Agenda for Femal Legislators
Nov 28, 2011 (Menafn - Daily Champion/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) --A recent call on female legislators by the wife of the President, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, to sponsor bills that will address specific issues that concern women, is, indeed, a most welcome development, considering that issues of women's rights in a number of areas, including healthcare, education, the economy, politics and reproductive rights, have not received the serious attention they deserve.
Indeed, notwithstanding that issues such as gender equality and the empowerment of women have, for some time now, remained at the heart of many national and international commitments, including the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), not much has been achieved in these areas in the country.
This, no doubt, must have informed the call, by Mrs. Jonathan at a recent dinner in honour of the female parliamentarians in Abuja, for them to always explore ways of enhancing the living conditions of Nigerian women through effective legislations.
According to the First Lady, there is need to make laws that will specifically address issues such as the 35 per cent affirmative action for women, female genital mutilation and widowhood rights as well as maternal and child mortality.
Although Mrs. Jonathan expressed delight that already some states had legislations that address violence against women in compliance with global and regional conventions, she reminded the female legislators that by initiating such bills and ensuring their passage into law, they would be impacting positively on the people of Nigeria.
Among the states that have so far enacted laws that pointedly address issues of women's rights are Edo State (Inhuman Treatment of Widows (Prohibition) Law, 2004); Anambra State (Gender and Equal Opportunities Commission Law, 2007); Rivers State (Abolition of Female Circumcision Law No. 2 of 2011); and Lagos state (Street Hawking Prohibition Law, 2008).
We unequivocally support the First Lady's call, especially taking into account the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to most international treaties, conventions and protocols on women's rights.
But despite being a signatory to these international commitments, not much progress has been made in the country as cases of violence against women, among other harmful practices, still persist.
Only recently, a banker was reportedly murdered in Lagos, allegedly by her husband. Presently, Abia state is in the eye of the storm following a reported case of a gang rape of a food vendor by a group of students at the state's university.
Also, across the country, abominable cases of rape, of even grandmothers by some young men that could pass as their grandchildren, have become regular occurrences. Similarly, the issue of child trafficking, sometimes, for child prostitution, as well as the high level of insecurity in the land, have all combined to define the Nigerian woman as endangered specie.
Till date, and to a large extent, Nigerian women have, literally, remained hewers of wood and fetchers of water, often denied education and basic medicare by a society that continues to consign the girl child and women, generally, to the second fiddle position.
Worse still is the fact that though the Child Rights Act, which captures the principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, was eventually passed into law in 2003, after many setbacks, early marriage (before the age of 18) continues in some parts of the country, along with the associated risks of adolescent childbearing, like Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF).
Clearly, early marriage limits opportunities girls may have for education as their literacy rates, primary school completion statistics and secondary school enrolment figures are all lower than those for boys. They are thus effectively disadvantaged when they compete with their male counterparts in different facets of life.
This also affects their ability to make informed decisions on their reproductive health, a development that is largely responsible for Nigeria leading the pack, in both infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, only behind India.
This ranking, by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), means that Nigeria contributes over 10 per cent of the world's total estimate of maternal deaths. And as sad as this scenario may seem, most of these deaths, and in some instances, disabilities that can cause lifelong suffering, are avoidable with proper health care services and basic education.
It is for this reason that female legislators must ensure that functionaries at various tiers of government come to terms with the fact that preventing maternal deaths and disabilities, as well as empowerment of women are serious human rights issues demanding urgent attention in terms of increased resource allocation and political commitment.
Rather than create the impression that they are only in their different legislative chambers to outdo one another in fashion displays, women in such privileged positions must begin to see themselves as activists fighting for women and children and, by extension, all Nigerians.
They must ensure that agitations are scaled up in all sectors that address the overall wellbeing of women and children. And in doing this, they must, of course, educate and mobilise their male counterparts to buy into their cause, which, indeed, is the common cause.
When, for instance, fewer women die due to childbirth related complications, the society would surely, be better for it, and significant reduction in maternal mortality rates can easily be achieved when all the legislators, male and female, are mobilised to tackle the factors inhibiting provision of maternal health care in the country, such as inadequate or lack of implementation of laws and government policies, systemic corruption, weak infrastructure, ineffective health services and insufficient skilled health care providers.
We, therefore, join in calling on the nation's female legislators to sponsor bills that will address these issues and take action to facilitate the passage of Bills that are being unduly delayed in their chambers, especially those on violence against women, domestication of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Equal Opportunities' Bill.
In fact, we recommend that any female legislator who is not active in championing the cause of women and children should be recalled by her constituents and must not be voted back into any elective office because the cost of not canvassing these issues vigorously and successfully would, indeed, continue to be devastating, not only for Nigerian women but for the nation as a whole.
Copyright Daily Champion. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).