A week after most of the world celebrated women and achievements in gender equality on International Women’s Day, Nigeria’s senators rejected the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill. The bill which aims at bridging the gap between men and women in Nigeria failed to make it through a second reading at the Nigerian senate. This is due to the majority rejecting the bill, citing the Nigerian constitution as well as cultural and religious reasons.

 

Proposed by Abiodun Olujimi, who is remarkably one of the few women senators in Nigeria, the bill if passed into law would have brought in significant changes for Nigerian women. It prohibits domestic and sexual violence against women and girls, pushes for equality in awarding scholarships in order to encourage gender equality in access to education, and places the minimum age for marriage at 18 years old. The GEO bill also stipulated maternity leave with pay and aimed at ensuring increased participation of women in politics. Abortion rights, women’s rights in the workplace, protection from discrimination and discriminatory cultural practices, right to inherit property, all this and more important aspects of women’s rights were suggested by the GEO bill.

 

The need to include women in Nigerian politics is further highlighted by the rejection of this bill. Currently the Nigerian senate has 109 senators, only 7 of that number are women. Male senators hid behind religion citing both the Bible and Sharia law, with Christianity and Islam being the largest practicing religions in the very religious country. Although the failure of the GEO bill to pass its second reading caused uproar on social media channels, there was not enough news about the bill beforehand.

 

Perhaps this is one of the reasons the GEO bill was rejected by the majority suggests Saratu Abiola writing for Quartz Africa. Abiola recommends effective mobilization among gender rights activists and a more people- and media- friendly approach to educate the public, and ensure that the bill is further reconsidered.

 

How do we over the indifference towards gender issues in Nigeria? What needs to be done for lawmakers to take women’s rights seriously? Let us know in a comment below or by telling me on Twitter @rafeeeeta