On 17 March 2016, a bill seeking gender parity and prohibition of violence against women was voted down by the Nigerian Senate. Presented by Senator Abiodun Ogunjimi, the bill was designed to protect women by eliminating all discrimination against them both at home and at the workplace.
The “Nay” senators, mostly men, clutched onto the tassels of religion and culture, arguing that the passage of such bill will go against their religious norms and beliefs. Such occurrence in Africa’s most populous nation is quite disheartening and it re-emphasis the obviously long and arduous journey towards the attainment of gender equality.
“They [the men] did not like the aspect of the law which says every female child should be treated like a male child…They said we should leave the issue of election and employment of women at 35 percent. That is the main thing they are against in the bill…[but] we are mobilizing. We are going to look at the bill again. We will look critically at the contentious issues and see if we can mellow it down so that it can be passed into law. Certainly, there must be elimination of violence against women. There must also be elimination of child marriage. Anybody who takes a child in marriage must be liable to one-year jail term…” ~ Senator Ogunjimi
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Despite the significant progress that has been made on the continent in meeting many development challenges, Africa remains stuck with some stubborn statistics that continue to affect her image on the global platform. On one hand, some reports have been exaggerated by western media, painting a backward and primitive picture to innocently ignorant and less informed audiences in different corners of the world. On the other hand, no one can deny the enormous challenges the continent faces with regards to the respect and promotion of gender equality.
The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which came into effect on 1 January 2016, re-affirms a core point of the cause:
“realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution to progress across all the Goals and targets. The achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if only half of humanity continues to be denied its full rights and opportunities.”
Throughout much of the world, commendable progress has been made in bridging the health and education gap between men and women. Several African countries have shown impressive records.
West African countries such as Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal have achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education, while Rwanda is ranked sixth in the 2015 Global Gender Gap report – the highest rank of any developing country – having reached a greater level of equality than the United Kingdom, the US or Germany. Countries like South Africa and Namibia also have a considerable record in health and education.
However, the progress we boast of pales in comparison to the magnitude of the task ahead of us as a continent. Women continue to suffer economic exclusion and are often denied equal advancement opportunities. With economists warning that women are not likely to reach economic equality with men until the year 2133, it is clear that there is still so much to be done.
Notable commitments from governments and organizations need to be translated into tangible action to improve the lives of the majority of African women. If the vision of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is anything to go by, then we should do everything in our power to bring about “a world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and in which all legal, social and economic barriers to their success and empowerment have been removed.”