More Knocks, Flaks Trail National Assembly’s Rejection of 5 Gender Bills

More Knocks, Flaks Trail National Assembly’s Rejection of 5 Gender Bills

Governor Obaseki Action “Painful and Unconscionable” Several women groups and organisations are up in arms against members of the National Assembly who voted to reject five gender related bills in the ongoing constitution amendment process. The rejected gender bills target prevalent gender imbalance across the legislative arm of governments across the country whilst addressing the

Governor Obaseki Action “Painful and Unconscionable”

Several women groups and organisations are up in arms against members of the National Assembly who voted to reject five gender related bills in the ongoing constitution amendment process.

The rejected gender bills target prevalent gender imbalance across the legislative arm of governments across the country whilst addressing the under-representation of women in political office.

On Wednesday, a coalition of 229 women groups jointly condemned the National Assembly for rejecting all gender bills during the voting on the amendments to the 1999 Constitution on Tuesday. The women groups have promised more protests and reprisal actions against those who voted against the bills.

The coalition in a statement said the National Assembly has spoken with their action that it does not want progress for the society – for mothers, aunties, sisters, wives, and for daughters and described their action as sad.

The rejected bills which sought to address discrimination against women such as denying Nigerian women indigeneity through marriage; denying 35 per cent appointed positions for women and settling for 20 percent; ‘denying women affirmative action in party administration and leadership; and denying specific seats for women in the National Assembly.

Some of the groups who issued statement are Action Aid Nigeria, African Women’s Initiative (AWI) and Amnesty International Nigeria, EiE Nigeria, UN Women and I Stand to End Rape (STER)

The coalition said the lawmakers have chosen to deny women basic human rights – rights enjoyed by every Nigerian except women by rejecting the bills promising a pay- back action for their behaviour.

“The men of the ninth assembly, by their actions, have taken us backwards. Their actions undermine the importance and relevance of women’s contribution to the governance of Nigeria including the key role women play to bring victory to political parties in elections at all levels across the country. They also voted against diaspora voting!,

“More women in governance will only bring progress, and respect for Nigeria in the committee of nations. We cannot, in 2022, be negotiating the rights of women and the sanctity of the dignity of girls.

“We call on the National Assembly to re-present these bills as a matter of urgency and ensure that they are passed,” the statement said.

The groups staged a protest to the National Assembly on Wednesday where they chanted several songs and put calls through to selected members of the National Assembly. In one of such calls to the Senate Minority Leader Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe the women asked him whether he voted to reject the gender bills or not and the Senator responded that he voted Yes to all the gender bills to the acclamation of the women who requested him to come and join their protest in solidarity.

One of the amendments, if passed, would have granted citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women; the Nigerian constitution already confers automatic citizenship on foreign-born wives of Nigerian men. Another would have given a woman the right to become indigenes of their husband’s state after five years of marriage.

There were also provisions to assign 35 percent of legislative seats to women, as well as reserve 35 percent of political party leadership, for women.

Women and girls make up nearly half the entire Nigeria’s population of 200 million people in Nigeria but are grossly underrepresented in the political landscape. Only 19 women out of the 469 legislators in the National Assembly, mere 4 percent, are currently serving in Nigeria’s Senate and the House of Representatives.

No woman has ever been elected governor or president and only a handful of cabinet appointments are given to women. On paper, the two major political parties pledge to affirmative action; promising women 35 percent positions across board but this is often obeyed in breach. Consequently, the Nigeria is ranked 180 out of 190 according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

The rejection of these bills is a major setback for women as sponsors and lobbyists of gender-related bills usually face an uphill task in the legislature due probably to religious sentiments. Last year, a similar bill seeking to promote gender equality in employment and property inheritance was discarded for the third time after male senators from the northern region complained that such bills were ‘’anti-Islam”.

For the women groups, they may need to return to the drawing board and restrategise fresh strategies to return gender bills to the front burners which may entail building fresh alliances and sponsorship of more women for legislative positions at the National Assembly level.

Meanwhile the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, said the National Assembly has missed a golden opportunity to redesign the country’s political landscape when it rejected five bills seeking to include women in politics and governance.

Governor Obaseki who described the action of the National Assembly as “painful and unconscionable” said the legislators’ action is most regrettably and unsettling.

“This is because the legislature is the bastion of democracy and a critical platform for fair representation and inclusion in government. It is therefore painful and unconscionable that these bills which provide a fillip for accommodating women who make up about 50 percent of the voting population, are subjected to such a sorry fate.

“It is heartbreaking that the national assembly members missed a golden opportunity to redesign Nigeria’s political landscape by enshrining landmark legislation that promotes inclusion and provides women with the legal backing to gain equitable representation at the apex level of lawmaking and political participation.”

Tuesday’s vote was the fifth attempt to review the 1999 constitution since its adoption. The latest review began in 2020 with the two chambers holding zonal public hearings culminating in the rejected bills. There a heavy presence of women and women groups at all the zonal hearings. And, even the wives of the President and the Vice President had to extend their lobbies to the National Assembly by being physically present while the debates and votes were being taken.

Ayo Aluko-Olokun
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