On Dec. 15, the Nigerian Senate pushed back the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill — a bill designed to secure the rights of women and girls in the country to opportunities equal to their male counterparts— for a second time.
This piece of legislation, sponsored by Senator Biodun Olujimi representing Ekiti South, contains language that guarantees the rights of women to equal opportunities in employment; equal rights to inheritance for both male and female children; equal rights for women in marriage and divorce; and equal access to education, property and land ownership, and inheritance.
It also seeks to protect the rights of widows and ensure appropriate measures that discourage violence against women and gender discrimination.
The GEO Bill was first introduced in the Nigerian Senate in March 2016 but suffered a lot of pushback as male lawmakers contested its usefulness, saying the Nigerian Constitution already clearly upholds the rights of all women.
Olujimi, however, finetuned the bill and presented it again to the Senate in September 2016. This time, it passed through second reading and was referred to the Senate committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, and Legal Matters, but no public hearing was held. In November 2019, Olujimi reintroduced the bill again for hearing and deliberation.
Presenting the bill, yet again, to the Senate on Dec. 15, Olujimi took time to highlight the importance of the bill and shed more light on some of its provisions.
"This bill seeks to further strengthen section 42 of the constitution. It seeks to eliminate gender-based violence. This bill was read for the first time in 2019. It will allow for the domestication of all forms of discrimination against women. It will provide for the equality of all persons. If enacted, it will prohibit all forms of discrimination against women and persons living with disabilities,” she said.
Further addressing the senate body, Olujimi added: "The bill, when enacted, will support agencies to recognise and respond to modification of socio-cultural practices towards ensuring the rights of widows and widowers are recognised and protected. It will encourage women to aspire and attain their full potentials considering the fact that there are real walls of discrimination against women. And address equal opportunities in career choices and job security."
While three senators — Stella Oduah, Akon Eyankenyi, and Istifanus Gyang — spoke in support of the bill and encouraged other lawmakers to do so, senators Yusuf Yusuf and Aliyu Wamakko, representing Taraba Central and Sokoto North district respectively, opposed the motion for the bill raising concerns over possible infringement on Islamic morals and ideologies, although by law Nigeria is a secular state.
Other senators including the Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, advised that the bill be read for the second time and concerns raised will be addressed at the committee and public hearing stages of its journey to becoming official legislation.
"From the feelers that I'm getting in the chambers, it appears the consultation has not gone far enough. I want to plead that this bill should not be killed here but should be allowed to go for public hearing so if there is anything that Senator Olujimi missed, it will be addressed,” said Omo-Agege.
After about an hour of deliberation in the senate chamber, Olujimi eventually suspended the hearing and withdrew the pursuit of the bill.
This news comes just days after Global Citizen's Nigeria Country Director Maimuna Maibe officially handed over to the Ministry of Women Affairs a petition, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and signed by more than 23,000 Global Citizens, calling for the domestication and implementation of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act across all of Nigeria's 36 states — legislation that would shield women and girls from gender-based violence and help ensure justice for survivors.
You can join Global Citizen in taking action to help promote and protect the rights of women and girls across Nigeria, and globally, here.