By Angela Atabo/Augusta Eke
Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) has urged the National Assembly to alter the constitution by including gender diversity under section 14(3) and(4)after the Federal Character.
LEDAP made the call at a news conference in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), with support from U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) under the project titled Supporting Advancement of Gender Equality (SAGE).
Ms Pamela Okoroigwe, Senior Program Manager, LEDAP said that the constitutional amendment would serve as legal backing for the implementation of the National Gender Policy.
Okoroigwe said that LEDAP reviewed some of the laws and policies that provided access to political offices like the Electoral Act, INEC Gender Policy and the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill.
She said that the group made some findings on the existing legal barriers as well as recommendations to policy makers on affirmative action that could be adopted to increase access to political offices for women.
She said that the group therefore, proposed the amendment of identified sections in existing laws and enactment of others which would address the identified gaps and back the implementation of policies.
This ,she said was because women in Nigeria faced many challenges excluding them from entering, remaining and engaging in politics as aspirants ,candidates, delegates and party executives.
“We call on legislators to alter the constitution by changing the masculine language of the constitution to all gender accommodating language in line with the preamble of the 1999 Constitution, which states:
“We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’ and not the constant usage of he and chairman as found in the constitution .
“The alteration of the constitution should include place of residence and other status under sections 15 and 42 in the prohibited grounds to cure the peculiar women-only-discrimination fueled by place of origin versus place of marriage conflict.
“Affirmative action should be introduced in the constitution under section 42 to reverse the long years of unequal political participation and serve as legal backing.’’
Okoroigwe said that the constitution should state under Section 48 that every state should have not less than one female senator while composition of the House of Representative, States Assembly and special advisers should have 35 per cent women.
She added that the constitution should introduce that the president, governor, senate president, speaker and state houses of assembly should have a deputy of a different gender to reflect the true spirit of constitutional non-discrimination.
She said that the composition of the courts, commissions, councils, bodies and tribunals should include not less than 35 per cent as women to serve as a standard core minimum.
Okoroigwe said that the constitution should be altered to also change Federal Character Commission to Gender and Equal Opportunities Commission to redefine federal character in the interpretative section to include gender diversity.
She said that LEDAP wanted the constitution altered to make INEC staff and ad hoc officers to include 35 per cent women and establish gender units and women friendly registration and voting points.
Okoroigwe said the group urged INEC to develop action plans for the objectives in its guidelines, regulations and gender policy with timelines and conduct a baseline gender audit of all political parties.
This ,she said was because LEDEP believed that women’s participation was a matter of justice ,being part of Nigerian society and a call to duty because women have obligation to contribute their perspective to its advancement.
Ms Annabel Ugwoke ,National Democratic Institute(NDI) Lead, SAGE programme ,said that the organisation has been working to support democracy in Nigeria since 1999 through engagement with legislative and executive arms of government among others.
Ugwoke said the group sought to address barriers to women’s political participation by advocating for reforms of Nigeria’s laws and political parties procedures and policies.
According to her, the 2019 general elections produced less than 10 per cent of women in elective positions both at the national and state levels.
“Therefore the ongoing constitutional review process is a great opportunity to include gender responsive provisions in the amendment to address the issue.
“As activities for the 2021 women’s day continues with the theme choose to challenge continues, ,I urge the you all to chose to challenge inequality in our political process.’’
Ugwoke urged the media to engage in positive reportage of women in politics because when women were part of decision making process, the socio economic development of a nation will improve.