Modified Gender Equality Bill Passes Second Reading in Senate

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Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Six months after a bill seeking to guarantee women equal rights with men was thrown out, a modified version of the bill finally scaled second reading on the floor of the Senate yesterday.

Whereas the first bill had provided that enabling women to have equal rights with men in marriages, divorce, property ownership and inheritance had become compelling in view of increasing discrimination against women in education and employment, the second bill only seeks to address discrimination against women and protect them from violence and sexual abuse.

While the first bill had provoked anger in senators who said enacting a law to accord women equal rights with men was un-African and anti-religious, the new bill expunged all such offensive provisions and thus paved the way for its second reading.

Leading debate on the new bill, its main sponsor, Senator ‘Biodun Olujinmi (Ekiti South), said the bill sought to give effect to provisions in chapters II and IV of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which dwell on fundamental objectives and directives of state policy and fundamental rights including the right to life, right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to fair hearing and right to freedom from discrimination.

According to her, Section 4 of the bill prohibits all forms of discrimination against any person on account of gender, age and disability through spoken words, acts, rules, customs and practices by any person or institution.

Disclosing that the bill also sought to promote equality, development and advancement of all persons in Nigeria, she added that individuals, institutions, authority and private enterprises in Nigeria should ensure full development and advancement of all persons notably  young girls and female children by guaranteeing them the exercise of fundamental rights and freedom on the basis of discrimination and equality of all citizens.

She added that the bill provided for measures eliminating discrimination against women in political and public sphere in terms of positions, appointments and a minimum of 35 per cent positions reserved for women with modifications for some socio-cultural practices which promote discrimination and gender-based inequality.

Submitting further that the bill eliminated discrimination against women in education, employment, profession and occupation, Olujinmi added that the bill prohibited all forms of violence against women “whether the violence takes place in private, family or public sphere including unwanted or forced sex, traditional, religious or cultural practices harmful to health, well-being and integrity of the woman.”

Contributing to the debate, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, advised the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters handling further legislation on the bill to examine it very closely with a view to ensuring that its provisions do not conflict with existing laws.
But the Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye disagreed with Ekweremadu that some of the stipulations in the bill had already been provided for in Nigeria’s extant laws including the 1999 Constitution (as amended), arguing that such conflict did not exist.

He also argued that of all forms of existing discriminations, the worst of them is gender discrimination. According to him, the idea of 35 per cent affirmative positions for women was brought about by cultural oppression towards women, observing that despite the existence of fundamental rights which guarantee measures of freedom and rights for women, the United States still proceeded to pass affirmative law for women.

Others who contributed to the bill were Senators Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central), Binta Masi Garba (Adamawa North) and Emannuel Bwacha (Taraba South).
The bill was referred to the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters with the mandate to report back to the Senate in four weeks.