This blog was written by Oyeronke Oyebanji, a ONE Champion in Nigeria.
A few days ago human rights activist, Joe Okei-Odumakin, shared a picture of me six years ago, at the age of 15, marching with a group of activists to the Lagos State Government House. The picture, shared on Instagram, served as a reminder of how we protested against the marriage of a Senator to a minor. That picture could not have emerged at a more significant time than now when a Bill to protect girls was deliberated on in the Nigerian Senate.
On the 8th of March 2016, the world commemorated International Women’s Day. The theme of the day was “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality”. Nigerians on social media joined in trending the hashtags; #IWD2016, #GenderParity, and others. Events were held in almost every State. Our Senators were not left out of the celebrations. I saw pictures of schoolgirls visiting the Senate President full of smiles and excitement.
Sadly, on the 15th of March 2016, barely a week after celebrating International Women’s Day, the Gender Parity and Prohibition of Violence against Women Bill was deliberated in Senate and consequently thrown out of the house thanks to numerous nays and very silent ayes. I believe there were Senators who said ‘Yes’ only in their hearts probably for fear of being looked down upon. I would like to believe that female Senators voted yes for this Bill in their hearts.
In Nigeria, 43% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday, these are only the recorded ones. There are thousands of girls in villages who still remain unaccounted for. Hundreds of thousands of girls and women continue to suffer from domestic violence but remain silent. They are trained to completely submit to their husbands. There is no stringent law that protects them from domestic violence. Our Senators have broken their promises to millions of girls and women, promises of a better status and a better life. The reasons shared for the Bill’s rejection were to me based on personal and religious grounds.
The Bill, presented by Senator Abiodun Olujimi, sought equal rights for women in marriage, education and work. However, a number of Senators, including the Senator my classmates and I had protested against years ago, believe that women cannot be accorded equal rights. How do we look forward to a world with sustainable solutions when girls and women are constantly denied their rights? I am tired of Nigeria ‘occupying the last position on gender equality’ whilst women and girls in other countries are being empowered. I want to be able to raise my head high confident that the laws of my country protect me from discrimination. Young girls want to go to school and not just watch their brothers go simply because of their gender. A widow does not want to fight for her husband’s inheritance whilst going through the psychological trauma of mourning him.
As the Bill is being adjusted for re-introduction in the House, I call on all the senators to hear our plea and grant Nigerian women their human rights. In my view, the benefits of empowering and educating women and girls are endless and should be taken advantage of.
I look forward to the year 2030, when Nigeria will join other countries to celebrate Planet 50-50, equal treatment for men and women. When Poverty is Sexist becomes Poverty Was Sexist. My name is Oyeronke Oyebanji, and I stand for Gender Equality.
Join me in adding your voice in the fight for gender equality. Join ONE.