Implications of Rejecting Gender Equality Bills

Ugo Aliogo examines the implications of the gender bills which was rejected by the National Assembly, even though the House of Representatives has rescinded its decision on three gender-related bills

The recent rejection of five gender equality bills that sought to alter the Constitution by the National Assembly has once again brought to the fore the need to consistently challenge the oppression that our patriarchal society imposes on women as well as the urgent need to revamp and purge democratic system of obscure bias. The bills which had been pending before the national assembly, sought affirmative actions for women in governance and political representation including 35 per cent appointed positions for women and 20 per cent affirmative action in party administration.

The decision of the National Assembly to reject the gender equality bills engendered severe criticism, backlash and even protest from women groups and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) groups. The Deputy Minority Whip of the House, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, who is the only female member of the body of principal officers of the house and also sponsored some of the rejected bills, was reported to have been extremely disappointed with the non-passage of the bills.

The Proposed Bills

The rejected proposed bills, which seek to alter the Constitution include bills 35, 36, 37, 38 and 68. The aims of the bills were to provide: Special seats for women at national assembly; Affirmative action for women in political party administration; To grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of a Nigerian woman. Already, a Nigerian man’s foreign-born wife is automatically a Nigerian citizen. Another bill also sought to allocate 35 per cent of political positions based on appointment to women and creation of additional 111 seats in National Assembly as well as at the state constituent assemblies. The bill also seeks the inclusion of at least 10 per cent affirmative action in favour of women in ministerial appointments.

Bill Rejection And Implications 

Consequent upon the rejection of these Bills, the 9th National Assembly has been strongly berated for deliberately missing an opportunity to etch their tenure in gold and for insisting on a pathway that can only take the country backwards. 

It is also evident that the National Assembly did not consider the salient provisions of section 42 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), Articles 2, 3 and 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in arriving at their disappointing decision to kill the bills on the floor of the house.

Reacting to the rejection of the bills, Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, expressed displeasure, stating that it is heartbreaking that the National Assembly members missed a golden opportunity to redesign Nigeria’s political landscape by enshrining landmark legislation that promotes inclusion. 

He also noted that the bill would provide women with the legal backing to gain equitable representation at the apex level of lawmaking and political participation.

He said the rejection was not the appropriate in the right direction for the NASS because the legislature is the bastion of democracy and a critical platform for fair representation and inclusion in government. 

He added that it is painful and unconscionable that these bills which provide a fillip for accommodating women who make up more than 50 per cent of the voting population, are subjected to such sorry fate.

He said: “In Edo State, we have a healthy mix of women in our cabinet, as they occupy more than 30 per cent of positions of commissioners and Special Advisers in government.

“Edo people hope that their own representatives at the National Assembly did not vote along the lines of disenfranchising their women population because to do so will mean that they do not care about those who sent them to represent them at the Assembly. Our administration has continued to provide women with the opportunity to take up important roles in governance.”

CDD Report

The Centre for Development of Democracy (CDD) report noted that women’s political representation had steadily declined in recent electoral cycles. About 45 per cent fewer women took office across all levels in 2019 than they did in 2011, marking women’s poorest electoral outing since 2003. In 2019, women won less than 5 per cent of all contested seats and were restricted to only 17 per cent of all ministerial appointment.

The report also noted that another partial reason relates to the nature of the party platforms which are most likely to enable women contestant to get on the ballot.

According to the report, “Our studies found that the vast majority of women candidates ran for office under the banner of “third” parties — that is, parties other than the two largest political parties, the All-Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Indeed, of the 232 female candidates that stood for senatorial contests across Nigeria, only 17 were candidates of the APC or the PDP. Other national electoral races had even higher proportions of third-party women candidates: nearly 94% of women candidates for the House of Representatives were from third par ties, while, of the six women contestants for presidential office, no contender belonged to the APC or the PDP.”

The report further said: “On one hand, the proliferation of parties other than APC and PDP where there were 89 alternative parties in the 2019 election has provided more opportunities for women to emerge as electoral candidates. Qualitative interviews with women political candidates also pointed to the fact that smaller parties can provide a more flexible space for newly emerging female candidates to build electoral experience and a grassroots base outside of the traditional, more competitive party platforms.

