The Gender and Equal Opportunities’ Bill (GEOB) now before the National Assembly seeks to protect women and girls as well as invest in their rights and, also gives them access to attain the heights they are capable of. GEOB is seen by its promoters as a robust frame work that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender.
The bill will also provide a fair chance for the marginalised and vulnerable groups to succeed as well as correct perceived injustices where they manifest. It is targeted at making provisions for the adoption of temporary measures to terminate discrimination against women in politics and other areas such as land ownership among others.
When passed into law, GEOB will address issues such as: encouraging child spacing, treating fairly matters of inheritance by women, girl child education, widowhood rights, women in politics, maternal mortality among other issues. Opponents to the bill allege, wrongly, that the bill, when it becomes law, will encourage abortion or introduce other such provisions that are not in keeping with the nation’s cultural and religious norms. For the avoidance of doubt, the bill is not seeking a permanent 35 per cent affirmative action as, once passed, women will become well represented as a matter of right without recourse to percentages.
Promoted by the Senate, UNWomen and the Australian High Commission, the bill is expected to address misconceptions about women’s legitimate demands that border on their right to be treated fairly. This newspaper points out that in spite of the fact that Nigeria has offered women and girls legal claims to ask for freedom from violence, discrimination or abuse on the basis of gender, those ill-treatment against the female gender still persists.
Data from Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) disclose that in 2021, there were 2,584 domestic and sexual violence cases for adults, among which women made the largest number of victims with 2,349 cases. It also revealed that 143 cases were reported in January 2021 alone with women totaling 133 of the entire number of survivors.
According to media reports, analyzing international best practices as they relate to women’s representation in government and elective offices, the level in Nigeria is within the 0.1 – 4.9 per cent range. The report also points to the fact that girls account for 60 per cent of Nigeria’s over 10 million out-of-school children.
A report by the International Growth Centre (IGC), revealed that in 2020, Nigeria faced a gender-based violence crisis, with 30 per cent of women and girls aged 15-49 having experienced sexual abuse at one point or the other within the period under review. It further stated that Nigerian women were especially susceptible during the COVID-19 pandemic, as over 80 per cent of women in the labour force were employed in the informal sector ‘with little or no social protection and safety nets.’ The organisation noted that 18 million female learners have been affected by school closures. Early marriage is already widespread in Nigeria, with 44 per cent of girls married before the age of 18.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) predicts that an ‘additional 13 million child marriages will take place globally in the next 10 years that would have otherwise been prevented due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.’
Nigeria is reported as the third country with highest number of child brides in the world and is at risk of having numerous additional child marriages in future, if this issue is not addressed in a timely fashion.
It is unfortunate, in our considered opinion, that women’s rights remain more theoretical than practical, as the female gender continues to suffer extensive discrimination that violates the principle of equality of rights. The UNWomen Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms Comfort Lamptey, said that passage of the bill will provide an invaluable window of opportunity and provide legal framework to address gender inequalities in the country.
According to the UN, ‘Protecting women and girls, investing in their rights and providing opportunities for them to prosper, benefit not only their families, but also communities and the whole country.’
The GEOB draws its legitimacy from the International Bill of Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Nigeria, it must be made clear, is a signatory to all these laws, and so ought not to delay the passage of the bill.
As such, we, as a newspaper, believe that the interests of women should be protected in their entirety. We are convinced that now is the time to stand up and say no to chauvinism, end to violence against women and discrimination in general. Now is the time to support the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill.