On the 15th of March 2016, a bill known as the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill failed to pass the second reading in the Nigerian National Assembly. This bill, which was seen as a step towards the fulfilment of SDG 5, was not supported on the basis of its contradiction to cultural and religious beliefs. A cursory look at the bill reveals many opportunities missed by the Nigerian lawmakers for women empowerment, poverty alleviation and significant contributions to sustainable development.
The Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill as presented by Senator Biodun Olujimi, Deputy Minority Whip of the National Assembly is intended to protect the rights of women and the girl child. The bill consists of about eighteen sections and advocates the creation of a commission in charge of its implementation and control.
Any word, action, inaction or practices that discriminate against anyone as a result of gender, age, disability, is rendered null. The bill also encourages development, advancement and equality of all persons regardless of gender, majorly directed at corporate bodies, communities and organs/agents of government.
Furthermore, it creates an opportunity for preference ‘gender character’ in the assignment of public offices, employment opportunities and educational placement in favour of women. It advocates up to a whooping thirty five percent reservation for women in all these areas. Does this not by any means contradict the first section that actions or inactions that against anyone on the basis of gender?
#GEOB calls for a modification of unacceptable cultural practices like maltreatment of widows and the inability of a woman to inherit her father’s or husband’s properties, which do not align with the achievement of the elimination of gender pigeonhole and bigotry. In that line, the bill also protects the right of a woman to reproduction under the best conditions possible, ensuring safety of the mother and child as much as possible. This would have been a big step towards breakthrough as it relates to African countries, if the bill had been passed.
Furthermore, discrimination – that is action or inaction, based on marriage, maternity/paternity or marital status – which solves the problem of feminism or ‘masculinise’, the right of ‘indigeneship’ and citizenship is very much reserved by women according the bill. This means that a woman has the right to define her identity and origin and shall have as much right as men to confer her citizenship on her children. Should this be, what happens to the tradition or norm of a woman and her children taking up her husband’s name and origin?
The bill enforces women’s rights before marriage, in marriage and at the dissolution of marriages. It also prohibits all forms of violence and trafficking against women and clearly states the punishment and fines for non-compliance. These clauses would probably have made significant differences in alleviating the pains of divorced women and curbed religious or cultural violence against women as we see in some parts of Nigeria.
The Gender and Equal Opportunities Commission, as documented in the #GEOB would have been saddled with the responsibility to supervise the implementation of these tenets, entrench social justice, file reports for disobedience and organize meetings and symposia for the entrenchment of the full rights of men and women. It further states the officiating of the commission and the constituents of its membership.
The Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill is a well thought out vision intended for the alleviation of the pains of the girl child in Nigeria.