The bill for gender parity and prohibition of violence against women was presented before the eighth Senate for the first time by the Senator representing Ekiti South, Senator Biodun Olujimi last week. But it didn’t pass through the second reading before it was thrown out, to the surprise of many and plenty of hue and cry on social media. Many were rightly peeved by the unwillingness of the lawmakers who were elected into the house to protect and serve the interest of their constituents to pass the bill into law. I am one of the few people who wasn’t surprised by the actions of the Senators.
Apart from the obvious back-to-back gaffes that have been recorded since the inauguration of the present National Assembly, I knew it would take a miracle for the bill to scale through in a Senate which has only seven female members out of a total of 109 Senators. It would require plenty of concerted efforts (and possibly a revolution) to change the mindset in a society that has been steeped in patriarchy for so long. It’s just the harsh reality at the moment.
However, it is pertinent to try to understand why anyone would be afraid of a bill that simply proposes that men and women be treated equally and allowed the same opportunities. It really is that simple. On the other hand, very few things are considered or viewed in a simplistic manner in our beloved country. When educated and supposedly enlightened individuals in positions of authority who one would ordinarily expect to champion the cause of women in a society that has relegated the female gender to the background for ages are the ones who are quick to reject such a proposition, then it is obvious that we still have a long way to go as a country.
Senator Ahmed Yerima who represents Zamfara West was an unsurprising antagonist of the gender and equal opportunities bill. How does a bill like that get passage when the house consists of one who in the recent past vehemently defended his decision to marry a thirteen year old under the guise of religion? And before, someone suggests that the Muslims in the house were the culprits in the rejection of the gender parity bill episode, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, a Christian who represents Taraba South, was also unashamedly vocal in his stance against the proposed bill, citing the contents of the Bible has his reasons for being against the idea of elevating women to the prime position which only men should occupy. Like him, many of the Senators who voted against the bill quoted the Bible and Quoran in defending their position on the matter. And one is forced to wonder if Nigeria is not regarded as a secular state (even though this has been the subject of debate too) anymore, or at most a multi-faith country where no one religion holds sway.
Culture and Tradition have also been cited has major reasons why the case for gender parity can’t just fly. How dare we try to change an age-old tradition? How dare modern day feminists attempt to distort the “tried and tested” way of doing things? How dare they attempt to rock the boat by distorting culture? And then again, one is compelled to ask who determines the way of life of a people? Many of us were told the story of Mary Slessor, the Scottish missionary who stopped the killing of twins among the Efiks between the eighteenth and nineteenth century. A good number of archaic traditions which were religiously practiced in the past were jettisoned when we knew better. The same can be applied to the issue of gender equality. Contrary to what some of the antagonists of the bill think, it is not a tussle or a battle of supremacy between males and females. What proponents of the bill are saying is that the girl-child should be empowered to be all she can be just like her male counterpart. Is that too much to ask in the 21st century?
According to the Africa Gender Equality Index measured in 52 out of the 54 countries in Africa by the African Development Bank (AFDB) and published in May 2015, no West African country ranks among the first ten countries in the inclusion of women in the areas of economic opportunities, human development, and law and institutions, with countries like South Africa, Rwanda and Namibia having the highest gender parity rates, while Nigeria ranks a distant 23rd position. An unacceptable position for a country which claims to be aiming to rub shoulders with the super powers of the world in the near future.
Females should be protected from the discrimination and violence they have to had to deal with for too long. Women should be given the opportunity to aspire to the height of their careers and play more prominent roles in the public and private decision making process. Barriers placed by discriminatory laws, restrictive cultural practices and highly segmented labour markets should be broken. The bill just simply says, “Treat every human being the same way regardless of their gender!”
Now, I can imagine how this can be a threat to some people. First of all, male chauvinists who believe that women should only be seen and not heard certainly won’t be happy about the passage of such a bill.The truth is that many men are intimidated by a woman’s success and what it might portend for the “balance of power” especially at the home front. In like manner, perverts who have their lecherous eyes on the yet-to-be-fully developed bodies of pre-teen and teenage girls would find the suggestion that no girl under 18 should be married nightmarish.
And lastly, it may come as a surprise to many that some women are against this bill too, simply because contrary to what many may think, rights confer responsibilities. For the women who have always had their every need catered to by a man, this bill is not good news. If it is eventually passed into law, it will no doubt change the dynamic in relationships. “Self imposed house wives” will have no place to hide anymore and the male folk who have had to bear the larger burden of being the bread winner of the family can relax a little, as women will be expected to meet them half way now. The prospect of sharing the responsibilities in equal proportion at home will not appeal to many women. And so, it is not just misogynists who find the bill offensive, some females too would rather have the status quo remain the same.
However, it is commendable that the Senate President has promised to re-present the bill. It would be interesting to see the changes that will be made to the last one. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I doubt if a new bill proposing gender equality will still find passage among our present crop of Senators. But, like every other event in life which comes into fruition in due season, the issue of gender equality is a moving train that cannot be stopped. Eventually.