2023: Engaging men for gender-sensitive constitutional reform




The advocacy for a gender-sensitive constitution is at its peak with the ongoing amendment of the 1999 constitution, even as activists continue to engage male allies to influence gender-sensitive constitution alterations. ENE OSHABA writes.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) is considered in many quarters as unfavourable to women as it suggest a male dominated tone.

This has been amplified by gender experts and women advocates especially as the processes of amending the constitution continues.

For Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD,) Idayat Hassan, many Nigerians consider the 1999 Constitution to be military-driven hence the reference to ‘We the people’ in the constitution does not truly represent Nigerians. As a result of this various actors are advocating for change.

Other than the first, second and third alterations to the 1999 constitution enacted during the sixth Assembly (2007-2011), significant amendments have not been made.

However, as advocacy heightens the role of men in achieving a gender-sensitive constitution cannot be over-emphasised as women lobby political allies and legislators to bring this to reality.

The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, during the Nigerian Men Conference on Gender Sensitive Constitution Reform, organised by the ministry in conjunction with National Democratic Institute (NDI), harped on the imperative of support from men folks to achieve an inclusive constitution that would enable better opportunities at leadership and governance for women across the country.

She noted that amendment of the constitutions of countries around the world was often a cumbersome process, however, pointing out that Nigeria’s case was more cumbersome owing to the fact that proposed amendments to the Constitution of Nigeria can only become law when passed by two-thirds majority of the Senate and the Houses of Assembly with a simple majority in at least 24 out of the country’s 36 states as well as the assent of the President.

According to her, increasing the participation of women in elected office in Nigeria was an imperative.

She decried the fact that only eight women out of the 109 legislators were presently in the Senate; while only 13 out of 360 legislators in House of Representatives are women.

Men’s role

In order to foster gender-sensitive constitutional alteration bills, Tallen has made case for the imperative of support from the men folks, stressing that women alone cannot achieve this aim.

Speakers conference backs amendment

Affirming the ministers’ position, the Chairman, Conference of Speakers of States’ Legislatures of Nigeria, Rt. Hon. Abubakar Y. Suleiman, has assured that, “The Conference of Speakers of States’ Legislatures of Nigeria support to the noble cause of creating special seats for women in Federal and State Legislative Houses.

Suleiman added that the effective way to accomplish having more women in positions was through the alteration of the Constitution, just as he acknowledged the commitment of the National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives for initiating a Bill.

“If Bill for an Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to create Additional Special Seats for women in Federal and State Legislative Houses and for Related Matter is passed by the National Assembly and its resolution transmitted to the States Houses of Assembly; I want to assure you that the Conference of Speakers shall sensitize our colleagues at the state level on the importance of this Bill; and consequently I am confident that we shall record more than the required two-third ratification in favour of the proposed amendment,” he said.

… Senate president too

Similarly, the Senate President, Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, PhD in his goodwill message noted that the agitation for more women in politics is long standing but needs continuous consideration for women to achieve success and reap the benefits.

Represented at the conference by the Senator representing Plateau South Senatorial District, Dame Moro Ladi Daduut, the senate president called on men to urge legislators across the country to pass the Bill for the special seat for women to allow for proportionate representation and to galvanise development nationwide.

“The agitation for more women in politics is a Iong-standing one needing a continuous consideration for us to achieve success and reap its benefits,” he said.

Traditional rulers not left out

Also, the Emir of Keffi, Alhaji Dr. Shehu Usman Chindo Yamusa, noted the role of women in nation building, adding that Nigeria women have contributed to the growth of the country in various ways and can do more when given the opportunity.

He further expressed concerns on the continual denial of women from proportionately participating in politics and decision making, stressing that it is counter-productive, to national growth and development.

He therefore advised fellow royal fathers and the men to see the agitation for more women inclusiveness in politics as a responsibility of all, emphasising that all road blocks and marginalization of women in democratic activities be stopped.

“I want to advise my fellow brothers to see this conference as our responsibility to support the electoral or gender sensitive reform as to help women grow politically and remove the roadblocks and marginalisation of women in all democratic activities.

“Refusal to give women their electoral recognition is tampering with their rights. I quote from the civilized adage “’denial of women in the electoral processes is a total rape on our’ nascent democracy and it’s quite worrisome that political parties don’t give special preference nor reserve elected and non elected positions to the women,” he noted.

Challenges

Notwithstanding commitment at the federal level on how to increase women the minister of women affairs has expressed worry on the poor representation of women at the state levels stating it was slowing the progress of gender-sensitive alteration being achieved.

She said, “The situation is more challenging in the States’ Houses of Assembly, where there are only 40 women among the 991 elected legislators.

“Women do not only constitute about 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population they contribute significantly to the country’s political and socio-economic development, when given the opportunity.”

Tallen recalled President Muhammadu Buhari’s perspective during his meeting with the Supporting of Advancement of Gender Equality (SAGE) national and international working groups on March 19, 2021, stating: “Women are a credible force in strengthening our democracy and promoting the culture of peace and food security.

“I am most grateful for the role women have played and continue to play in our Government. Their contributions are valuable in sustaining our socio-economic fabric from the corridors of decision-making to our rural communities.

“This administration places a high premium on promoting their inclusiveness in National Development as we have demonstrated with those holding key portfolios in this administration,” she quoted Buhari as having said.

Expectations

For Tallen, Nigerian women take solace in the knowledge that many male allies lead institutions that are directly responsible for passing or influencing the gender-sensitive Constitution alterations that is currently being promoted, and therefore called them to action to bring the agitations to bear.

“I am making particular reference to President Muhammadu Buhari; Distinguished Senator Ahmed Lawan, the President of the Nigerian Senate; Rt. Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House of Representatives; His Excellency, Governor Kayode Fayemi, the Chair of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and Rt. Honourable Abubakar Suleiman, the Chairman, Conference of Speakers of States’ Legislatures in Nigeria.

“Nigerian women are counting on you as a way of extracting commitments from the male influencers,” she said.

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