Women seek passage of gender bills ahead of 10th Assembly
In March 2022, Nigerian women marched to the National Assembly to protest the non-passage of the five amended gender bills presented to the house aimed at achieving equality and inclusion for women. Over one year after and the 9th Assembly made no case to these targeted at addressing issues affecting women through the constitution using the window provided by the amendment to promote women’s rights in relation to indigeneship and citizenship, as well as political participation and inclusion.
However, ahead of May 29th inauguration for a new government, women have reinforced the need for the pending bills to be made top priority in the soon-to-be sworn-in 10th Assembly.
The five gender bills include Bill on Citizenship which seeks to amend Section 26 to grant citizenship to foreign husbands of Nigerian women as is currently guaranteed in section 26(2)(a) for foreign wives of Nigerian men; The indigeneship Bill, which among other issues, addresses Section 31 and 318(1) to allow women to claim their husbands’ state of origin after at least five years of marriage and the Affirmative Action Bill which seeks to specifically amend Section 223 to ensure women occupy at least 35 per cent in political party administration and appointive positions.
Others are the Bill on Ministerial or Commissioner Nomination, which among others seeks to amend Sections 147 and 192 so that at least 35 per cent of the nominees are women; and Reserved Seat Bill, is to among others, amend Sections 48, 49 and 91 to create additional 37, 74, and 108 seats for women at the Senate, House of Representatives, and the State Assemblies, respectively.
Women activists however reacted to the thrown out bills. According to the Executive Director at BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, Bunmi Dipo-Salami, it’s disheartening that we still have to be talking about this in 2023, “but that’s what development is all about. We keep pushing to make sure that we get what we really need; not just for women, but for the nation as a whole.”
Dipo-Salami noted that as we go into the 10th assembly, I think we need to grow allies, to amplify the voices of more women as well as those of our allies. Because, there are so many men that are also rooting for gender equality, but we rarely see them when the women are strategising. So we need to do things a little bit differently.
“Now, we have an incoming President that is known for his stance on inclusion, he is known for his stance on improving the wellbeing of everyone, and ensuring that laws and policies work for all. So I think this is a big opportunity that we need to focus on trying to get as many people on board as possible.
“It is not a women-only struggle, because that is what it is made to look like now. But there are so many other men, groups and individuals that really want Nigeria to be different. Like we know, gender equality is smart and economics like they say. So if women are included, we see evidence of places where we have gender equality, where women are strategically positioned in the country, where women are leading, and we see the prosperity of those nations.
“I think it is in the best interest of Nigeria to be inclusive, and not just to satisfy some women’s requests. I also believe that it is very critical to have women and men at the community level also talking about it, also asking their representatives and demanding accountability when it comes to gender equality and inclusion of women. So it is not about bringing women around when there is a protest. It is about everyone taking ownership and responsibility, and speaking even when the women in the cities are not speaking. I think that is also a strategy that we should adopt.”
Executive Director at Women’s Rights and Health project (WRAHP), Bose Ironsi said that the moment we all realise that gender equality and equity are central to the achievement of sustainable development, peace and growth in a country, and then I believe immediate action would be taken in the adoption of the bills. The pending gender bills in Nigeria reflect a society grappling with socio-cultural norms, patriarchy and religious beliefs which has eaten deep into the society.
“The government needs to pay attention to these bills as they hold the potential to redefine gender roles, confront existing patriarchy structure and pave the way for a more equitable and sustainable society with development and growth evident in all sector.”
While several steps have been taken by women to ensure the bill is passed, it has not really achieved its aim. Hence Ironsi stressed that using the National Gender Policy, Integrating and mainstreaming gender into various institutions is a key tool that can enhance the passage of the bill. “Mainstreaming of gender does not necessarily mean integrating gender into only institutions that deal with gender-based issues but also into every other institution such as the finance sector, petroleum sector, agricultural sector etc. Strengthening institutional mechanisms can create an enabling environment for the implementation of gender-responsive legislation.”
Ironsi further noted that one of the most important tools that cannot be overlooked is an amplified, unified voice. “Nigerian Women should create more platforms to amplify their voices for advocating for the passing of the bill. This should be done alongside engagement with local communities, Civil Society Organizations, and other prominent people that can help raise awareness and support. The Men should also be included as there are strong He for She advocates who are standing and fighting alongside the Women.
“Meaningful and Effective engagement with Lawmakers is crucial for the passage of the bills. The ability to engage, lobby and liaise with the lawmakers using Concrete data and research as evidence-based and sharing of personal stories. This engagement can be done in the form of meetings, Seminars, webinars, public hearings and the use of the media.”
Executive Director, Heirs Women Foundation, Añuli Aniebo Ola-Olaniyi stressed that even though the 10th Assembly constitutes a tussle on who takes on the leader of Senate, the strategy for the Gender Bills is not clear. “At the moment, the representation of women has hit an all time low, negotiations for leadership positions are still excluding women and the federal government has yet to uphold the court’s ruling on 35 per cent affirmative action law suit and FG challenged it. The feeling is like Nigeria does not want to partner with capable women to launch this country forward.
She noted that women have done, been doing and still doing and you can tell by their participation in the just concluded elections. “Why do women have to keep justifying the need for recognition and approval from those who ought to know their value to Nation Building? The question should be to the lawmakers in my opinion, when will the lawmakers be truly concerned about Nigeria and her women?
“When will the heads of leadership think differently and incorporate the capacity of women to move the country forward? The gap is not in women, those who are in decisions making roles should rethink and re-strategise on understanding the benefits of Gender Bills and release Nigeria from colonised mentality. The narrative should shift from women doing more to the NASS coming up to speed globalised conversations and make internal adjustments because they can if they truly want to.”
While Founder, She Forum Africa, Inimfon Etuk, noted that it is most unfortunate that the five Gender Bills presented as part of the Constitution Review process suffered rejection at the 9th National Assembly with overwhelming down-votes, causing Nigerian women to ‘Occupy NASS’ in March 2022 and raising fresh concerns about the road to achieving gender equality in Nigeria.
“With seven years to the United Nations’ Agenda2030 target for achieving the SDGs, the rejection of the bills by the 9th Assembly brought to glaring light the fact that there is still a wide gap in understanding the economic imperative for women’s empowerment in a country the size of Nigeria.
“If we are going to push for progress as the 10th Assembly gets into office, we have to push as one. Energy needs to be renewed on all sides. Women have to review our engagement and consultation strategies. The leadership also has to take a definite stand on working to ensure the Nigerian Constitution is more inclusive, non-discriminatory and reaffirms the principle of equality of all persons. Nigerian women need a Nigeria that works for all women and girls. It will be our expectation from the 10th Assembly to restructure women into the structure, if true and integrated development is the ultimate goal”, she added.