Members of the Nigerian senate have voted against the Gender Equality in Marriage bill, which was being sponsored by Senator Biodun Olujimi.

The bill was passed to open up the conversation on issues surrounding women’s freedom of movement, female economic activity, girls’ access to education, equal rights for women in marriage, divorce, property/land ownership and inheritance, appropriate measures against gender discrimination in political and public life and the prohibition of violence towards women. However, when Senate President Bukola Saraki, called for a vote for it to pass for 2nd reading on the floor of the senate, majority of the senators voted against the bill.

Senate leader, Ali Ndume, who called for the passage of the bill argued that the bill will afford men and women in marriage the same equal rights as there is a gaping contrast between our traditional beliefs and our religious beliefs, regarding the protection of women rights.

“This law that is being amended is very important especially when there is a clear conflict when it comes to dealing with widows, inheritance, divorce, even marriage itself in our society. There are various traditions. The problem we have is the combination of our traditions and new religious beliefs. You will find an Igbo man who cannot speak Igbo language because he studied abroad. He will do traditional marriage then go to church again to get married in the church. The church wedding says if you marry, the couple become one, while the Igbo tradition says when you marry a wife, she becomes your property,” he said.

“So when issues come up after the marriage, you now wonder which one to take. As for inheritance and divorce, in Islam, it is very clear how it is being done, but if you combine that with your tradition, you find out that women are being discriminated in a disadvantageous manner. There is a need for women, who are involved in this advocacy, to also engage in enlightenment. If you will marry, you will marry; either Christian or Muslim. I think this bill is timely and important and at the public hearing stage, we will look at this bill very well.”

Senate deputy president, Ike Ekeremadu, also spoke in favour of the bill. “Only last night, I was going through a document prepared by George Bush of America. Those countries that are doing well are those who give women opportunities. Where I come from, women don’t eat egg and are restricted from touching the non-essential parts of animal. But now that has changed. What is needed is time and education, not necessarily legislation. We will continue to encourage our women. I support this bill.”

Nonetheless Senator Sani Yerima, who is a former Zamfara state, opposed the bill.

Why this development is far from good news..

It may be recalled that only last week Senator Ndume had an interesting suggestion for showing care to women. In the motion to mark International Women’s Day, he suggested that the ideal way of showing affection to the womenfolk is polygamy. Ndume’s motion has since been a major cause for concern, as one would have expected that a representative of the federal republic of Nigeria would say something more meaningful about the aspirations of women in a gender-biased society.

A passage of the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill would have shown the world that Nigeria was ready to empower women through gender equality and equal opportunities. Instead this latest move by the Senate reflects the exact opposite.

Women play a crucial role in the development of any economy. Virtually every developed country of the world promotes women’s rights and equal opportunities. If Nigeria seeks to achieve its vision 2020, rejecting this bill may pose a major threat to fulfilling that cause.

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