Nigerian women are protesting against gendered bias in the constitution

Three bills will be reconsidered in the next phase of voting

For the past week, Nigerian women have been protesting against gendered and discriminatory laws in their country’s 1999 constitution which were rejected on appeal. One of the amendments, if passed, would have granted citizenship to the husbands of Nigerian women who are foreign-born, as the Nigerian constitution already confers automatic citizenship on foreign-born wives of Nigerian men. Another would have given a woman the right to become indigenes of their husband’s state after a marriage of five years.

Yet, when these bills reached Nigeria’s House of Representatives, they were rejected for the fifth time since efforts began to amend the 1999 constitution. While other efforts have fallen to the same fate, this particular round of non-acceptance is markedly different as it underscores a wider problem and illuminates the deeply conservative nature at every level of socialisation in the Nigerian society.

On March 1, a week to this year’s International Women’s Day, the National Assembly (NASS) rejected five bills and amendments of a similar nature, which aimed to alleviate women’s civic and political rights and participation were rejected. Among the earlier mentioned bills, the NASS also rejected a bill creative additional seats for women in the House of Assembly and increase the percentage of appointed positions for women.

It’s not hard to see why such a decision would have been reached when there is a dearth of adequate representation for women in the country’s governance, with 95.9% male legislators. The rejection of the 5 bills spurred demonstrations and protests in major cities in the country last week including Lagos and Abuja with protests also resuming today in 4 states, on International Women’s Day. For many, these are laws that should be enjoyed by citizens of a country regardless of a person’s gender but for Nigerian women, the law rarely offers any sort of justice.


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Alongside this, women-led organisations began petitioning the government last week. Womanifesto, a coalition of pro-gender equality organisations sent a petition to both the state and federal governments demanding the “urgent re-convening, reconsideration and immediate passage of the five women/gender-related bills’’, among other requests.

Today, the rescinded upon their initial decision. The House of Representatives announced officially on their Twitter that three of the five bills will be offered for reconsideration during the next voting on proposed amendments to the constitution. This will include the bills relating to  citizenship, indigenship and 35% affirmative action for women. This year’s IWD theme of #BreakingTheBias is particularly pertinent in times like this. Harm against women is baked into almost every fabric of society that even our very laws fail protect us, our interests or our assets.

This year, as we all celebrate and champion dynamic women working in various fields across the world, it’s also important to look inwards and recognise our own gendered bias against women, including transwomen, and recognise how we unfairly and unjustly we discriminate and perpetuate harm against them in every interaction. For change to occur, we need a top to bottom change that addresses the realities that women face.

Featured image credits/CNN