Last week, the Nigerian senate voted against a Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEO bill) proposed by senator Biodun Olujimi. While the Nigerian state protects citizens through its constitution, the GEO bill is a complementary protocol for equal rights for women in marriage, divorce, widowhood, property & land ownership and inheritance to name a few things.
As several analysts have pointed out, there are many problems with the senate outcome. But I’d like to add one observation. Namely that perhaps the most troubling thing is this: the senate rejecting the GEO bill is the senate also rejecting modernity. As the Canadian president, Justin Trudeau, responded when asked why having a gender balanced cabinet was important, “Because it’s 2015!”
It is utterly incompatible to modernity, in 2016, to fail to legislate against practices that are clearly barbaric. For example, widows around the country are still being forced to drink water in which the body of their dead husband has been bathed in to allege innocence. That only between 4-10% of land is owned by women because women are not entitled to inherit land, is unequivocally nonmodern.
Part of the problem is that the GEO bill is attached to the Maputo Protocol, a feminist human rights protocol which Nigeria has actually ratified in 2005. However, the Maputo Protocol has not been instrumentalised not least because the Catholic Church opposes the reproductive rights section of the bill. There’s even a site called “The Maputo Protocol – A Clear and Present Danger” that was created by Human Life International, a Catholic apostolate.
Nay voters of the GEO bill justified their vote not only with religion but also with traditional values. I have argued that tradition is the key challenge for African feminism in the 21st century. The resistance to change traditions that harm girls and women is tough like a piece of leather.
There is one good thing about the decline of the bill, however. It brings the severity of the situation to the fore. It can therefore encourage a strategic feminist movement in Nigeria. It has already sparked conversation and protests are planned in the forthcoming days.
The first step to freedom is the realisation that you are not free. Freedom means more than deciding what is right or wrong. When we talk about freedom, we are discussing how we want to live, and what type of virtues we deem worthy in our modern world.
Image is A real-life “Rosie the Riveter” by Alfred T. Palmer.
James Chikonamombe says
Time is the best leveler, the best equalizer. I’m presuming most of the Nigerian Senators are in their 60s & 70s and it’s very hard to get that generation of Africans to accept gender equality. In due time, a Senate filled with more modern mindsets will pass a Gender & Equal Opportunities Bill.
Daniel Maina says
I found the GEO Bill quite interesting and very informative. Aspects regarding indigeneship and identity seem to proffer solutions to pertinent questions raised in the run up to the ministerial screening last year. It’s a pity that the present crop of legislators are still frozen in ancient times to realize the opportunities lost by throwing out the bill. No doubt culture and tradition play a vital role in the development of any society. However, times have changed and the role of the woman is beyond the confines of the home in modern societies.The older generation need to understand that because things were so in the past, doesn’t mean they have to continue that way. Looking forward, it may be a good idea to break up the bill into smaller bits to enable its passage.
Chassidy Swann says
”The first step to freedom is the realisation that you are not free.” So profound…
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