Nigerian lawmakers reject bill seeking gender equality

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian senators have for the third time in five years rejected a bill that sought to promote gender equality, citing “socio-cultural and Islamic concerns.”

The proposed law was dropped after some lawmakers in the country’s upper legislative chamber, mostly northern Muslims, argued that the bill went against their interpretation of their religion’s principles.

The bill would have criminalized discrimination on the basis of gender or marital status, and also was aimed at improving enforcement of existing laws against gender-based violence.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is deeply divided along religious and ethnic lines. Women rarely make it to top positions of power, and only 7% of nation’s senators are women.

Among them is the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Biodun Olujimi from Ekiti state in southern Nigeria, who said the proposed law would stem a tide of gender-based violence against women.

Cynthia Mbamalu, program manager at YIAGA Africa, a nonprofit leading the campaign for the legislation’s passage, called its latest defeat “a major setback on our path towards a more developed society.”

The reason senators gave for rejecting the bill “shows the Senate is yet to appreciate the importance of advancing equality of all citizens,” Mbamalu said Thursday. “It means our country is not ready to realize its full potentials for the benefits of all citizens.”

Many of the senators who opposed the legislation during a plenary session on Wednesday said their resistance was strictly a religious issue.

“Equating opportunities actually infringes on the provisions of the Quran…and also the Bible,” argued Sen. Yusuf Yusuf, who is from Taraba state in northern Nigeria. “If we have it as ‘Gender Opportunities Bill,’ fine. But when you bring equality into it, it infringes into the practice of the Islamic religion.”

Others echoed his concern, prompting the sponsoring senator to change the bill’s title from “Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill” to “Gender Equity Bill.”

Opponents nevertheless blocked the bill from going forward.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan said lawmakers see the need for gender equity in Nigeria but acknowledged a need for “further consultations” on the bill.

Olujimi, the bill’s sponsor, vowed to make another attempt, saying she had the support of 62 of the 108 senators.

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