The Nigerian Senate overwhelmingly rejected a bill seeking gender equality on March 15th, one week after the observation of International Women’s Day. The bill focused on equality in marriage, education, and employment, and was defeated when Senate President Bukola Saraki put it to a vote.
If ratified, the law would have declared that women “shall not be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment” and would have given women “the right to an equitable share in the inheritance of the property of her husband.” The bill overtly incorporated several aspects of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It would have also set 18 years as the minimum age for marriage.
Senate Minority Whip Biodun Olujimi, who introduced the bill, argued that the legislation has become necessary due to “increasing discrimination against women in education and employment.” The bill was also to eliminate discrimination against any person, regardless of gender, in any manner.
Opponents of the bill included Senate Majority leader, Ali Ndume and Senator Sani Yerima, who, among others, have urged Nigerians to adhere to traditional religious marriages and argued that the bill contradicted the Constitution of 1999, which recognizes the principles of Sharia Law. This is the third time the Senate has rejected a gender equality bill on religious and constitutional grounds.
Since the rejection of the bill, Senate President Saraki has advised Olujimi to reintroduce the bill. A report from Saraki’s office on March 16th stated that substantial parts of the bill “are crucial to the development of [the]nation,” according to The Nigerian Eye. The Senate has encouraged Olujimi to eliminate religiously and constitutionally controversial aspects of the bill.