NHRC Explains Why NASS Is Yet To Pass Women Rights Bill

The ‘Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill’ is yet to see the light of day in Nigeria’s National Assembly because of “grey areas” that have to be sorted out.

The bill was sponsored in 2016 by Senator Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti South Senatorial District) but was rejected same year by several lawmakers who felt it contrasted with the cultural practices among Nigerians.

The Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu, told THE WHISTLER in an exclusive chat that the said bill captured the protection of the rights of women in Nigeria but needs harmonization in view of the cultural stand point of the country.

The proposed bill is said to seek for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

“Any law, regulation, custom and practice, which constitute discrimination, shall be null and void and of no effect and shall not be enforceable against any person;

“Desist from denying or limiting any privilege, respect, advantage or benefit due or accruable to women only on the basis that she is a woman,” the bill partly reads.

But there are growing calls among Nigerians for passage and assent to the bill by NASS and President Muhammadu Buhari.

For instance, at a United Nations partners dialogue in Abuja on August 31, the UN Women said that the fundamental human rights of women will continue to be trampled upon if the bill was not considered.

“We know that Nigeria has signed many of the human rights frameworks, but the challenge is that of implementation. We still do need a Bill of Rights for Women in Nigeria, what we call the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill which has been in the Senate for ten years; it is still awaiting to be passed by the Senate,” a UN Women representative said at the meeting.

On its part, Yiaga Africa issued a statement on September 14 urging quick passage of the bill so as to “protect the lives of victims of violence, and that enables survivors to access justice.”

Regarding his position about the bill, the NHRC ES, Ojukwu said the commission was at the center stage in the promotion and protection of human rights in Nigeria and that the bill was part of what it is working on.

Ojukwu assured that even though the commission and a coalition of partners are pushing for its passage by NASS, issues like age of marriage are considered as being in conflict with the proposed bill.

“We are working with the National Assembly to look at the grey areas because you know it involves issues of women rights and we have religious and cultural aspects of it, so that everybody is carried along.

“Of course, you know the rights of women, for instance, you talk about the age of marriage, chastisement of women by their spouse, ability of women to control their reproductive rights, these are all issues which already interface with the culture of the people.

“So once all these grey areas are harmonized, I’m sure there will be no problem.

“Once those things are tidied up, I am sure that this National Assembly is likely to pass it,” he said.

Ojukwu said the bill was still alive in NASS.

“Of course, it’s (Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill) a human rights bill, it is one of the bills we support, we have been part of the support group right from the beginning; it will also help our work if it is passed,” he said.

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