Gender activists at the end of a two day dialogue session in Lagos yesterday, threw up issues on gender gaps in the constitution, which they claim becloud the essence of the Nigerian woman in governance.
I AM not a man, I am woman, I have a womb and I never would want to be a man," so Prof. Ayo Atsenuwa of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos said last Wednesday at the beginning of one of the more provocative presentations at the dialogue on gender issues emanating from the review of the 1999 constitution.
The two-day strategic dialogue aimed at throwing up gender issues relevant to the ongoing constitution review process indeed, threw up more than many male chauvinists would swallow.
The fact that the male pronoun is reflected 235 times in the constitution while the female gender is reflected only twice was one gender issue that bestirred the gathering of women cum gender activists and other civil society advocates that gathered for the dialogue.
The dialogue, facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme's, UNDP's Democratic Governance for Development DGD, project drew participation from several civil society groups.
Also present were women political leaders who remarkably put aside their political differences to strategise on how they could confront the common issue of male domination even within their different political folds. It was as such a sight seeing the national women leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN and the Labour Party who both recently returned from a bruising political duel in Ondo State sit on the same table and have a tête-à-tête.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Hajiya Zainab Maina who flagged off the dialogue session spoke much on the challenges confronting the Nigerian woman in governance. Understandably, her approach was more diplomatic than the apparently bellicose slant of many of the other women activists.
Maina a former national president of the National Council of Women Societies, NCWS the umbrella platform for women groups in the country sent a representative on account of the Federal Executive Council, FEC meeting that was taking place at the same time.
Represented by Mrs. Bolatito Laditan, a deputy director in the ministry, she, regretted that none of the past constitution review processes undertaken in the country had the adequate representation of women. Well, that was until now.
She equally noted that "an ideal constitution should be made with the adequate participation of women," even as she observed that the present proportion of women in governance falls short of the globally recommended 35%.
"It is therefore my desire that this constitution review process would indeed translate into a new lease of life for Nigerian women. Women no matter their religion should unite to push this process forward to a successful end," she said.
The minister also harped on the need for proportional representation as she drew from the experience of other countries in Africa where she said proportional representation has helped to promote the profile of women in governance.
Profile of women in governance
The DGD country director, Dr Mourtada Deme in his own remarks at the commencement of the dialogue also gave reasons for the gathering.
Represented by Ann Ikpeme he said the dialogue should offer women irrespective of their different loyalties the opportunity to speak in harmony on the common issues concerning gender inequalities in the constitution.
UN Women Country Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Dr. Grace Ongile also in a message to the gathering stated that the present constitution does not represent the entire population just as she promised the assistance of her office towards the quest to bridge the gender gap.
Noting that the ongoing constitution review process offers an opportunity for Nigerian women to ensure that their rights are enshrined in the constitution, she said that a handful of countries on the continent have successfully redressed the gender gap.
Noting the cultural and attitudinal resistance especially in the National Assembly, she said: "People who receive us in Nigeria, keep on saying that Nigeria is different, but women are the same everywhere," Ongile who was represented by Kemi Ndeli said.
Following the opening remarks, the gathering moved into the technical sessions during which some of the leading experts on gender issues invited for the dialogue opened up.
First to speak was Mrs. Abiola Afolabi-Akiode, Executive Director of the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center, WARDC who leads a network of over 200 civil society organizations under the aegis of the Gender and Constitution Reform Network, GECORN. She was to later highlight several biases against the female gender in the Nigerian constitution.
She noted that "the pronoun 'HE' appears 235 times in the 1999 Constitution and the word woman was used only twice."
She also highlighted the discrimination against women on the matter of state of indigene. While noting that men have no issue on the matter, she especially reminded the gathering of the problem that came up just before the inauguration to the Court of Appeal of Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo.
Originally from Anambra State, Mrs. Jombo-Ofo who is married to an Abia man was initially stopped from the Court of Appeal on account of issues arising from changing her state of origin from Anambra sparking a national outcry.
Mrs. Afolabi-Akiode also brought to play issues arising from what she described as contradictions in the 1999 constitution.
She was particularly miffed that section 42 (3) of the 1999 constitution contradicts section 42 (1). "Section 42(3), 1999 Constitution is restrictive and nullifies subsection (1) that prohibits discrimination in the area of appointments. It therefore impairs women's rights and the rights of others and thus should be expunged," she submitted.
She also noted how women were in the past marginalised in the process of lawmaking noting that the processes were in the past skewed against the female gender.
Noting the male dominance of the ruling military council that birthed the fourth republic, Afolabi-Akiode regretted that not even a single woman was present in the midst of the officers.
Prof. Ayodele Atesunwa speaking on the theme "Importance of Gender-Responsive Constitution" noted the need for sensitivity and responsiveness to gender issues in the making of the constitution. But before then she had proudly declared her gender saying that she is a woman, proud of her nature and not regretting a single bit of what she is.
Gender and constitution reforms in nigeria -- Fact sheet
•Constitution Making Process-Constitution making in Nigeria has persistently marginalized women and back to the colonial times when women were not allowed to vote .
• There was no female member of the Constitution Drafting Committee that brought the 1979 constitution into existence .
•In the same vein, the 1999 Constitution making was an all male affair, as the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) of General Abdulsalam Abubakar's regime was made up of 26 military officers, all male
•Language- The pronoun "he" apppears 235 times in the 1999 Constitution and the word 'woman' was used only twice.
• Citizenship - The Constitution makes no provision for the process by which non-Nigerian men married to Nigerian women and who are so desirous, may become Nigerian citizens but provides for non-Nigerian women married to Nigerian men. Section 26(b) .
• Indigeneship - Ambiguity trails the indigeneship of women, to the extent that they cannot claim their place of origin or that of their husbands in appointive and political circumstance .
• Discrimination - Section 42(3) precludes women's rights to freedom from discrimination conferred in Section 42(1) by restricting them from applying to certain public offices, including military or police appointments .
• Dignity of womanhood -Section 34 generally speaks on rights to dignity of human persons but is not specific on critical women's rights issues such as widowhood practices, harmful traditional practices etc • Political Rights - The 1999 Constitution has no provision for temporary affirmative action to enable at least 30% to enhance women's political power .
• Reproductive Health Rights - Reproductive health and rights have been recognized as a development and human rights issue but are not specifically provided for in the 1999 Constitution .
• Social Economic Rights -Chapter 2 of .the 1999 Constitution is critical to women's development but cannot be enjoyed as a result of the restrictions in Section 6(6)(c) of the 1999 Constitution. .
• Federal Character Commission - Section 14(3) entrenched Federal Character Principle without affirming the principles of equality and non-discrimination based on gender .
• Rights to Inheritance - The practice of denial of inheritance rights has caused untold hardship on women and girl children. The 1999 Constitution has no provision that guarantees women's rights to inheritance .
• Land Use Act - The 1999 provision on the Land Use Act reinforces discriminatory customary and cultural practices that deny women and poor men access to land .
• Women with Disabilities - Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution did not specifically address rights of women and people with disabilities.