IWD: Sustainable future for Nigerian women, a mirage?

Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8. In this report, ENE OSHABA captures efforts and intrigues by women as they accelerate their demands. 

The International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day set aside by the United Nations to celebrate social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity in accessibility to opportunities.

The theme for this year’s celebration: ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’ is represented by #BreakTheBias, which calls on people to work towards a world that is equitable, inclusive, and free from bias and discrimination so the playing field is levelled for women moving forward.

This year’s celebration came with intrigues like never before following the rejection of six Gender Bills by the National Assembly.

Six Gender-inclined Bills rejected by 95.9% men at the NASS declined citizenship to the foreign-born husband of a Nigerian woman while Nigerian man’s foreign-born wife gets automatic citizenship; denied Nigerians in the Diaspora the right to vote; denied women the ability to take indigeneship of their husband’s state after five years of being together; denied 35 per cent appointed positions for women; denied women 35 per cent affirmative action in party administration and leadership; as well as rejected specific seats for women in the National Assembly.

This action by the National Assembly led to massive protests by women groups across the country calling for the reversal of the decision.

Where women stand

Reports have showed that each year, more than 500,000 women, at least one every minute, die from pregnancy-related causes. The vast majority of these deaths occur in developing countries. An African woman’s lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes is one in 16; in Asia, it’s one in 65. In Europe, it’s one in 1,400.

According to the reports, women now account for almost half of all cases of HIV/AIDS. In countries with high prevalence rates, young women are at higher risk of contracting HIV than young men, adding that of 876 million illiterate adults in the developing world, two-thirds are women.

“Of the more than 600 million school-age children in the developing world, 120 million primary school-age children are not in school; 53 per cent are girls.

“In higher education, the level of women’s enrolment equals or exceeds that of men in western Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and developed regions outside Western Europe. But in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, women’s enrolment continues to lag behind, with 44 and 38 women per 100 men, respectively.

It is further stated that in Africa, women account for more than 60 percent of the rural labour force and produce 80 percent of the food. A shifting emphasis on cash crops for export means more work for women, as they also must grow food for their families.

“Women produce half the world’s food, but own only one percent of its farmland. Self-employment, part-time and home-based work have expanded opportunities for women’s participation in the labour force but are characterized by lack of security, lack of benefits and low income.

“Half of the world’s refugees and displaced people are women and girls. As refugees, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence while in flight, in refugee camps and during resettlement.”

It is generally believed that with an inclusive government it will be much easier to address these issues having both men and women contributing to bring the desired change.

The protests

Women groups under the auspices of Womanifesto made the world stand still on March 1, 2022, when they convened at the National Assembly with the protest theme: hastag NigeriaWomenOccupyNass against the Nigerian 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.

It also affirmed the reasons for the stunted development of our 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, “Today, women comprised of your mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters have converged in our numbers, hurt, and indeed alarmed over the refusal of the NASS to vote in support of alterations to accommodate gender bills within the ongoing Constitutional amendment process.

“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 proclaimed.

Women minister expresses concern

Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, in a statement to commemorate the IWD expressed the deep concerns and disappointment of women over the development.

She lamented that the contributions and commitment of women to national development was being trivialised by the male folks.

”Events of the past few days further negates and dampens  expectations as Nigerian women and young girls who had hoped to celebrate the 2022 event in grand style while projecting the 9th National Assembly as the most gender-friendly since the return of democracy in Nigeria.

“Alas, some Parliamentarians have shamelessly shown us that the issues and concerns of women and girls do not matter girls in the scheme of National Development.

“It is no longer news that the 95 per cent of the members of the 9th National Assembly had on Tuesday March 1, 2022, voted on the 68 Bills that sought to alter or amend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Five of the Bills were meant to promote more opportunities for women in political parties, governance and the society at large. This is indeed a national disaster and the world is watching them,” she said.

Expert’s position

The Executive Director, Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, Bunmi Dipo-Salami, while expressing disappointment at the rejection of the Bills explained that those Bills were meant to enhance women’s lives and encourage their political participation describing the lawmakers as the most unfriendly for hindering women’s growth just as they were deliberate in conducting the votes in the women’s month.

“At the commencement of the global Women’s History Month on March 1, 2022, just few days to the International Women’s Day, 95.9 per cent of male lawmakers at the NASS made history as the most unfriendly set of lawmakers when they voted against all the Bills aimed at ensuring gender justice through the advancement of the rights of Nigerian women as full citizens.

