‘There’s always hope hence women’re exploring different strategies’
The protest by Nigeria women groups and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) over rejection of Gender Bills by the National Assembly was recently suspended. In this report, ENE OSHOBA asks: What next?
On March 1, 2022, Nigerian women were welcomed into the historic month of global celebration of women with a rejection of five Gender Bills which had been awaiting passage at the National Assembly (NASS) and this did not augur well with most women.
This is against the background that women have been doing their best in exploring strategies to ensure that existing policies were more inclusive while demanding that their rights to equal opportunities were respected.
However, the reverse has been the case as it seems that the more efforts they put into achieving this, the more difficult it gets to convince the male dominated lawmakers.
The five Gender Bills, rejected by 95.9% men at the NASS, declined citizenship to the foreign-born husbands of a Nigerian woman while foreign-born wife of Nigerian men get automatic citizenship; denial of Nigerians in the Diaspora the right to vote; denial of women the ability to take indigeneship of their husband’s state after five years of being together; denial of 35 per cent appointed positions for women; denial of women 35 per cent affirmative action in party administration and leadership; as well as the rejection of specific seats for women in the National Assembly.
This National Assembly action led to massive protests by women groups across the country calling for the reversal of the decision.
Following the rejection of the Bill by NASS, over 500 women groups under the auspices of Womanifesto joined forces in protest on the theme:#NigeriaWomenOccupyNass against the male-dominated NASS members who declined their vested responsibility to recalibrate the brazen imbalance in the governance of the country.
The rejection, the women insisted reinforced the major barriers in the path to addressing age-long discrimination against women’s representation and participation in governance.
According to them, it also affirmed the reasons for the stunted development of the country, while assenting to a continuation of the cycle of discrimination, abuse, and cultural bias against every female, the women maintained.
A statement by the Womanifesto group noted that the denial of women’s human rights stifles women’s voices, alienates women’s vibrant economic participation, sets back social development and integration, deepens poverty and ignorance, whilst encouraging the endemic perpetuation of violence against women And girls.
“We state that this obliterates the sacrifices of heroines and heroes. We recall the African Affirmative Action, which our forbearers thrust on the world scene in 1929 when they organized the Aba Women’s Revolution. The historical relevance of their demands and results cannot be lost in the 20th Century.”
The statement noted how history was replete with the excellent examples of women imperative as vanguards of homes, and nation building, all of which cannot be eliminated or understated.
It added that gender inclusion had witnessed unprecedented results in international development especially in the political, economic and social spheres, with women as the drivers of innovative change, hence Nigerian women stressed that they cannot continue to be left behind in the scheme of global political reawakening.
“We state unequivocally that the denial of the five Gender-related Bills amounts to a declaration of war on Nigerian women by the National Assembly,” the statement proclaimed.
The women strongly demanded for an urgent re-convening, reconsideration, and immediate passage of the all women/gender-related bills by the National Assembly, particularly the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEOB) Bill, currently before the Senate.
They also demanded a resuscitation and passage of the Bill on “Support for Women Participation in Elective and Appointive positions” as well as an immediate domestication of the African Charters Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which Nigeria ratified in 2004.
They further called for the immediate domestication of the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), ratified by Nigeria since 1985, while tasking the representatives on their voting pattern on sensitive matters of citizen rights.
They expressed the hope that all the bills will be passed by March 31, 2022, to gloriously end the women’s month; unfortunately most of these demands were not met.
However, the legislators rescinded and accented to only three of the Bills which the women also rejected demanding that all five Bills be passed into law.
Suspension of the Protests
After days of OccupyNASS, the National Assembly rescinded it decision on three of the Bills.
While lauding the NASS for reconsidering some of the Bills, the women, however, demanded that all five Bills be considered, insisting that there cannot be any decisions about women without the inclusion of women.
Following the refusal by the NASS to grant the wish of women on the Gender Bills the women continued the daily protest, with more women supporting the course.
Top on the list were the Wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, Wife of the Vice President, Dolapo Osinbajo, Governors Wives Forum led by the Ekiti state Governor’s Wife, Bisi Fayemi, among many others.
With all efforts explored and yet the inability to get their demands after over two weeks the protests was suspended. The suspension of the protest raised questions in some quarters whether the women have accepted their fate by making do with the three Bills eventually accented to, or they were planning another engagement strategy.
Addressing a press conference before the suspension of the protests, the Co Convener of #NigeriaWomenOccupyNASS, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said the failure of these relevant amendments demonstrated the impaired state of Nigeria’s democracy.
“Our penchant for elected public officials having a final say even when the majority of Nigerians unanimously hold a contrary opinion on an issue, has continued to infantilise our democracy. Interestingly, issues advocating for the good of the people rarely see the light of day.
