The 8th of March is a day set aside to celebrate women globally for their roles in society – a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. These achievements and roles are enormous to human growth and development in every ramification.
It is a day to commemorate women’s contributions to society, to bring attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women and to call for radical change in the treatment of women globally.
International Women’s Day, generally known as IWD, was initially commemorated in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. However, it was in 1975 that the United Nations started celebrating the day and the year 2011 marked 100 years of IWD celebrations. This year’s celebration makes it the 111th year since its commemoration.
A statement by Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, on International Women’s Day talks on the gender equality which the Nigerian women clamoured for, through the Gender Bills rejected by the National Assembly.
“Let us make this International Women’s Day a moment to recall that we have the answers not just for SDG 5 but, through the advancement of gender equality, for all 17 Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030. I look forward to working with every one of you to that end,” Sima Bahous said.
The Rejection Of The Gender Bills In Nigeria
On the 2nd of March 2022, the National Assembly in Nigeria voted against bills seeking to amend the 1999 constitution and to give a wider platform for women in Nigeria’s polity.
Out of the 68 bills voted on on the 2nd of March, 49 were passed, including bills to move airports, prisons, railways from exclusive to the concurrent list, granting of financial autonomy for local governments, while all the five bills concerning women were rejected.
While women make up a larger percentage of Nigeria’s population, no woman has ever been elected as governor or president in the country to date. Only a few women, about 10% of all cabinet members, have been given political appointments in Nigeria’s democracy. In Nigeria’s federal legislative arm today, out of 469 lawmakers presently serving, only 19 are women.
The five bills rejected by the National Assembly deny women the ability to confer citizenship on foreigners through marriage, deny them 35 per cent of the appointed positions for women as cabinet members in government offices, affirmative action in party administration and leadership, special seats in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly.
However, most of the discussions on the rejected gender bills concentrate on the creation of special seats in Nigeria’s legislature. And the need for this question came, “What about the other four bills?” It is reprehensible that the NASS rejected all the five bills, considering the fact that most administrations in Nigeria currently have fewer female appointees as cabinet members.
On the exclusion of special seats, which many see as irrelevant, how many Nigerians vote for women when it is election time? Due to religious beliefs, many assume that women are not taking leadership positions and they should not have a say in the running of the country.
In the 2019 elections in Nigeria, a former Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan, known as Mama Taraba, contested for a governorship seat but lost. So it is not right to say that women are not contesting, rather, we should be asking if society supports women running for political positions.
Most women see the action of NASS as denial of women to basic human rights and as enforcement of gender inequality across the legislative arm of governments in the country while since 2008 to date, not less than 56 per cent of political officers in Rwanda are women who occupy political seats. In 2021, 61 per cent of Rwanda parliament members were women.
The Protest Against Gender Bills Approval
On the 3rd of March, after NASS rejected the gender bill, Civil Society Organisations staged a peaceful protest to express their displeasure over the action at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja.
The governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, who kicked against NASS and pledged support for women said: “It is only when Nigeria recognises you, then you can dance to celebrate International Women’s Day.”
Also, the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, sees the rejection of the bill as “a missed chance to redesign Nigeria’s political landscape.”
Obaseki, who disclosed that Edo currently has more than 30 per cent of positions of commissioners and Special Advisers in the government filled by women said: “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 and provides women with the legal backing to gain equitable representation at the apex level of lawmaking and political participation. This is because the legislature is the bastion of democracy and a critical platform for fair representation and inclusion in government.”
This is an indication that there are men in government who want the approval of the gender bills but two men speaking out is not enough.
No less than 50 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) staged a protest against the rejection of the bill last week. Some of these CSOs included Bring Back Our Girls, Amnesty International Nigeria, Action Aid Nigeria, Christian Women in Nigerian Politics, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ).
The Aftermath Of The Bills Rejected
The result of the gender bills rejected is that women are still unable to grant citizenship to their foreign-born husbands and do not have the right to become indigenes of their husband’s state, which means they will not be able to contest for any position in their husband’s state if they wish to.
If passed, however, it will confer citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women, give women the right to become indigenes of their husband’s state after five years of marriage, serve as a platform for women’s representation, advocate for gender equality as part of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 by having women in political-administrative positions as cabinet members, and also strengthen the participation of women at party level in the grassroots.
Since Nigeria pursues SDGs ahead of 2030, it is important it contributes to the development of women as part of the focus to achieving the pursuit.
However, another protest has been scheduled for March 8th, to protest against the rejection of the gender bills.
Happy International Women’s Day
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