“Presently, only 8 out of 109 Senators are women; only 22 out of 360 House of Representatives members are women; there is no female governor; and 44 out of 990 members of the 36 Houses of Assembly are women.

“As we all know, inclusivity in the public space is a fundamental aspect of modern democracy, and improved representation of women has been shown to have benefits such as improved policy changes, economic growth, and enhanced peace building,” Dipo-Salami stated.

The executive director in the press statement on the development further stated, “This shameless act by men who were elected by both women and men to represent them in the service of the nation is a gross display of lack of respect for the dignity and rights of women.

“It is also a demonstration of poor accountability for the progress of women and by implication, the progress of the nation. What they have said, which Nigerian women have heard loud and clear, is that we do not matter, they do not care about us, and no matter what we do, we are regarded as second-class citizens.

“The Gender Bills proposed in the amendment of the Nigerian Constitution sought to enhance the lives of women and provide opportunities for them to participate fully in the political and governance space as well as inclusive citizenship rights,” the statement noted.

Tinubu calls out colleagues

Similarly, Senator Oluremi Tinubu faulted the NASS Assembly calling on them to break the gender bias in all spheres of national life to enable both men and women contribute to development.

“This year’s theme, ‘Break the Bias’ is apt, particularly in light of last week’s Constitutional Amendment votes. Imagine a situation where we have more women in the National Assembly, imagine how much difference our voices will make.

“Imagine a world where women occupy more managerial and executive positions, and how much more our interests will be represented,” the statement said.

“For any of this to be possible however, we must break the bias. There are hurdles we must cross, but we must put aside our differences if we must achieve a lot. On this journey of ensuring gender inclusiveness, we need one another. We must realize that despite our differences, we are comrades-in-arms, working towards the same goal,” she said.

“What role are you playing to challenge gender biases and discrimination in your Community? What are you doing as an employer to bridge the gender wage gap? How are you inspiring younger Nigerian girls and women? Are you still conforming to gender stereotypes? What are you doing to ensure that girls and women around you have a voice and can use it effectively?

“We must make a conscious decision to support other women in our various spheres. We must build ladders for the women coming behind us to climb on and where necessary, we must do away with institutionalised bias and the laws and that entrench the bias.

“We must continue to do the most to challenge assumptions, raise the bar and shatter stereotypical ceilings in businesses, our chosen careers, management and public office,” she added.

‘Nigerian women not discouraged’

For Chairperson, Women in Politics Forum(WIPF) Ebere Ifendu, the aim of women struggle was to push back on the misogynistic attitude of the NASS, their pattern of neglect of women concerns and disregard for womanity.

“Severally women have been embarrassed by the gender insensitive practices of the law makers. The failure to address women issues through the Gender Bill shows that women are irrelevant.

“We reject further dehumanisation of Nigerian Women. The constitution should cure the defect and we will continue to protest to show our dissatisfaction.

“We call on the Senate President and the Speaker to call an urgent meeting to discuss how to redress the wrong if not we shall continue to occupy the NASS.

“We also call on all Nigerian men and women to join the rally. We will also have simultaneous rallies in Lagos, Calabar, and other major cities for if there is No Women! No Nation,” they stressed.

 ”This disparity between theory and practice raises fundamental questions of social justice, when women are the majority of the electorate and yet few of the elected and appointed leaders. “As Nigerian women, we are not discouraged, we will sustain the advocacy, we will strategize, we will step up our game to ensure that we break the bias.”

NASS rescinds Bills

After days of OccupyNASS, the National Assembly rescinded its earlier decision on three of the Bills: Bill seeking 35per cent affirmative action for women in party administration and leadership; Bill that seeks to grant women ability to take indigeneship of their husbands after five years of marriage; and the Bill seeking citizenship to the foreign born husband of a Nigerian woman.

The decision in the House of Representatives to recommit these Bills for reconsideration came one week after the Bills were rejected.

Women react

While applauding the NASS for reconsidering some of the Bills, women groups and individuals, however, demanded that all five Bills be considered insisting that there cannot be decisions about women without the inclusion of women. All the Bills they argued speaks directly to the issues affecting them.

In view of the foregoing and bearing in mind women’s right as full citizens to participate in all spheres of life, in particular in governance and decision making based on the principles of non-discrimination, equality, and social justice demanding an urgent re-convening, reconsideration, and immediate passage of the five women/gender-related bills: Bills number 35, 36, 37, 38, and 68.

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