PRESS STATEMENT BY CSOS WORKING ON SPOTLIGHT INITIATIVE PROJECT IN LAGOS ON GENDER CONSIDERATIONS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW HOLDING ON THE 25TH OF MAY 2021 AT THE R & A CITY HOTEL, LAGOS.
We the CSOs working on Spotlight Initiative Project in Lagos want to thank the ladies and gentlemen of the press for being part of today’s event. As you may be aware, the National Assembly has called for public hearing on the 1999 Constitution with the aim of amending critical areas of the constitution. About seventeen items have been identified, the first being gender equity and increase participation of women and vulnerable groups in government.
Our Press Conference today, is demanding for a constitution that speaks to the aspiration of the Nigerian people, particularly the women, who have suffered historical marginalisation and exclusion. We are demanding for ‘The Constitution that Nigerian Women Want. ‘
We believe that a legitimate constitution is expected to take due account of the socio-economic and cultural realities of its country, reflect the positive values of its culture in order to guarantee the well-being of its society as a whole and social progress and to safeguard social harmony. To be able to achieve this, it is expected that such constitution should guarantee gender equality and strongly uphold the principle of equity in all sectors of life.
As we are all aware, since the inception of civilian regime in 1999, there has been increased dialogue around constitutional reforms as systems that are critical to the political culture and the political stability, within the context of these discourse are critical gender questions: To what extent are gender issues considered in the constitutional and electoral processes in Nigeria? How broadly are the systems interpreted to accommodate the particular needs of women and other vulnerable groups? How can the constitution open up legitimate spaces to address these gaps that have continued to undermine at least half the population of the country allow for equal participation and voices of women and others to be heard?
With this press conference, we demand for the following:
Gender sensitive language – We are concerned about the language of the current constitution because it is largely insensitive and excludes women who constitute half of the population. In the current constitution the word ‘’he’’ is used 235 times while “women” is referenced only twice.
The constitution Nigerian women want to see should be inclusive in language and representative. Masculine languages are gender-biased and undermine women’s and girls’ rights and participation, which further hinders inclusive governance in Nigeria
Conscious provisioning towards attainment of gender equity and equal opportunities –
Section 14 (3) of the constitution provides for the conduct of its affairs to be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria as a way of promoting national unity and national loyalty but failed, to identify gender diversity as a rule of equity. A federal character that failed to include the need of critical citizens – women, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups cannot be the hallmark of democracy.
The constitution Nigerian women want must ensure gender diversity to take of the need and aspiration of all citizens.
Social economic rights – The Chapter 2 of the Constitution is critical to national development but cannot be enjoyed as a result of the restrictions on its enforceability by the same 1999 constitution that proposes to contribute to citizens development. The constitution Nigerian women want must affirm socio-economic rights and a fundamental right enjoyable by all without any form of discrimination.
What we want is a constitution that enforces the social economic rights of all Nigerians including women and children.
Citizenship – The Constitution must guarantee equality for both men and women in the area of acquiring citizenship by marriage. Section 26(2) should be amended to confer citizenship by registration to a foreign spouse of a woman just like her male counterpart.
Furthermore, the constitution women want requires that the age of adulthood should comply with regional and national standard of 18 years. So therefore, the section 29 (4b) is a violation of children’s right and should have no place in the constitution Nigerian women want.
Human dignity – The constitution must uphold dignity of all persons particularly women. The current constitutional provision on human dignity failed to take into consideration the dignity of women and girls.
The constitution Nigerian women want must protect women from sexual and gender violence and all forms of harmful traditional practices and preserve women’s bodily integrity.
Right to private and family life – the constitution must recognise right to private and family life as fundamental rights. Men and women must have equal rights in marriage, during marriage and dissolution of marriage.
The constitution women want must recognise the importance of registration for any form of marriage be it traditional, religious or statutory marriage as a way of securing the equal rights of both parties and guarantee the equal treatment of both parties in the marriage.
Section 42 non-discrimination – Currently the legislatures are restricted from passing laws that portends positive discrimination whereas women in Nigeria have suffered historical injustices and would need temporary or special measures to redress the wrongs for the sake of equity and social justice.
Therefore, the constitution women want should enact laws that are reasonably necessary to provide for any and all corrective measures, policies and programmes aimed at redressing social, economic or educational imbalances in the Nigerian society.
Furthermore, the State shall ensure the attainment of equal opportunities, protection and fair representation of marginalised groups in all facets of life.
Twining in government – The constitution must promote women’s political participation and gender equality in a manner that where there is a male and female in elective and appointive position at all levels.
The constitution Nigerian women want demands that where there is a position being taken a by a particular gender the opposite must be the deputy.
Special measure in all elective and appointive positions in government at all levels – In order to promote women’s participation in governance and gender diversity.
The constitution women want must provide that no gender shall exceed two-thirds in elective and appointive positions at the three tiers of government.
Special seats for women in parliaments – We support the clamour for the creation of additional special seats for women, including women with disabilities, and those who are in other vulnerable groups in the Federal and State Legislative Houses to enable equitable participation and inclusion.
However, a more sustainable measure is the provision of 35% or two third provision in the constitution as a temporary rule as done in other African countries like Rwanda, Eritrea and Kenya.
It is our sincere belief that if the suggestions offered above on the most cardinal national questions are accepted and implemented through a constitutional amendment, the foundations of the polity will be based on more solid grounds of reinforced concrete rather than on quicksand on which they appear to be based at present. There will be more equity and fairness in the system; more political inclusiveness leading to greater participation, less alienation and more contentment.
We believe the agitation for outright dissolution of Nigeria being made in some quarters is borne out of the sense of marginalisation, injustice, inequitableness and frustration with the present system and once these underlying challenges are substantially addressed, the call for disintegration will evaporate.
In the process of effecting the above reforms, we will suggest that the process for constitutional amendment should be transparent, inclusive and participatory to avoid the reprehensible circumstance leading to the emergence of the 1999 Constitution which many believed was foisted on the nation by military fiat. The constitution should have inputs of every shade of public opinion, every segment of the society and every sphere of distinct natural or convectional divides that constitute the eclectic mix of the country. This is because the process of making a constitution is as important as the final product, the constitution itself.
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi
Executive Director WARDC