LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian senators have rejected, for the third time in five years, a bill that seeks to promote gender equality, citing “socio-cultural and Islamic concerns.”
The proposed law was dropped after some lawmakers — mostly northern Muslims — in the country’s upper legislative chamber argued that it went against their interpretation of their religion’s principles.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is deeply divided along religious and ethnic lines, and women rarely make it to top positions of power — including in the senate where only 7% of the senators are women.
Among them is the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Biodun Olujimi from Ekiti state in southern Nigeria, who said that the proposed law would stem a tide of gender-based violence against women.
The bill would criminalize discrimination on the ground of gender or marital status, and also seeks to better enforce existing laws on gender-based violence.
But for many of the lawmakers during Wednesday’s plenary session, it was strictly a religious issue.
“Equating opportunities actually infringes on the provisions of the Quran … and also the Bible,” argued Sen. Yusuf Yusuf from Taraba state in the north. “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.”
His concern was re-echoed by several other lawmakers, forcing the sponsor to change the title from “Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill” to “Gender Equity Bill.”
That made little difference, however, to opponents who blocked the bill from going forward despite support shown by other lawmakers.
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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