Green Chambers’ Quest for Women Emancipation

Green Chambers’ Quest for Women Emancipation

Udora Orizu chronicles the noteworthy strides being made by the 10th House of Representatives towards improving women’s political representation and end gender based violence in the country.

The 10th House of Representatives, is rekindling hopes of Nigerian women following assurances of legislative reforms to improve women’s political representation, one of which is to revisit the five gender bills rejected during the alteration of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), in  March, 2022.

These assurances, without doubt, are worthy of note, as it shows the lawmakers commitment towards ensuring that women’s rights are protected.

The rejection of the gender Bills during amendment of the constitution by the lawmakers sparked outrage and protests by women and fundamental rights groups.

The bills sought to provide: special seats for women at national assembly; affirmative action for women in political party administration; grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of a Nigerian woman, 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 assemblies.

Since the return of democracy to the country in 1999, there has been growing concerns over low participation of women in both elective and appointive positions.

World over, women constitute over half of the population and contribute in vital ways to societal development generally.

But despite that, women are still being excluded, marginalised and underrepresented in political realms and other sectors of the society, due to some cultural stereotypes, patriarchal societal structures and so many other reasons.

Though the participation of women in Nigeria’s political sphere saw an increase under the administration of President Bola Tinubu, the fact that the 2023 general elections again, delivered low number for women in the National Assembly can’t be ignored.

The 10th Assembly have women occupying four out of 109 seats in the Senate and 16 out of 360 seats in the House of Representatives.

In the Ninth National Assembly, there were eight female Senators and 13 female members of the House of Representatives. With this current figures for the 10th National Assembly, Nigeria remains at the bottom of the list in the ranking for the number of women in African Parliaments.

House Promises Legislative Reforms

In its legislative agenda, the 10th House of Representatives under the leadership of  Hon Abbas Tajudeenrecognised that improving women’s political representation and participation in Nigeria is essential for achieving a more inclusive, balanced, and democratic society.

He therefore said the 10th House will take legislative actions to promote women’s political participation as follows: “Re-introduce and support the Bill on temporary special seats for women in the Constitution amendment efforts of the 10th National Assembly, legislate to increase women’s representation in elective positions by creating special women-only seats in the Senate and House of Representatives and encouraging State Houses of Assembly to do the same.

“Introduce electoral reforms to implement mandatory requirements for political parties to have a certain percentage of female candidates and in party leadership structure, promote funding or subsidies specifically for female candidates to reduce the financial barriers to entry. Strengthen the Electoral Act 2022 to penalise violence, intimidation and harassment against women in politics, prioritise financing for mainstreaming Gender Equality, including the National Gender Policy, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) and the Child Rights Act, with costed plans at the state level and gender-responsive planning and budgeting at the Federal and State levels, Pass the Gender Equal Opportunities Bill (GEOB) to ensure women are active and equal participants in Nigeria’s political and decision making processes.”

Walking the talk, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Benjamin Kalu stepped up push for greater representation of women in politics and other sectors of the society.

At various fora, the duo promised legislative actions that will break barriers that have been hindering women participation in leadership and ending Gender Based Violence (GBV).

In line with parliamentary tradition, the constitution review committee is headed by the Deputy Speaker, Kalu who chairs the committee for the 10th House has assured Nigerian women of the parliament’s readiness to ensure the rejected gender bills don’t suffer the same fate in the 10th Assembly.

Kalu stated this at the 40th anniversary celebration of NEWS Engineering Limited and launch of NEWS 40/40 Leadership Development Fellowship in Abuja.

He said, “As the chairman of the constitution review committee, I have a lot of work in my hand to make sure the repositioning of women folks in our country is achieved.

The president, the vice president, the chief of staff are products of the parliament, the secretary to the federal government is also the product of the parliament. So, they understand the role that legislative intervention plays with regards to this kind of intervention that is needed and what is that? That women should be given their place.

I am sure when we take the constitution amendment bill to Mr. President that will preach gender equality, that will preach gender inclusiveness, the president will not say no to it.”

