OF GEN­DER AND THE LAW­MAK­ERS

GEN­DER EQUAL­ITY IS NOT JUST A HU­MAN RIGHTS IS­SUE, IT IS ES­SEN­TIAL FOR THE ACHIEVE­MENT OF SUS­TAIN­ABLE DEVEL­OP­MENT AND A PEACE­FUL, PROS­PER­OUS WORLD Women have the same in­trin­sic worth as men

THISDAY - - EDITORIAL -

Pro­ceed­ings were dis­rupted in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives last Thurs­day when fe­male mem­bers kicked against the out­come of vot­ing on “ci­ti­zen­ship and in­di­ge­ne­ship” for women in the course of the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment process. The pro­vi­sion sought to al­ter sec­tion 25 of the con­sti­tu­tion to give mar­ried women right to choose in­di­ge­ne­ship ei­ther by birth or mar­riage for the pur­pose of ap­point­ment or elec­tion into pub­lic of­fices. With no fewer than 240 votes needed for the amend­ment to pass, the mem­bers could only se­cure 208 votes. A day ear­lier, the Se­nate had voted down the same amend­ment as well as the pro­posed 35% af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion for ap­pointive po­si­tions.

At a pe­riod in history when women are play­ing in­creas­ing role in global af­fairs, it is un­for­tu­nate that the Na­tional Assem­bly would con­duct the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment process in Nige­ria the way it did. But it is also typ­i­cal. Dis­crim­i­nated against at ev­ery level in our coun­try, women and girls tra­di­tion­ally are de­nied equal treat­ment re­gard­ing ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, in­her­i­tance rights, hu­man re­sources devel­op­ment and sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth. At a time they are seek­ing equal treat­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion in is­sues that con­cern them and their fam­i­lies, the law­mak­ers’ ac­tion did di­min­ish our women and girls as well as the larger so­ci­ety.

As we have al­ways ar­gued, to the ex­tent that women make up about 50 per cent of the Nige­rian pop­u­la­tion, it makes no sense to dis­crim­i­nate against half of our pop­u­la­tion from con­tribut­ing to na­tional pros­per­ity and well­be­ing for ar­chaic and op­pres­sive rea­sons. That per­haps ex­plains why last week in Amauzu Nk­poghoro vil­lage, Afikpo North Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area of Ebonyi State, a 70-year-old widow was re­port­edly pa­raded round the vil­lage and fined three goats after she was al­legedly ‘caught’ in bed with her 30-year-old lover.

It is all the more dis­heart­en­ing that in this cli­mate, the Na­tional Assem­bly has been found want­ing in its role to help achieve the goals of pro­mot­ing gen­der equal­ity on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. In Septem­ber last year, for in­stance, a wa­tered down ver­sion of the Gen­der and Equal­ity Bill passed a sec­ond read­ing in the Se­nate, and was re­ferred to the com­mit­tee on Ju­di­ciary, Hu­man Rights and Le­gal Mat­ters. The first bill put for­ward six months ear­lier, and which in­cluded equal rights for women in mar­riages, divorce, prop­erty own­er­ship and in­her­i­tance, was voted down. That bill was re­jected be­cause sen­a­tors said “en­act­ing a law to ac­cord women equal rights with men was un-African and anti-re­li­gious”.

It is there­fore no sur­prise that there are only seven women among 109 Sen­a­tors and they are treated most of­ten with con­de­scen­sion by their male col­leagues. But then, the gen­eral no­tion in our coun­try that women are in­fe­rior to men was last year re­in­forced when Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, at a press con­fer­ence in Ger­many, said the role of his wife did not ex­tend be­yond the kitchen and “the other room”. It was an un­for­tu­nate gaffe, es­pe­cially given that women in Nige­ria have made their mark in the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic arena, which men dom­i­nate, and ex­celled.

Gen­der equal­ity is not just a hu­man rights is­sue, it is es­sen­tial for the achieve­ment of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment and a peace­ful, pros­per­ous world. There­fore, cir­cum­scrib­ing the ac­cess to op­por­tu­ni­ties that ul­ti­mately em­pow­ers women and girls is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Women are not the ob­jects of plea­sure of men or prop­er­ties to be used and dis­posed of. In­deed, women have the same in­trin­sic worth as men. There­fore any cus­tom that seeks to dis­crim­i­nate against them on the ba­sis of their mar­i­tal sta­tus can­not and should not stand. Un­for­tu­nately, the Na­tional Assem­bly has con­sis­tently failed to appreciate that fact.

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