Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, restored the hope of many Nigerians on the social advancement of women when he announced that the Gender Equality Bill which was thrown out by the Senate three weeks ago will soon be re-introduced. He gave the assurance to members of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) who paid him a courtesy visit in Abuja. He disclosed that the bill will be relisted as soon as possible and that all its contentious issues, such as violence, inheritance, participation in governance, education and entrepreneurship, will be fully addressed. The UNDP team was led by its country representative, Fatimah Samora, who expressed satisfaction that the bill would soon be resuscitated.
We welcome the plan to re-introduce this bill. The cavalier manner it was jettisoned caused a great deal of concern among the womenfolk and many men who were alarmed that misogynists and social reactionaries might have taken control of the levers of power in the National Assembly. With Dr. Saraki’s reassurances, we feel relieved that that is not the case.
The Gender Equality Bill will be no more than a formal codification of the globally accepted reality that women’s rights are human rights. It will be a reaffirmation of long entrenched human equality rights enunciated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights protocol and further enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution under Sections 38 and 42, which expressly forbid all kinds of discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of gender.
Nigerian women constitute approximately half of the Nigerian population and what happens to them, and the issues that affect their lives and wellbeing, will determine their contributions to the society. We cannot change our cultural history as a patriarchal society. But, our future must not be enslaved by the past, especially when cultural holdovers are manifestly unfair and deleterious to societal success. There is the need to change those cultural ethos that undermine or limit women’s aspirations and development
We urge the National Assembly to expedite the introduction of the Gender Equality Bill and devote adequate attention to it. We draw the attention of the legislators to such issues as inheritance of assets; the treatment of women in widowhood; female genital mutilation; forced marriages; child marriages; girls trafficking and sexual exploitation; and the property rights of Nigerian women. In all these issues, we must adopt a universal approach in order to get the best out of our womenfolk.
The importance of girl-child education should not be a subject of a debate in Nigeria. The world has long accepted that when you educate a girl you unleash an unstoppable force. We urge the legislators to wake up the enormous but latent potentialities of Nigerian women by expediting this bill. Archaic attitudes to girls and women do persist and must be exposed for what they are. They militate against human development. The advanced and industrialized world has proven that what a man can do, a woman can do also, and, sometimes, even better.
We have had occasions to say on this page that the state of human progress in any nation is always a reflection of how well women are treated; and the level of responsibility entrusted to women is always a reflection of the level of development of any society. We all see how gender equality is incorporated in the culture of Europe, the United States, Japan and other advanced nations.
Women are endowed with special talents and gifts. Their staying power on jobs requiring endurance and patience, as well as their more peaceful approach to every activity have been recognised in Scandinavian countries where top corporate positions are now split 50-50 for men and women. And, there is overwhelming data to demonstrate that such organisations do much better than others in terms of profitability and other indices of success in the corporate world.
The developed countries cannot be wrong on the importance of empowering women and helping them to realise their full potentials. The National Assembly should pass the Gender Equality Bill so that it can become a law which will unleash the potentials of Nigerian women.