Why the Fuss About Gender Equality?
By Laz Ude Eze
Seven years ago while on call duty at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, I had a female patient referred from a general hospital on account of poor progress in labour. The labour had lasted for more than 12 hours and we observed signs of obstruction on examination. The woman was weak and the baby was in distress; a decision of assisted delivery through caesarean section was reached. After counselling, the woman verbally agreed but the written consent was to be given by the husband. Yes, you read me right – the husband. The man had a different opinion, his pastor had “prophesied that his wife would deliver like a Hebrew woman”; so he declined consent. He later bowed to pressure after hours of marathon counselling and signed the consent form. The operation was successful, but the baby had signs of brain damage. During post natal care, the woman had started leaking urine from her vagina (known as Vesico-Vaginal Fistula – VVF). She would have to go through another surgery to repair her leaking bladder. The baby was at risk of having cerebral palsy which is usually associated with suboptimal motor function and low intellectual capacity. This pathetic incident can only occur in a society like ours where women are denied the right to make informed decisions on matters concerning their body and their health.
It is no longer news that a week after the celebration of International Women’s Day, the Nigerian Senate rejected a proposed legislation that seeks to promote equal rights and opportunities for women. The official title of the bill was “A bill for an Act to Incorporate and enforce certain provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Protocol of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the rights of women in Africa, and other matters connected therewith, 2016 (SB. 116)”. This decision of the Senate has received knocks from well-meaning and informed Nigerians. Is it not ironic and hypocritical that the senate refused to approve a bill drawn from international conventions which the country had signed and agreed to? Is it not vexatious and insensitive that this happened while Nigerian women are discussing how to guarantee rights and welfare of women globally at the ongoing meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York?
Interestingly, I have listened to some men who think that gender equality as being synonymous with empowering women to disrespect the males. This view was also expressed by a couple of corps members during a recent seminar on gender equity; I was a speaker at the event. Others believe it’s an attempt to impose western culture on us. Frankly, I’m not outraged by these arguments as I believe that persons who hold this opinion would benefit from robust awareness and reorientation on the meaning and importance of gender equality/equity/parity. Gender discrimination is a global ill but nations are making efforts to eliminate it and have been largely associated with success stories. Our society has remained under-developed because we appear to be comfortable that many of our young girls don’t go to school and married off as children. Can Nigeria achieve its full potential when as much as 50,000 women die every year from pregnancy-related health conditions and we do little to stop it? Do we expect to achieve sustainable development when many of our men and even women prefer a cave-life that regards women as good for nothing but sex and domestic work?
The gender equality bill would not have altered the biology of a woman; rather, it will ensure that a woman lives as woman and treated as human and not as an animal or slave. Gender equality means that the girl child is allowed to go to school and acquire education like her male counterparts and not married off at the age of nine or fifteen. It means that girls are allowed to grow up and have matured reproductive organs before procreation in order to guarantee optimal maternal health and pregnancy outcomes. It means that widows are allowed to live happily again and raise their children with their family’s wealth. It means that women can make informed decisions on matters relating to their body and their health. It means that women should be part of decision making in the society especially on matters affecting them and their children. Nothing about it suggest that men would lose their right or authority in the family or in the society. So why would anyone – man or woman – be scared of the provisions of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill?
Nevertheless, I’m pleased about the response of Nigerians towards this shameful action of the senate. While I’m scared about the possible fate of my nieces, cousins and unborn daughter in a country that care little about their safety, health and economic empowerment, I’m glad that my generation is speaking out and want a positive change. We should walk the talk. I wished the sponsors of the bill had done sufficient public sensitization before the second reading as was done for the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Bill a year ago; perhaps the outcome would have been different. I commend the senators who supported the bill and I strongly endorse the suggestions for it to be re-introduced without delay. I also commend the five states (Anambra, Ekiti, Imo, Kogi and Plateau) that have reportedly passed this law in the past for their bold step; the remaining thirty one states should emulate them. I envision a Nigeria where young girls will grow up healthy, get educated, live happily and achieve their God-given potentials without any obstacle. Still wondering why the fuss about gender equality? Now you know! God bless Nigeria.
Laz is a public health physician, health policy advocate, development consultant and the founder of African Youth Initiative on Population, Health and Development (AfrYPoD). He tweets as @donlaz4u.