“The higher proportion of female candidates in smaller parties has in fact deepened women’s electoral marginalisation, since the vast majority of these parties either failed to attain any elective seats or ultimately suspended their candidacies and backed one of the two dominant parties. Although 91 political parties participated in the 2019 general elections, most women who emerged winner in their races contested under the platforms of the two main parties and a good number of women who contested under the two ruling parties were ultimately successful.

“Strikingly, our study reveals that Nigerians are either uninformed or in denial about the gender disparities in Nigeria’s recent electoral races. Despite evidence of structural impediments faced by women candidates seeking office in Nigeria, 58% of our respondents felt that women candidates faired ‘better than OK” in the 2015 general elections.”

Experts Views 

In her remarks, the Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, Ene Obi, said in line with this year’s theme: ‘Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’, we had looked forward to really celebrating International Women’s Day 2022.

She hinted that it was hoped that the year’s celebration of International Women’s Day would mark a turnaround for Nigerian women in politics, and a historic win in the struggle for women inclusion in decision making spaces, as the 2023 general elections draw closer. 

Obi expressed displeasure that the decision of the 9th National Assembly has threatened the achievement of adequate women representation in governance, as they have outrightly demonstrated by their votes, that they do not want women inclusion in decision making. 

According to her, “If, in 2022, we still have to argue for or against the pivotal role of women in governance, it means our leaders are deliberately resistant to change and still have a lot of learning to do. We therefore, urge the leadership of the National Assembly of Nigeria to have the Gender Bills re-presented and re-considered. This is the only way to address the current gender imbalance across the legislative arms of governments and across the country.”

Obi further said: “Nigeria’s National Gender Policy states that gender equality and women’s empowerment are basic human rights that lie at the heart of equitable development and the country is a signatory to international and regional frameworks such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights with the Optional Protocol on Women’s Rights. Thus, Nigeria needs to live up to her commitment to 35 per cent Affirmative Action on women inclusion across all arms of governance. Upholding this will also increase the country’s credibility in the international community. An inclusive governance is only possible when women sit at the decision-making tables, contribute to planning and national development to find solutions to the many problems plaguing the nation such as climate change and insecurity. No nation can progress with over 50 per cent  of its population excluded from contributing to its development. Failure to recognise this is simply planning to fail from the beginning.”

She added: “ActionAid Nigeria salute Nigerian women for the continued struggle. As women, we shall never be intimidated by any insensitive decision; this even makes women grow stronger in the fight for a just society. As we commemorate this day, let history have it that Nigerian woman refused to stay quiet in the face of oppression and rights denial. This, once again, provides an opportunity to demonstrate oneness of voice. We salute the courage of women’s groups who swung into action since the rejection of the Bills, and we call on those yet to join to add their voices. We encourage the women to work and walk in solidarity, to keep the flag of womanhood flying, we are strengthened by the knowledge that this struggle is for posterity.”

The Country Director, PLAN International, Mr. Charles Usie, who corroborated Obi’s views, stated that the organisation as a gender responsive and equal rights organisation, would  stand in solidary with the Nigerian women.

He called on the NASS to reconsider their stance and pass the gender equality bills to strengthen democracy and ensure the full participation of women and equitable representation in governance.

The country director said the action of the parliament has the potential to undermine the relevance of women’s contribution to governance in Nigeria including the key role women play to galvanise support and victory to political parties in elections.

He expressed regrets that the Nigerian lawmakers chose the month of March when women are being celebrated across the world in recognition of their achievements, leadership, courage, strength and resilience, to throw out legislative bills which were meant to raise their hope of equality.

According to him, “The essence of affirmative action in all civilised society is not an act of favouritism or conferment of undeserved privileges, but correcting unfair arrangement in public domain and enabling equal opportunities for all as well as giving everyone a fair chance. Passing this bill would have earned members of the current national assembly an enviable place in history.

“It is troubling that the representatives did not provide any reason for the rejection of the bill in spite of its significance for a significant part of the populace who have been denied opportunities to give as much as they would love to, to the country.”

Usie further said: “The Nigerian constitution guarantees all its citizens their fundamental human rights including freedom from discrimination as enshrined in chapter 4, section 42 of the 1999 constitution to participate in public life.  This is in line with various international instruments such as the Beijing Platform for Action; the Protocol to the African Union Charter for Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; the International Covenants on Civil, Political and Cultural Rights; and other relevant UN Conventions, which Nigeria have ratified.”

Related Articles