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The National Coalition On Affirmative Action (NCAA): Clarification Of Misconceptions On The Gender And Equal Opportunities Bill

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Monday, March 21st, 2016
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  1. On the 15th of March 2016, the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill failed to pass the Second Reading in the Senate of the Federal republic of Nigeria. The Nigerian women’s movement extends gratitude to the Senators who supported the Bill and the teeming Nigerians around the world who have continued to decry this sad development. We look forward to this and more support in ensuring the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill is re-presented and is eventually passed into law.
  1. Among the reasons and concerns expressed by the dissenting Senators are:
  1. That the section of the bill which gives a widow automatic right to take custody of her children on the death of her husband and the right of a widow to an equitable share of her husband’s inheritance and to continue to live in her husband’s house are inconsistent with the customary law of some communities and in conflict with the Constitution which recognises customary law.
  2. That the received English laws provide that where any law is inconsistent with local laws, the local laws shall prevail.
  • That the provision of the bill on the modification of socio – cultural practices is directly in conflict with the Nigerian Constitution, because Nigerian Constitution is very clear, on customs and practices of all Nigerians, especially in relation to their religious right as guaranteed by the Constitution.
  1. That granting women freedom will give rise to a situation of a derogatory notion of male weakness known in the Northern part of Nigeria as ‘Mijin Hajiya’.
  1. NCAA offers clarification on the GENERAL AND SPECIFIC issues:
  2. a) General Issues

The provisions of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill are not in conflict with Nigeria’s 1999 Constitutional provisions; rather they amplify the provisions of the Constitution, including section 42, which prohibits sex discrimination and s. 21, which upholds the preservation of cultures that enhance human dignity and are consistent with Freedom, Equality and Justice. Accordingly, the Bill reinforces the complementary and not competitive relations between men and women to be achieved through equal opportunities, mutual respect and common benefits to both.

 

The bill will not take away family headship from men. It enjoins shared roles and responsibilities for family life. Equality refers principally to equal opportunities to access, contribute and seek redress.

 

  1. b) Specific Issues
  2. Section 21 (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 which gives directives on Nigerian cultures provides that the State shall protect, preserve and promote the Nigerian cultures which enhance human dignity and are consistent with the fundamental objectives (underlining is ours) in Chapter 11. These include the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice. The chapter also guarantees equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law for every citizen; as well as recognition of the sanctity of the human person and enhancement of human dignity.
  3. To give effect to section 21, the High Court laws and Customary Court Laws of many states of the Federation empower the courts to uphold only the cultures and customs that are not repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience. This is in line with the constitutional provision on the preservation of cultures that enhance human dignity and are consistent with Freedom, Equality and Justice.
  • Therefore a widow’s rights to an equitable inheritance of her husband’s estate, to take custody of her children and to continue to live in the matrimonial home on the death of her husband are issues of equity, justice and freedom.
  1. From the provisions of the Supreme Court Act, High Court and Customary Court laws, local or customary laws, which are inconsistent with statutory laws do NOT prevail rather those that do not enhance human dignity and are inconsistent with Freedom, Equality and Justice are null and void to the extent of the inconsistency.
  2. On the fear expressed that freedom for women will be counter-productive and result in wives not respecting their husbands and morality in line with religion being compromised, the two major religions in Nigeria preach the core values of human dignity, justice and equity.
  3. Islamic Perspective: The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Women are partners to men”. Hadith by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi and Al- Buzzar. “Indeed Allah commands you to render back trusts to whom they belong, and when you judge between people that you judge with justice”…Qur’an: 4:58

 

  1. Christian Perspective:

God hates partiality in law, especially when men make laws to deal treacherously with their wives…Malachi 2: 7-9 &14 & 15.

 

  1. On inheritance of women – the GEO Bill has and does not introduce any contention; rather it up holds the right of female surviving relatives of a deceased person to an equitable share of the estate left.. The Holy Bible in Numbers 27:1-8 clearly states that daughters are entitled to inheritance. The Qur’an has clearly defined provisions on inheritance that justly distribute estates in accordance with relation status to the deceased their rights and responsibilities as surviving kith and kin.

Merits of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill include:

  1. The bill will bring about development and advancement of all persons, male and female in the country and will go a long way in eliminating cultural practices like early or forced marriages, female genital mutilation, and disinheritance which are inimical to women and girl child development.
  2. A careful look at research data from different development reports, including World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), reveals that increasing social and economic opportunities and political representation for women has ripple effects on health, education, and socio-economic outcomes throughout society and for the next generation.
  • The Nigerian Government will, by the enactment of the GEO Bill, fulfil its international obligations undertaken through the ratifications of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child amongst others.
  1. The Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR at the United Nations General Assembly, New York, in September, 2015 which came into force January 1, 2016 envisaged a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination. A world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed.
  2. By enacting this Bill into law the National Assembly will be giving full meaning or effect to s. 42 of the 1999 Constitution that prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex amongst others; but fell short of enacting in clear terms the principle of equality and non- discrimination that has become part of customary international law, for which no derogation is permitted.

 

Oby Nwankwo is a human rights lawyer, and has served as  Nigeria’s representative on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) Committee at the United Nations.  She is currently the National Coordinator of National Coalition on Affirmative Action (NCAA).

4 Responses

  1. Aunty,
    A very brilliant analysis of the rejected gender Equality Bill by the 8th Senate of the federal Republic of Nigerian. I am pleased to be associated with enhanced advocacy that will see to the representation of the bill as soon as possible.
    Well done Aunty.
    Regards
    Nkiru

  2. Dear Nigerian women,

    I am in support of you in your quest for equal rights in Nigeria. I am not cowed by religious and cultural jargons which is the major tools in the hands of our menfolk to always keep women subjugated.

    The fact is that women are actually the ones that hold this country together from the family unit. You will be shocked to find out the number of people who became what they are today because of the love, sacrifices, belief and toil of their mothers without the support of their fathers who mostly are after other women and know virtually little or nothing about their homes and children.

    Women are the strongest units of the Nigerian federation. It takes only a Queen to raise a Queen.

    Many women suffer untold hardships just for the sake of their children.

    Any society where the women are empowered and given freedom to aspire to whatever they desire without their gender being a hindrance is a progressive society.

    Today, we are seeing Denmark, Sweden, Finland and others harnessing the potentials of their womenfolk.

    This is one major reason why at every given opportunity I join the cause to economically, educationally and religiously empower the girl child.

    Empower a woman and today and see how a whole generation is raised on her shoulders.

    Show support for your mother, wife, sister and daughters

    © Immanuel Olusola Kish

  3. This is a very enlightening breakdown of the equal opportuinity bill. The information and arguement is clear and concise. We need the people leading the movement to get the bill passed to equip themselves with this kind of strategic information for the campaign.

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