Toyin Saraki recalls how the north shot down women equality bill in 2016

Toyin Saraki, wife of Senate President Bukola Saraki, says Nigeria will not prosper if it leaves women, who constitute 50 percent of its population, out of politics.

She blamed the non-passage of Gender Equality and Responsibility bill at the National Assembly in 2016 on the opposition by the “northern population”, which “perpetuates a patriarchal norm that is not necessarily good for us”.

Speaking in Abuja on Friday at a seminar to commemorate the International Women’s Month, with the theme ‘How do women win elections in 2019?’, organised by the European Union (EU) and Yar’Adua Centre, Saraki said impacts of empowering women have been well-documented worldwide.

Her words: “So when I looked at the challenges faced by the Gender Equality and Opportunities bill, I have to be frank with you as the wife of the Senate President that the first I knew of the bill was when it was shut down on TV.

“I could not believe that the movers or sponsors of the bill did not deem it fit to lobby anybody. I’m not even talking about lobbying fellow women; nobody had been lobbied to come out in support of this bill. I saw it on TV,  and as you know I’m not political but I have political conscience, so I was waiting by the front door of my house, tapping my feet, just waiting for the President of the Senate to come home and ask actually what happened.

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“And my husband came back with his hands in the air because he knew he was going to come and explain. The next day, I took it upon myself, I found as many women group I could find in Abuja, quickly conveyed senators’ wives and started asking them ‘how do we rescue this bill?’

“We actually did take a poll of sort and the bill in my opinion seems to have found death on women’s right to own property and women’s right to inherit.  We do have very strong customs in this country; some fair and some which are very unfair.

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“We found out that opposition to the bill did not necessarily come from Muslim population as most people would think because actually in Islam, in Sharia law, a woman has right to inherit 50 percent whether or not the male in her life, whether her father or uncle, left a will. The opposition to the bill came from the North, which perpetuates a patriarchal norm that is not necessarily good for us.”

In its statistical report on Women and Men in Nigeria (2014), the National Bureau of Statistic (NBS) revealed that women constitute 49.5 percent of the Nigerian population while men constitute 50.5 percent.

Quoting a DFID report, the wife of the Senate President remarked that when more 10 percent girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases on average at 35 percent, and when women have the same amount of land as men and ownership of that land, there is over 10 percent in crop yields.

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She noted that “these effects from education to agriculture benefit the entire nation and multiply when women take on decisions of responsibility themselves”.

“We know there is a moral imperative to empower women; we also should not shy away from making a hard case of women economic empowerment,” she said.

“The UN estimates the gender inequality costs Sub-Sahara Africa on average $95 billion a year. So we can be no doubt that the long side is moral imperative, there is a guarantee of huge rewards for countries that embrace equality of gender.

“I want Nigerian women to remember, first, you are good; and second, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. So as we rock the cradle we have to start at the grassroots.”

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