The 8th Senate, in July 2017, voted against a proposal in a bid to alter the constitution to provide 35 per cent affirmative action for women at the federal level and 20 per cent at the state level. This has been a struggle by so many women organisations in Nigeria.
49 of the 96 senators present during the electronic voting on the bill to further amend the 1999 Constitution, supported the proposal, making the proposal to fail as it came short of the 73 votes needed to succeed.
Two-thirds of the 109 Senators, which is 73 votes, were actually required to approve the affirmative action.
Despite the slight majority, however, the proposal still failed as it came short of the 73 votes needed to succeed.
This action did not go down well with a lot of women rights groups, associations, International Federation of Women Lawyers, female senators and most Nigerian women who aspire to serve the nation.
In a statement by its country vice president, Inima Aguma, shortly after the Senate threw out the bill, FIDA Nigeria called on civil society organisations across the country and stakeholders to speak against the development.
“FIDA Nigeria is greatly disappointed at the recent events in the National Assembly where the Senators voted against 35 per cent affirmative action for women in the governance space.
“At this stage in Nigeria, we are still taking one step forward and 10 steps backward to the detriment of women who constitute more than 50 per cent of the population and the sustainable development goals signed up by the Federal Republic of Nigeria, attainable only by adopting gender parity in all spheres of governance.
“FIDA Nigeria enjoins the civil society, media and all other stakeholders to join her in raising their voices against this increasing injustice, degradation against women in Nigeria,” the statement said.
Even though the women lost out, they did not give up as they were quick to insert a proposal on affirmative action in another bill, the Gender and Equal Opportunity (GEO) Bill. Pleading for understanding from their male colleagues, Senator Olujumi, one of the highest ranking women in the Senate said: “The Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill seeks to achieve equal opportunities for men, women, boys and girls in all spheres of life specifically in the fields of health, education, governance, employment as well as in the social and economic fields. Its focus is on the elimination of discrimination in these areas and on the grounds of gender, age or disability.
Some other women movement organisations have also accordingly, accused successive administrations of deceiving women and using them during campaigns with promises to address the inequalities created by history but forget about it until the next campaign.
The National Council for Women Societies (NCWS) during its 60th anniversary celebration through its national president, Mrs Gloria Shoda, further called for a right to affirmative action as an avenue to redress these inequalities.
She said, “There is a need to address the percentage of women in elective positions. Nigeria is yet to achieve 35 per cent ministers at federal level and 20 per cent of commissionership at state level.
“We constitute 50 per cent of the country’s population and want to be routinely included in the national deliberations on this and all related subjects at all levels from wards upwards.
“We want all forms of discrimination to be ended and treated with fairness, equity and justice”.
She said the Council wants a level playing ground for greater participation in representations in politics, decision making in public policy processes and political leadership.
Ms Maltilda Nwoke, public affairs analyst, speaking with LEADERSHIP Friday on the possibility of achieving the 35 per cent affirmative action said at the moment, it would not be an easy task since men dominate the National Assembly.
She said only six per cent of women are currently members of the national assembly while there are only five female ministers in the cabinet of the president, “this does not speak well for women in this democracy,” she said.
She also said government should take for granted, the roles in of women in politics and should consider us as their mothers, daughters and sisters since the world is giving voice to women now in the area of participation in politics.
Barrister Mayowa Olugoke opined that a country like Saudi Arabia, which is the custodian of Islam, has, at the moment, allowed women to participate fully in elective positions adding that the shura of Arabia has more women than the American Congress holding elective and appointive positions, Dubai and others.
She wondered why Nigeria is not following same path. “Maybe the male folks don’t want us to progress more than this level or better still, they still want our place to remain in the kitchen,” she noted.
She further said women like late Dora Akunyili, Oby Ezekwesili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Omobolanle Johnson have performed better than a lot of men in elective positions and urged government to give more women the opportunity to serve.
Olugoke said if successive governments keeping failing to keep their promises to women on the 35 affirmative actions, then they will be forced to vote for only female candidates in subsequent elections or agreement must be reached and signed during campaigns so as to have what to hold unto if women are neglected after elections.
Nigerian women at all levels sincerely desire that this bill be passed so they can contribute their quota to the nation’s developmental process. Will this dream of the average Nigerian woman ever come to pass? Will the male folk keep suppressing these moves as their votes would determine the passage since they are more in the decision making process. These are some of the questions begging for answers.
She said only six per cent of women are currently members of the national assembly while there are only five female ministers in the cabinet of the president, “this does not speak well for women in this democracy”x
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