Abuja Women’s March 2019: Nigeria’s Path to Gender Equality
Education as a Vaccine (EVA) joined women all over the world to march for equality in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. In collaboration with other women’s rights organizations, women, girls, and men marched in their numbers during the 2019 Women’s March Global, for women’s rights and for a stronger Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEO Bill) to be passed in Nigeria.
The Women’s March Global is organized to bring together a passionate, diverse global community of women and allies who seek to create a future of equality, justice, and compassion for all. On the 17th January 2019, women and men, both young and old took part in the Abuja Women’s March that served as a platform for activists and rights-based organisations to push for the rights of women and girls as well as intensify efforts to ensure gender equality in Nigeria.
In a country like Nigeria, girls and young women, just like their counterparts around the world, face certain discrimination and barriers that limit their opportunities to develop their full potential on the basis of gender. This discrimination, borne out of rigid gender stereotypes reinforced by religious/traditional practices and societal structures, continues to encourage the patriarchal socio-economic and political setting of the country.
The existing legal instruments have a lot of gaps in upholding the rights of women including girls and young women in the country, including the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The country is a signatory to several regional and international protocols, charters and conventions which recognize and guarantee the rights of women including girls and young women. In spite of these international commitments, Nigeria is yet to domesticate laws that protect women and girls and guarantee them equal rights and opportunities. Nigerian women, especially girls and young women still face injustices and human rights violations daily.
Speaking during the march, the Executive Director of Education as a Vaccine, Ms Olabukunola Williams underscored the importance of having laws and policies that strongly protect the rights of girls and women to equal opportunities just as men do by means of passing a strong GEO Bill which has suffered several setbacks in a male-dominated National Assembly.
“We need the GEO Bill that ensures that women’s right to having children is not used as a basis for discrimination in employment. Equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women is key! We must stop taking issues surrounding girls and women for granted and start setting it amongst the top priorities of government. The National Assembly should prioritise girls and women and Pass the GEO Bill into law,” Williams said.
Education as a Vaccine works to advance the rights of children, adolescents and young people to health and protects them from all forms of violence in the most vulnerable and marginalised communities, we believe that “no society can reach its full potential if half its population is systematically prevented from full participation. We demand immediate consideration for a strong GEO Bill that protects adolescent girls’ and young women’s rights as well as puts more women in power who can speak and stand up for girls and other women with the confidence to end all forms of discrimination and gender-based violence,” she added.
The GEO Bill is important because it also seeks to modify socio-cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, and other forms of gender-based violence that abuse the human rights of girls and young women in Nigeria. The GEO Bill has suffered many rejections including unfavourable comments from legislators in the hands of an increasingly and predominantly male legislature that refuses to prioritise the rights and protection of women. It was initially thrown out for being ‘un-African’.
One of the major concerns is the tenure term of the 8th Assembly that will expire in May 2019. By implication, the failure of the current Assembly to pass the Bill will amount to a huge set back to the progress made so far by various activists and women’s focused organisations for the passage of the Bill, and the little progress made by the Nigeria Senate.
Mrs Chika Offor, Executive Director Vaccine Network for Disease Control in Nigeria also commented that the failure of the National Assembly to take the bill serious means that the National Assembly does not consider the safety and welfare of Nigerian girls and women as important.
Amidst the aura of “No GEO Bill, No Vote” chant, she emphasized that Nigerians and supporters of GEO Bill will not vote for the current assembly members who are not in support of the bill, “the voice of girls and women matter and we will continue to advocate for a second public hearing on the bill and an immediate passage by the assembly” she added.
Reacting to the Women’s March, Senator Abiodun Olujimi who also doubles as the sponsor of the Bill applauded the tenacity of the women groups and assured that the National Assembly would not relent until the Bill is finally passed.
“If we had gotten this done earlier, we probably would have had more women contesting for political positions right now. I can assure you that we won’t relent until that is done”, Olujimi reassured.
Other women’s rights organization who collaborated and participated include the National Coalition on Affirmative Action, Vaccine Network for Disease Control, The She Tank, Gender Technical Unit, Girls Voices, Gender and Affirmative Action, and LACVAW. As we intensify on our advocacies for the passage of this bill, we will continue to work to ensure a society where women and girls can compete socially, politically and economically without any concerns about whether their gender will be a detracting factor in the fulfilment of their endeavours.
Written by: Ewuola Bayo Olanrewaju