By Luminous Jannamike
ABUJA – Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has assured Nigerians of speedy passage of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEO Bill) into law to fully guarantee and protect the rights of women and girls in the country.
Saraki made the promise when he received a coalition of women groups and activists who led a march to the National Assembly to highlight the plight of Nigerians who have suffered discrimination and violence on the basis of their gender.
Represented by Senator Biodun Olujimi, the Senate Minority Leader, Saraki explained that the ‘offensive’ parts of the draft Bill which frustrated past attempts to pass it into law have been removed to pave way for quicker legislative action on the Bill.
The Senate President said: “We had cancelled two public hearings on the Bill in the past but it might interest you to know that we had looked into it with stakeholders including the UN women and we are taking out the offensive parts.
“With the way it is right now, the GEO Bill will be passed. The only issue is the elections. We believe that immediately after the elections, we will do great work on it to ensure it is passed into law.”
Earlier, Ms. Buky Williams, the Executive Director of Education as a Vaccine (EVA) who spoke on behalf of the coalition, lamented the setwokenbacks the Bill had suffered in Senate, saying Nigerian women and girls want to experience the change the GEO Bill portends with regards to the guarantee and protection of their rights.
She, therefore, demanded an “immediate consideration for a strong GEO Bill that protects adolescent girls’ and young women’s rights as well as puts more women in power who can speak and stand up for girls and other women with confidence to end all forms of discrimination and gender-based violence.
“It is illegal not to give someone a job on the grounds that they may have children in the future. We need the GEO Bill that ensures that women’s right to having children is not used as a basis for discrimination in employment. Equality of opportunity and treatment between men and women is key! We demand that a minimum of 35% of all offices, positions, facilities or appointments should be reserved for women in political and public spheres.
“We must stop taking issues surrounding girls and women for granted and start setting it amongst the top priorities of government. The National Assembly should prioritize girls and women and pass the GEO Bill into law.
“Today, we march to affirm equality of men and women in the application of the same conditions for career and vocational guidance, for access to studies; and equal opportunities to benefit from scholarships, bursaries and other study grants as well as protect the rights of women with disabilities and suffering from physical or emotional abuse in private or public places.
“Today, we march for a stronger Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill that is inclusive of all the women’s rights deficient in Nigeria and obtain commitments from policy makers to utilize their platforms to finalize, pass into law and implement the GEO Bill.
The women groups who formed the coalition are Education as a Vaccine, The She Tank, Gender Technical Unit, Girls Voices, Gender and Affirmative Action, Vaccine Network for Disease Control, National Coalition on Affirmative Action and LACVAW.