, men and women.
In the case of primary school enrollment, mechanisms should be put in place to ensure parity in enrollment and retention of boys and girls.
Elimination of stereotypes, changes to socio-cultural practices
The bill seeks to eliminate gender stereotyping, prejudices and customary practices based on the idea of inferiority or superiority of either sexes, or the roles for men and women.
Educational institutions, private and public will ensure the adoption of appropriate teaching methods and curriculum including facilities to emphasize the promotion of equality of all sexes.
Families are charged with the responsibility of ensuring values, practices of upbringing of children are not discriminatory.
A widow must not be subjected to inhuman treatment while she is entitled to the custody of her children after the death of her husband, unless this is contrary to the welfare and interests of the children.
She also has the freedom, right and choice to remarry, have fair share in the inheritance of her husband’s property and continue to live in the matrimonial house.
It further states that women and men shall have the right to inherit in equitable shares, their parent’s properties.
Elimination of discrimination in political and public life
The bill mandates all organs of government, public or private institutions and corporate bodies to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country such that both men and women have the right to participate in all political activities.
Both genders shall be allowed to participate in formulation and implementation of government policy and represent any organ of government, public or private institutions, corporate bodies and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Elimination of discrimination in employment
The bill instructs all organs of government, public or private institutions and corporate bodies to take appropriate measures to grant equal remuneration of persons of equal skill, competence, expertise and knowledge including benefits while there is equal treatment in respect of work or equal value.
It wants the provision of social security for all gender, particularly in cases of unemployment, sickness, physical challenges, old age and others that cause an incapacity to work.
It gives women in employment the right to maternity leave or any such leave concession relating to her maternity needs with pay or comparable social benefits.
Elimination of discrimination on grounds of marital status
The bill proposes that all organs of government, public or private institutions and corporate bodies should take appropriate measures to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage, marital status or maternity, establishment and development of child care facilities in the work premises.
Elimination of discrimination in Health
Every organ of government, public or private institutions and corporate bodies should ensure all women who are pregnant, within two years of delivery and all children under the age of 12 are given free and quality health care services, including provision of all necessary medical, surgical, diagnostic and pharmaceutical supplies.
Offences, Penalties and Compensations
Any person, organ of government, public or private institutions and corporate bodies that fail to neglect the duties imposed in the bill commits an offence and shall be liable in conviction to such term of imprisonment not less than one year, or such fine not less than N500,000 or both.
Any person whose rights have been violated shall be entitled to fair and adequate compensation as may be deemed by the court.
Details of the bill are yet to be deliberated and efforts to speak with the sponsor of the bill, Ms Olujimi, with regards to the delay, were unsuccessful. During the second reading, lawmakers will speak either for or against the bill before it is referred to the relevant committee for public hearing and further legislative work.
With many, including men, calling for equal rights in all spheres, it is hoped that the bill will be passed by lawmakers and possibly assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari.
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