Senator, NGOs seek support for Gender Equality Bill

Edwin Akwueh, Abuja

A coalition of women advocacy group and the Deputy Minority Whip of the Nigerian Senate, Senator Biodun Olujimi, have urged Nigerians to support the revised gender equality and opportunities (GEO) Bill which is scheduled for public hearing in the Nigerian Senate.

It would be recalled that upon first presentation, the bill was out rightly thrown out by federal lawmakers, majority of whom argued that the proposed law conflicts with the customs and traditions of the land.

However a revised bill presented later was approved for first and second reading and now referred to the committee on Judiciary to conduct a public hearing and submit its report to the Senate for consideration and possible passage.

Ahead of that public hearing, the women groups and some female lawmakers held a world press conference to drum up support for the Bill. The groups include, Africa women’s development Fund led by Mrs. Fayemi  Erelubisi, and the Affirmative Action Coalition for Women led by Dr. Abiola Akiyode.

The Affirmative Action Coalition for Women was formerly known as the National Coalition on Affirmative Action.

Addressing Journalists at the event, Senator Olujimi assured Nigerians that a date for the public hearing will soon be fixed at, adding that men should support the bill for the sake of their daughters and their sisters.

She stressed that contrary to beliefs by many Nigerian men, the Bill did not seek to equate women with men but only accord them equal opportunities.

According to her, part of the condition upon which Nigeria can attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was to eliminate all forms of gender discrimination which the bill will help to ensure.

The Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 by the UN  Member States is for the purpose of ending poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

Senator Olujimi also confirmed that the gender Bill also targets equal opportunity for men and not an attempt to reduce the powers of men in their family.

“As important as it is, without a legal framework to support gender equality, SDG 5 cannot be met.

“Contrary to the fears expressed by some citizens including legislators, the provisions of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill are not in conflict with Nigeria’s 1999 Constitutional provisions; rather they amplify the provisions of the Constitution, including section 42, which prohibits sex discrimination and section 21, which upholds the preservation of cultures that enhance human dignity and are consistent with Freedom, Equality and Justice.

“Accordingly, the Bill reinforces the complementary and not competitive relations between men and women to be achieved through equal opportunities, mutual respect and common benefits to both.

“The bill will not take away family headship from men. It enjoins shared roles and responsibilities for family life. Equality refers principally to equal opportunities to access, contribute and seek redress,” she said.

Culture and Religion

The Senator further stressed that the content of the bill was in no way in conflict with any cultural or religious beliefs neither does it contravene the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

She added that the High Court laws and Customary Court Laws of many states of the Federation empower the courts to uphold only the cultures and customs that are not repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.

“The bill will bring about development and advancement of all persons, male and female in the country and will go a long way in eliminating cultural practices like early or forced marriages, female genital mutilation, and disinheritance which are inimical to women and girl child development.