The first day of this month (March 1, 2022) came with bad news for Nigerian women when senators and house of reps members rejected the five gender bills. The lawmakers sat at plenary to vote on various constitution alteration bills as part of the legislative procedures for amending the country’s 1999 constitution. Like the failed gender bills, the lawmakers also voted against State-LG joint account, pension and immunity for presiding officers of the national assembly. They, however, voted in favour of financial autonomy for state legislatures and judiciary.
A total of 45 bills were approved for amendments in the constitution by both chambers of the national assembly. While 19 bills were rejected by the senators, reps rejected 16 bills. The rejected gender bills include Bill 35 which sought to “provide for special seat for women in the National and State Houses of Assembly”; Bill 36 which sought to “expand the scope of citizenship by registration”; Bill 37 which sought to “provide for affirmative action for women in political party administration”; and Bill 38 which sought to “provide criteria for qualification to become an indigene of a state in Nigeria”.
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The only women who, perhaps, felt touched were those who knew that something called constitution amendment exercise took place. One is not too sure if majority of the rural women in Nigeria knew that any gender bills recently suffered any frustrations in the national assembly. A large population of rural women in the country is busy struggling to sort themselves out from the predicaments they are experiencing as Internally Displaced Persons or as mothers widowed by insurgency, banditry, deadly kidnappings, ritual killings, or communal clashes.
Following the rejection of the gender bills, Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, described the rejection of the proposed legislations as “most unfortunate and a show of shame”. She further urged all Nigerians to pray for the men that killed the gender bills in the national assembly. A week after the gender bills failed to get the nod of the lawmakers, the International Women’s Day (IWD) availed our aggrieved mothers a free-of-charge opportunity to express their disappointments over the non-passage of the gender bills.
To mark the IWD in Abuja, women staged street protests to the national assembly complex where they barricaded the gate. Similar protests were organized in many state capitals across the country. The IWD is celebrated annually on March 8 to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. The United Nations began celebrating the IWD in 1975, which had been proclaimed the International Women’s Year. The theme for the 2022 IWD is, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.”
Now, it’s time to tell our mothers some obvious truths; hoping that this writer would not be misunderstood to be part of the usual chauvinism women have always accused men of. Every reasonable man should happily be part of every cause that fights for the advancement of women’s rights. First, they are our mothers. Second, it is narrated in a hadith reported on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (RA) that the Prophet (SAW) was once asked to mention who among parents is most deserving of good treatment. The Prophet (SAW) repeatedly said “Your mother” for each of the three times he was asked. It was the fourth time the Prophet (SAW) said, “Then, your father”. Women occupy a special status in Islam. A whole chapter in the holy Qur’an, chapter four, is named after women (An-Nisa’i). Nations guarantee their future through women being the first teacher in the life of every child. Women are also the custodians of societal values and ideals.
Women who championed the cause of the failed gender bills were rich in ideas but poor in strategies. Even at the Capitol Hill in America, lobbying is a strategy to get bills through. Unfortunately, our mothers took advocacy and lobbying for granted. The spokesperson of the House of Reps, Benjamin Kalu, told journalists that the lobbying by women was late. “You don’t lobby two days to voting”, he observed. The advocacy, if it were strategically done, would have enabled majority of the male lawmakers to buy into the ideas, support the bills and participate in the lobbying process. Our mothers got it wrong by refusing to see men as colleagues and potential strong supporters of their cause.
The fanatic approach by which many women want men to see them as equal is a tactic that may not take our mothers to the end of the road. Analyzing the outcome of the gender bills, Rep Benjamin Kalu noted that the result of the voting is a reflection of the religious and cultural dispositions of the lawmakers as they belong to a society where these factors play vital roles. Our mother must realize that the call for gender equality should be pursued within the context and realities of the cultural values of the Nigerian people. Women do not have to be equal or contest equality with men before they become important. A place without a woman is a house, not a home. Should equality bother one whose gender from creation is special, and by right, deserves special attention? In every exercise involving men and women, they say, “Women first”. If the equality is granted, this God-designed privilege may be lost; and the phrase may even change to, “Men first”. Our mothers should be wary of the propaganda especially by some NGOs. It would be wise if our mothers would stop being Anglomaniac about every western agenda.
A major setback in the bills, this writer feels, is the exclusive nature of women’s struggle in Nigeria. The battle for the bills would probably have led to victory, Allah knows best, if major women organizations, in addition to the NCWS, were placed at frontline positions. The voices of NAWOJ, NAOWA, NOWA, FOMWAN, POWA, COWA, IMMOWA, and ROSOWA were not audible enough in their advocacy. Given this trend, I should advise my wife to discuss with others the possibility of forming “University Lecturers’ Wives Association (ULEWA)” May Allah guide and support our mothers in their genuine struggles for relevance, amin.