Women have the same intrinsic worth as men
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.