Women in Nigeria’s political system are working to garner support for a gender equality bill that was rejected for a second time in March by a largely religious male Senate that believed it was an attack on the Nigerian Constitution and the religious beliefs it protects. The bill, introduced by Senator Biouden Olujimi, set out to provide protections for women against violence and to establish a minimum legal age for marriage. This would hopefully give women a longer window in which they can focus on their education. The bill also would protect the right of women to participate fully in all political activities, including the right to vote and be elected to office, and it would grant them basic marital rights, such as the right of widows to inherit their husbands’ property.
The overwhelming majority of males in the Senate, who outnumber women 102 to 7, rejected the bill on the premise that it was an attack on the tenants of both Christianity and Islam. A member of the Senate quoted passages from the Bible in his speech against the bill, though his beliefs are certainly not the same as those of the majority of Christians in Nigeria. The Christian Association of Nigeria, in fact, said the bill didn’t go against Christianity, stating “inheritance is shared equally between male[s] and female[s].”
Another Muslim senator said the bill went against Sharia Law, which is recognized by the Nigerian Constitution, because women shouldn’t be allowed to receive more than half of a man’s share of inheritance. The Sultan of Sokoto, Nigeria’s most senior Muslim cleric, agreed with the claim, stating that Muslims wouldn’t allow a bill that violated Islamic law, which guarantees men a greater share in matters of inheritance.
Though the decision was popular in the Senate, it has been widely criticized since. Uche Jombo, a prominent Nigerian actress, took to Instagram to share her thoughts of the bill. “These are basic rights!” she said. “Every Senator that voted against the bill should hide in shame and the annoying part is the excuses they are giving as to why the bill is thrown out this second time.”
Senators like Binta Garba, however, are actively trying to work against these excuses, which included seeing the bill as an affront on men. Though this was the second reading of the bill, the senator acknowledged that much more lobbying would need to be done among her male counterparts to have it actually pass.
The bill’s rejection brings to light the way that religion can be used by those in power to advance their own beliefs or agendas. The bill’s rejection also highlights the difficulty of trying to pass laws that promote gender equality in countries where a large percentage of women are undereducated. Approximately 43 percent of Nigerian girls are married before the age of 18.
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