Receiving female parliamentarians from Somali, on November 11, 2023, the Deputy Speaker called for better empowerment of women in politics, especially as members of parliament.

According to him, the visit by the female Somali parliamentarians had “inspired the hope that democracy has come to stay in Africa.”

Also speaking while playing host to a delegation from an advocacy group, known as Women Round-table for Development and Good Governance, the Deputy Speaker advised Nigerian women to extend the advocacy for inclusion in leadership positions to the grassroot level.

Kalu said it’s important for women, aside from the federal legislature, to also advocate to fill other leadership gaps such as councillorship positions in the local government and House of Assembly membership in the states.

Kalu who observed that the advocacy has been centred mainly around the federal legislature, said leadership should start from the grassroots to reflect the bottom to top approach.

Aside the push for legislative reforms to improve women political representation in the country, the lawmakers are also taking steps to end all forms of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) against girls and women.

On November 24, 2023, Kalu while delivering his remarks at an event marking the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence themed: “Funding and Oversight for VAPP Implementation”, called on legislators at all levels of government to intensify the crusade against gender-based violence.

He also called for the adoption and implementation of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act by some states that were yet to do so to urgently bridge the legislative gap on issues of gender violence.

Bemoaning the rise in violence against women, the Deputy Speaker stated that the lockdown measures in 2020 and the concomitant of economic challenges made it even more difficult for survivors, resulting in an estimated 3,600 cases nationwide.

Kalu said: “Parliamentarians have a crucial role to play in championing the cause of women and girls, advocating for comprehensive legislative frameworks that address the multifaceted challenges posed by gender-based violence. This summit aims to inspire parliamentarians to not only engage in insightful conversations but also to emerge as champions of change, driving legislative reforms that protect the rights and dignity of women and girls across the nation.

“As Parliamentarians, we have the unique role to legislate, allocate funds, and hold the executive branch accountable for the implementation of laws and policies that prevent and address gender-based violence. We must utilize this power to its fullest extent, ensuring that sufficient resources are allocated to support survivors, raise awareness, and provide the necessary training and capacity building for law enforcement agencies and judicial systems.”

Also speaking when he received a delegation from the Female Student Vanguard for Girl Child Education in Nigeria on October 6, the Deputy Speaker expressed concern over the rising number of uneducated girl-child and incidence of Sexual Gender-Based Violence against girls in Nigeria.

Observing that the issues if not tackled will have negative consequences on the child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being, Kalu noted that the President Bola Tinubu-led administration is committed to addressing these challenges.

“Talking about girl child education, it’s a fundamental right, an important tool for empowerment and development of any nation. In Nigeria, gender inequality in education remains a major concern, I appreciate you for taking up this advocacy to provide a solution, I’m proud of you people. Many don’t know what girls go through. Many comfortable girls or women don’t know what indigent girls go through in the rural areas. For you to set out to be their voices to make sure their basic needs are met, you’re champions in my eyes. It’s not only happening in the North, it’s happening in the South and every other parts of the country. It ought not to be so, we need to take steps towards reducing the percentage. Boko Haram abduction of school girls from Chibok in Borno State in 2014 sent shock waves around the world, we are yet to recover from the shock.

“There’s hope that the current administration will right the wrongs of past administrations in regards to the girl child. I am sure very soon the percentage will reduce from what it is now to a manageable percentage. There will be steps to show that considerately policies are in place even as we promise as a parliament to use the instrument of our legislative interventions. We shall join our voice with yours, we will join our resources with your resources to make it more accessible for girls around the country. Girls are the mothers of tomorrow and education is an essential part of their lives. We need the male and female gender for us to develop the nation. I pledge that for the four years I’m going to be here by the grace of God as the Deputy Speaker, I’m going to adopt Female Students Vanguard for girl Child education as one of my pet projects,” the Deputy Speaker said.

-Orizu is Media Aide to House Deputy Speaker

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