The Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill suffered another setback at the Nigerian Senate on Wednesday, 15th December, 2021, after some senators raised concerns over possible infringement on Islamic morals.
The sponsor of the bill, Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South) was forced to step down the bill was sequel to a deliberation which lasted for over an hour.
This would be the third time the consideration and passage of the Gender Equality bill is frustrated.
The bill, which was first brought to the Senate during the 7th Assembly, had earlier been killed in both the 7th and 8th Senate (March 2016).
The bill seeks to guarantee the rights of women to equal opportunities in employment, equal rights to inheritance for both male and female children; equal rights for women in marriage and divorce, equal access to education, property/land ownership and inheritance.
It also seeks to protect the rights of widows; guarantee appropriate measures against gender discrimination in political and public life and prohibit violence against women.
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The bill was rejected by some male lawmakers who argued that the Nigerian Constitution was clear on rights of citizens, including women.
Ms Olujimi, however, reworked the bill and represented it to the Senate. And this time, it scaled second reading and was referred to the Senate committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters but no public hearing was held.
In November 2019, the bill was reintroduced.
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It was obvious that religion, ethnic affiliation and section 42 of the Constitution as amended, led to the split that reared its head at the Hallowed Chamber.
The proposed legislation, sponsored by Senator Biodun Olujimi, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Ekiti South, is titled “A bill for an Act to make provisions for the empowerment of women and gender equality and to establish a legislative framework for the empowerment of women”
The document was presented on Wednesday for second reading, but after much heated debate, the sponsor was forced to withdraw it after some senators who kicked against it, cited “socio-cultural and Islamic concerns.”
In her lead debate on the general principles of the bill, Senator Olujimi noted that the same bill she sponsored in the Eight Senate suffered same fate, but explained that the proposed legislation was targeted at ending discrimination against the female gender.
While leading debate on the bill, Senator Olujimi, who represents Ekiti South, said the legislation would help eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.
Olujimi said, among others: “This bill seeks to further strengthen section 42 of the constitution. It seeks to eliminate gender-based violence. This bill was read for the first time in 2019.
“It will allow the domestication of all forms of discrimination against women. It will provide for the equality of all persons. If enacted, it will prohibit all forms of discrimination against women and persons living with disabilities.
“This bill will provide a legal basis and foundation upon which there will be formal, structured and institutional responses to prevent discrimination and provide for the rights of men and women, the equality of all persons and opportunities availed to all citizens, including people living with disability in Nigeria.’’
However, sharp disagreement reared its head among senators soon after the sponsor rounded off presentation of the lead debate as four senators spoke against the bill.
In their arguments, senators who vehemently kicked against it, said the bill, if passed into law, would offend the sensibilities of a certain religion, and make it unimplementable in some parts of the country.
On the other hand, senators who supported the bill, believed it should go for second reading, so the inputs of the stakeholders could be accommodated.
Senator Yusuf Yusuf, All Progressives Congress, APC, Taraba Central, argued that the equality of the male and female gender “infringes on the Quran.’’
He said: “This equality infringes on the Quran. I will not support the passage of the bill until the word equal is removed. When you bring equality into it, it infringes on the Quran.”
Also kicking against the bill, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, APC, Sokoto North, said the equality was wrong when it came to Islamic and socio-cultural practices.
“When it comes to socio-cultural practices, it is wrong. When you talk of equity, it is okay; when you talk of equality, it is not. I will not support it.”
Senator Adamu Abdullahi, APC, Nasarawa West, urged the Senate to totally step it down, while Senators Oluremi Tinubu, APC, Lagos West and Bala Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi South, called for its withdrawal to give room for further consultations.
Supporting the bill, Senator Istifanus Gyang, PDP, Plateau North, said women were entitled to equal opportunities, and threw his support for the bill.
“Women have been at the receiving end of being excluded. Women are entitled to equal opportunities. Being a woman is not being less human,’’ he said.
Also speaking, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, said the bill should be allowed to go for second reading, pointing out that the concerns raised by Yusuf and Wamakko would be addressed at the public hearing.
Omo-Agege said: “With the feelers I’m getting from the chambers, it appears the consultation has not gone far enough. I want to plead that this bill should not be killed here but be allowed to go for public hearing, so if there is anything that Senator Olujimi missed, it will be addressed.”
Senators James Manager, PDP, Delta South and Ajibola Basiru, APC, Osun Central, said the bill should be allowed to scale second reading.
The development degenerated into a heated debate and the majority opinion, including that of the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, was that the sponsor should consult widely and re-present the bill after removing areas of serious concerns raised by the lawmakers.
Even when Olujimi amended the title from A bill for an Act to make provisions for the empowerment of women and gender equality and to establish a legislative framework for the empowerment of women” to Gender Equality Bill, the bill was still killed.
Olujimi noted that she actually consulted widely before she came up with the bill again in the Ninth Senate and expressed surprise at the turn of event.
Stella Oduah, Akon Eyankenyi and Istifanus Gyang also spoke in support of the bill and encouraged other lawmakers to do so.