Why celebrating International Women’s Day is not enough
Today, Google changes their avatar to inspirational quotes from women as the world is immersed in confetti or protest posters. International Women’s Day, founded by the UN in 1975 in the past years due to the rise of feminism and social movements has become one of the most talked about events of the year.
Every country around the world makes a gesture, supportive in its recognition and Nigeria is no exception. On this day social media spaces are lit up public statements in support of women.
But is it enough?
International Women’s Day this year, similar to all the past years that has a theme. While last year’s was #PressforProgress, 2019’s theme is #BalanceforBetter: a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world. With this theme in mind, what do all the public statements of support connote in a country where laws encouraging gender balance have been rejected not only once, but twice?
The Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill was founded by the United Nations in the 1960s and has since been adopted by several countries. Acceptance and implementation of the bill is marked as a sign of development on UNICEF’s developmental index. Sadly, Nigeria isn’t listed amongst developed countries who have passed the bill.
Nigeria has been trying to pass the gender and equal opportunity bills for decades. The Commission on Women group, founded in the 1980’s, attempted to pass a similar bill to protect and promote the rights of women called the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). While this was signed by the military government it was not domesticated into national law.
More attempts were made to implement the laws but none succeeded until the African Union adopted the Protocol to the African charter on Human and People’s Rights which was ratified by the Nigerian government in 2004. The protocol provided laws that protected women against, rape, sexual assault and discrimination but none were enforced. Another attempt was made to trigger change in 2006 when the Federal Executive Council approved the National Gender Policy (NGP) that stated the aspiration of the Federal Government in line with the principles of its national and international commitments.
Despite it’s clear laws, the NGP does not have a legal backing, a situation which legal experts say limits it’s capacity and utility for judicial enforcement. No other laws to secure the safety of women from violence and discrimination were attempted until the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill was presented to the Senate in 2011, where it was laughed out of Senate and rejected again in 2016 due to “religious beliefs.”
The bill’s importance can’t be overstated. It marks a huge change for Nigeria in terms of societal shift but equally in terms of the country’s international influence. The passing of the bill symbolizes a distinct step forward into the global spotlight as Nigeria is one of three African countries that have passed the bill. But the most important step forward is in the lives of the thousands on women who will be affected.
The Gender and Equal Opportunity 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; protects the rights of widows; guarantee appropriate measures against gender discrimination in political and public life and ensure the prohibition of violence towards women.
It aims to reduce the various forms of discrimination Nigerian women face on a daily basis most notably rape and sexual assault that have been on the rise in recent years. But sexual violence isn’t the only life-threatening issue Nigerian women face. Child marriage forces young girls into marriage with men much older and stronger and who abuse them. Female genital mutilation perpetrated in many parts of the country leads to infections and complications which can endanger the future of young girls. The Gender and Equal Opportunity bill laws assures it will protect Nigerian women and girls from such violence, but what’s the guarantee it will be implemented?
The Gender and Equal opportunities bill will not be an anathema. Gender based crime is not guaranteed to come to an end, but it provides laws that protects the country’s more vulnerable citizens. And if those laws, like our current laws to prevent gender based violence, aren’t enforced, it, at least, starts a conversation that may someday lead to change.