“The NASS has again demonstrated this anomaly in the last constitution amendment process by rejecting the gender bills which not only affirm the rights of women as equal citizens, but also benefits all Nigerians,” she stated.
As part of strategies to ensure the passage of the five Bills the 100 Women Lobby group had convened a meeting with female indigenes of the FCT to enlighten them on the Bills and equip them with knowledge on the issues of women.
According to the National Coordinator of the Group, Felicia Iyore Onibon, the meeting was all about ensuring that the rural women know what was going on.
She stressed that it was good for women to have generality of knowledge because 75 per cent of women are in the rural areas, with records also showing that women voters were those at the grassroots.
”We are meeting with these women to intimate them to engage with their legislators representing them in FCT communities. If they don’t know what we are talking about it will be difficult for them to make demands so we want them to have idea and that’s why we are informing the selected women leaders to step down information to the other rural women.
”I feel bad about the rejection because I’m passionate about women issues and I entered this development issue through education which they don’t have because the marginalization that girls felt when they are not allowed to go to school properly is something that should stop.
“Girls would be married off early while the boys go to school to become great. Also, if a girl gets pregnant she is married off and while the boys who got her pregnant continues his education. In fact, if he doesn’t accept the pregnancy the pregnant girls’ suffering starts.
“It is only education that can pull girls out of this quagmire and apart from education and she become educated she can make informed choices, she can become a councillor and push for rights of women at any levels.
“There is need for women issues to take centre stage in administration, in planning and in the development of the FCT. Patriarchy is still in action but the rejection cuts across the women too because that is all they know and have grown into.
“A lot of women would rather their son become councillor than their daughters not because they hate their daughters but socialisation from childhood has been that way. They don’t think of women.
”Women said no to offer of three Bills because the whole five is for the good of everybody we are not saying total no to the ones that have been taken, we are still negotiating and asking the senators to do something,” she said.
Speaking further she said, ”Though some women have not totally supported this struggle, but we are in a free country and if some women do not support the course we will not force them we cannot kill a woman for airing her own views, it is allowed in a democracy but the situation is that some women do not understand the struggle and that is why we keep intimating them.”
Need for enlightenment
Onibon stressed the need for every woman to understand the issues militating against their progress as information was power.
“If you are well informed on issues your decisions will be more informed than when you are in the village and do not know what is happening and accept anything but, to have the ability to say no or yes to issues it should be based on the information you have and if you don’t have that, it’s an issue,” she maintained.
Similarly, a Gender Expert, Ignatius Agu, stressed the need for rural women to be well informed about issues that affects them, saying that this will enable them make demands on their representatives.
”We discovered that the indigenous women are not aware of what is happening and so on election day they go to vote without knowing why they are voting a candidate. So we thought it was necessary to bring them up to speed, to create that awareness and open their minds to know why they should vote for a particular candidate,” he said.
Another expert and consultant for the 1,000 Women Lobby Group, Ijeoma Echeruo, noted that it was very significant to have idea of women’s struggle because they have idea of where they think Nigeria should go and they have idea of the problems they face and what they think should be the solution.
”Its better we know what they are thinking so that we don’t make mistake of assuming that our own ideas is what they want, also we need to let them know what ideas we have and what we have been fighting for and makes sure there is a synergy.”
Echeruo noted that it was important for all women to be in agreement so we won’t be fighting to ensure they are on same frequency in the battles.
She maintained that there was always hope and that’s why women are exploring different strategies to ensure women and girls who have been suffering the existing policies.
”I believe most men have wives and sisters who they care about but we want to understand how they disagree with the policy so we can get better as a country,” she said.
Indigenes back struggle
For Hajiya Hassana Abdullahi a Gbagi and of Gwandara tribe from Idu Abuja, who is also a member of AWITA, there was cause for concern on the status of women.
He noted that the law makes women homeless, just as women also do not have equal opportunities.
“I now have better understanding after out women leaders explained the Bills to us and we want a better life for ourselves and for our children even if we are not a life when that will happen.
”We call on Aduda to support us in this as he usually does and ensure that women’s rights are protected because women can be married off and cannot have full rights of indigeneship in their husbands state and when they come back to their father’s house they don’t have a place too,” she decried.
Another indigene, Ifeoma Umahi, also lamented the plights of women as wives saying that women have not been given their right of place as citizens.
“The indigeneship of women is an important issue which should be addressed. Women need to be catered for by our laws and that is why we are pleading that we should be allowed to enjoy our rights because when we have this opportunity we would be happy and when a woman is happy, the home and nation is happy,” she said.