The Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill has suffered another setback at the Senate.
The sponsor of the bill, Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South) was forced to step down the bill after some senators raised concerns over possible infringement on Islamic morals.
Her decision to suspend consideration of the bill was sequel to a deliberation which lasted for over an hour.
This would be the third time the consideration and passage of the Gender Equality bill is frustrated.
It was first introduced in the Eighth Senate in March 2016.
The bill 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.
It also seeks to 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.
Ms Olujimi, however, reworked the bill and represented it to the Senate. And this time, it scaled second reading and was referred to the Senate committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters but no public hearing was held.
In November 2019, the bill was reintroduced.
It started like every other debate.
Ms Olujimi took time to highlight some provisions of the bills. She said the legislation seeks to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.
“This bill seeks to further strengthen section 42 of the constitution. It seeks to eliminate gender-based violence. This bill was read for the first time in 2019,” she said.
“It will allow the for the domestication of all forms of discrimination against women. It will provide for the equality of all persons. If enacted, it will prohibit all forms of discrimination against women and persons living with disabilities.
“The bill, when enacted, will support agencies to recognise and respond to modification of socio-cultural practices towards ensuring the rights of widows and widowers are recognised and protected. It will encourage women to aspire and attain their full potentials considering the fact that there are real walls of discrimination against women. And address equal opportunities of career choices and job security.”
While Stella Oduah, Akon Eyankenyi and Istifanus Gyang spoke in support of the bill and encouraged other lawmakers to do so, Yusuf Yusuf and Aliyu Wamakko said otherwise.
Mr Yusuf opposed the bill saying its provisions is against the socio-cultural practice of Islam.
“From an Islamic perspective which is a socio-cultural practice of Muslims…this aspect of it…by equating opportunities for women and men actually infringes with the provisions of the Quran and also the Bible.
“I will not support the passage of this unless the word “equal” is removed.
“If we have it as “Gender Opportunities Bill”, fine. But when you bring equality into it, it infringes into the practice of the Islamic religion.”
Mr Wamakko re-echoed Mr Yusuf’s point.
“When it comes to socio-cultural practices, it is wrong. If they say “equity”, it is okay. But equality, no.
“It infringes on the Islamic religion and for that reason, I don’t support this bill.”
Mrs Olujimi offered to change the title of the bill to “Gender Equity Bill” to accommodate the concerns raised by the duo.
Afterwards, other senators including Ovie Omo-Agege and James Manager advised that the bill be read for the second time and issues raised will be addressed at the committee and public hearing states.
“From the feelers that I’m getting the chambers, it appears the consultation has not gone far enough. I want to plead that this bill should not be killed here but should be allowed to go for public hearing so if there is anything that Senator Olujimi missed, it will be addressed,” Mr Omo-Agege, the deputy senate president, said.
But Mr Yusuf opposed this suggestion. He said he was yet to see the complete bill and would not support it being read for the second time.
At this point, the Senate President, advised that the sponsor step down the bill and “consult further” with the senators who have raised concerns – a point which was supported by senators Remi Tinubu, Abdullahi Adamu and Bala Na’Allah.
Ms Olujimi thereafter agreed to step down the bill for further consultations.
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.
Similar groups have also called on lawmakers to ensure seamless passage of the bill.
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