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Nudity Bill: How Govt officials embarrassed Nigeria with a 73-man delegation at the UN

Posted by Written by Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor on 2008/07/21 | Views: 3220 |

Nudity Bill: How Govt officials embarrassed Nigeria with a 73-man delegation at the UN

The International Monetary Fund expects global growth to slow significantly in the second half of the year, before recovering gradually in 2009.

* The delegation was the highest ever in the history of the UN

The desperate attempt by Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette to get her proposed Bill for an Act to Prohibit and Punish Public nudity, sexual intimidation and other related offences gain wider acceptance suffered a major set-back at the United Nation’s General Assembly when the bill was criticized and dismissed by committee experts across the world. The situation, Saturday Vanguard learnt was made worse by the inability of the Nigeria 73-member delegation that stormed the UN two-hour convention to expatiate on it.

Senator Ekaette’s bill which has made two unsuccessful outings on the floor of the senate prescribes three months imprisonment for ladies who display their belly buttons, breasts or wear mini skirts in public places.

The bill defines public nudity as

a. State of nakedness in the public or open;

b. State of indecent dressing which expose in the public or in the open any of the following parts of the human body:

i. The breast of a female above the age of 14 years;

ii. The laps of a female above the age of 14 years;

iii. The belly and or waist of a female above the age of 14 years;

iv. Any part of the body from two (2) inches below the shoulders downwards to the knee of a female person above the age of 14 years;

v.Any part of the body of the male person above the age of 14 years from the waist to the knee;

c.Any form of dressing with a transparent cloth or clothing in the public or the open which exposes any part of the body from two inches below the shoulders level downward to the knee of a female person above the age of 14 years; provided that exposure of the hands of the female person above the age of 14 years shall not be construed as public nudity.

d.Any form of dressing with a transparent cloth or clothing which exposes any part of the body of the male person above the age of 14 years from the waist to the knee in the public or open.

It received mixed reception in the Senate yesterday.

Since the bill was introduced for debate in the Senate on February 6, 2008 there have been mixed reactions both on the floor of the senate and utside. Nigerian women, civil society groups and other members of the senate rose up strongly in opposition against the bill. Media reports across the country were strongly opposed to the bill. The senate president in his remark during the debate on the bill did not seem favourably disposed towards the bill.

“Laws are different from moral teachings. We must not mix the two, morality we must leave for our religious houses,’’ Senator Mark said during the debate on the bill and the crowd had cheered him on.

“I was talking to a Fulani friend of mine the other day and he told me that their women are used to wearing the short dresses and that is appealing to their men, so why should anybody tell them not to wear that type of dress.

“We must establish why it is that a man can dress in pants and walk all over the place but a woman cannot dress in the same manner and walk all over the place. I think the legally minded will decide whether it is discriminatory or not,” the Senate President had asserted.

The Nigerian team to the UN convention headed by the Minister of Women Affairs, Saudatu Usman Bungudu also included the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, Joy Ogwu and Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette, the sponsor of the Nudity Bill at the Nigeria’s senate amongst others.

After the initial dismay expressed over the large delegation from Nigeria, the Minister of Women Affairs presented the report of the Nigerian delegation, a draft legislation titled “A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Enforcement of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Purposes Connected Therewith - 2005” which she said was part of Nigeria’s ongoing constitutional and electoral reforms intended to ensure gender mainstreaming in the National Constitution, as well as affirmative action..

She told the UN Assembly that Nigerian women, under the aegis of the Gender Electoral and Constitution Memoranda Committee, had recently demanded that 35 per cent of all elected government posts be reserved for them and had recently submitted to the National Electoral Reform Committee in Abuja an appeal to repeal all laws -- including the Constitution and the Electoral Act -- that militated against women’s participation in politics and their holding of elected posts.

The Minister spoke on how Nigeria had worked in the past several years to protect the rights of women and girls in education, employment, health, the court system, the home, conflict prevention and peace promotion. Nudity Bill which is still facing opposition at home was also discussed.

Nigeria’s presentation attracted reactions across the length and the breath of the audience who were experts and delegates from several countries.

The salvo at the nudity bill was fired by Glenda Simms, an expert from Jamaica who expressed disagreement over the proposed nudity bill and asked rhetorically:

“What was that about nudity? Would the police go around with a tape measure to check the length of clothes or see if a breast was exposed? Women had a right to aesthetics of their bodies and the right to present themselves any way they wanted. A woman’s body was the only piece of real estate on which she owed no mortgage. Dress codes were about power and dressing a woman from head to toe was a form of rape”

Strangely, the Nigerian delegation to the Assembly could not explain the proposed bill on nudity or argue it out with the critics. Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette who formed membership of Nigeria’s 73 member delegation at the occasion could not utter a word in defense of the bill she vehemently pursues at home. When she spoke, Ekaette, who is of the committee on Women and Youth Development in the senate spoke on other issues pertaining women but was loudly silent on her pet project.

The issue of the nudity bill was equally loudly ignored by other experts from different parts of the world who chose to speak on more relevant issues like violence against women, rape, female genital mutilation, women and child’s right and proper representation of women in the politics and economic life of the Nigerian nation and government.

Meriem Belmihoub, an expert from Algeria noted the large turn out of women in Nigeria’s delegation for a two hour session and expressed hope that women are equally represented at the federal level of Nigeria’s political life and governance, especially in appointment positions.

Although kudos was given to Nigeria’s efforts to close the gender gap, committee experts lamented that, despite promises announced in the past to increase to 30 per cent the percentage of women in legislative posts, men still accounted for 90 per cent of the country’s legislature. Not enough was being done, they said, to curb such harmful traditional customs as genital mutilation, legal wife beating and degrading widowhood practices that denied widows their inheritance and sometimes forced them out of their homes.

Experts also took a swipe at the gender pay gap, sexual harassment and discrimination in the work place, particularly practised by the banking sector, against unmarried and pregnant women. While they criticized the proposed “public nudity” law that attempted to limit women’s rights, they insisted that more must be done to lower Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate -- the second highest in the world.

Ferdous Ara Begun from Bangladesh asserted that violence against women in Nigeria was an issue and wondered at the dilly- dallying in adopting the bill on violence against women.

Rape was also identified as a global concern at the convention especially in Nigeria where women don’t usually report it owing to the stigma attached to it. The Committee experts that attended the conference further argued against the norm that rape translates to adultery if women could not prove it.

Nigerian delegates battled frantically to defend the country’s stringent laws that tend to favour men at the expense of women.

The delegates noted in their responses that the enabling environment created in Nigeria by the return to democratic rule had given rise to a vibrant civil society engaged in promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls, as well as preventing and eliminating discrimination against them.

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