Nigerian lawmakers on Tuesday (Mar.15), voted against a gender and equal opportunities bill (pdf). The bill, which did not pass a second reading, was aimed at bridging the gap between the rights of men and women in Nigeria. It also sought to end questionable and unpleasant stereotypical practices that drive discrimination based on gender.
While the bill garnered support from some lawmakers, male and female, it ultimately failed to progress on the senate floor as a majority voted against it. Before voting, various senators who opposed the bill, spoke about the incompatibility of the bill with religious laws and beliefs.
Predictably, the rejection of the bill has resulted in uproar on social media with Nigerians expressing shock and disbelief that the bill, widely regarded as necessary and forward-thinking, was turned down especially among a group of lawmakers believed to be the best collection in years.
As a whole, the bill focuses on eliminating discrimination based on gender in the fields of politics, education and employment. It also prohibits violence—domestic and sexual—against women.
It stated: “in the case of educational placement and school enrollment, including award of scholarships, bursaries, or such allocations, that parity is ensured for boys and girls, men and women”. This is important in a country where girls and women continue to be excluded from education (pdf) based on their gender.
It also hoped to achieve “the elimination of gender stereotyping, prejudices, and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes, or the roles for men and women.”
In today’s Nigeria, despite the increased literacy rates which have accompanied urbanization and economic growth, gender equality remains an ideal that is sought after more than it is an everyday reality. For example, job advertisements for seemingly gender-neutral roles often specify that male candidates are preferred. Feminism is a raging topic that elicits more conflict than compromise and, perhaps worst of all, sexual violence and rape levels remain shockingly high.
While there is a growing generation of young people who are hoping to change the status quo with conversations that highlight inequality such as the #BeingFemaleInNigeria hashtag on Twitter last year, a mass populace who rationalize rights along the lines of religion and cultural belief remain the majority.
Seeking to modify and ultimately end odious socio-cultural practices that have been long in existence, such as the antagonistic treatment of widows, the bill states that widows “shall not be subjected to inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment” and “shall have the right to an equitable share in the inheritance of the property of her husband.”
The bill also hoped to ensure more participation of women in politics, a space historically dominated by men. Of Nigeria’s 109 senators, only seven are women even though the country’s population is fairly evenly split along gender lines. A section of the bill sought to “ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right to participate fully in all political activities, including the right to vote and be voted for in all elections and public referenda, and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected offices and bodies without any restriction,
limitation or barriers whatsoever.”
Crucially, the bill was also firm on prohibition of domestic and sexual violence against women and instituting 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage. This is in a bid to tackle a notorious prominence of child brides in Nigeria where, according to UNICEF, 43% of girls are said to be married off before they turn 18. To implement its provisions, a Gender and Equal Opportunities Commission was to be created.
It is not the first time Nigeria’s current lawmakers have made the news for the wrong reasons. Last December, they sought to pass a bill believed to be aimed at gagging social media. Under the terms of the bill, offenders could face jail time and fines as high as $20,000.