The Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman Senate Adhoc Committee on Constitution Review, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, on Wednesday, explained why the Gender Equality Bill, sponsored by Senator Biodun Olujimi, has not received the necessary support to make it an Act of Parliament.
Omo-Agege who spoke in Abuja when he hosted a delegation of a non-partisan organisation, Women in Politics Forum, led by Ebere Ifendu, said that the Senators are being careful not to violate a critical section of the Constitution which prohibits discrimination.
However, the Delta Central lawmaker assured that the Ninth National Assembly will expand the political space for women in the ongoing amendment of the 1999 Constitution, according to a statement by his media aide, Yomi Odunuga, in Abuja.
The Delta Central lawmaker noted that since the women represent 58 per cent of the Nigerian population, their voices must be heard.
He therefore charged them to take advantage of their numerical strength during elections.
Explaining his reason for sponsoring a constitution alteration bill which seeks to reserve 30 per cent of cabinet appointments for youth and women at the federal level and 40 per cent at the state level, he said the intention is to expand the political space for them.
“We are determined to expand the political space for women. It is also good that you understand that we operate within the confines of the Constitution. That same Constitution has prohibited discrimination against anoyone irrespective of gender.
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“So, that is the challenge we have always faced with the Gender Equality Bill, sponsored by Senator Biodun Olujimi.
“Because inasmuch as we are very disposed to assist her to achieve the goals of those bills in consonance with the Beijing Protocol, the challenge is how do we achieve that without enthroning a new set of discrimination? And to strengthen women participation, something has to give,” he said.
The Delta Central lawmaker assured women that their interests would be protected, but not to the detriment of the constitutional provisions against discrimination of whatever form.
He called on the Executive arm of government to always engage the Legislature before signing treaties and agreements.
This, he explained, will enable accelerated domestication by the National Assembly.
He also tasked the forum to help in mobilising the House of Representatives in concurring to the Sexual Harassment Bill passed by the Senate as well as the domestication of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act in all the states of the Federation.
In her earlier remarks, Ifendu called for the inclusion of Affirmative Action in the Constitution.
She cited African countries like Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Rwanda and Seychelles to buttress her position.
“There is no better time than now to achieve an inclusive democracy. We need to move from civil governance to true democracy where women, youth and persons with disabilities will have equal opportunities to participate in governance,” she said.
Lawmakers who joined the Deputy President of the Senate to receive the guests include Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe; Deputy Minority Whip, Senator Saabi Yau; legislator representing Delta North Senatorial District, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi and his counterpart from Rivers South East, Senator Barinada Mpigi.