Nigeria and many other countries of the world celebrated international women’s day on the 8th of March 2021. The history of this day can be traced back about a century ago when a number of women staged a protest to demand the rights for women to vote during elections in the United States of America.
As the world continues to relish in the excitement of this special day for women, analysts in Nigeria have been looking at how the issue of gender balance and women empowerment is being tackled in the country. All over the world, the subject of gender equality has been recognized and accepted as a front-burner issue that must be treated with urgency in our society.
In Nigeria, women like the late Queen Amina of Zauzau, late Fumilayo Anikulapo Ransom Kuti, late Professor Dora Akunyili, the former minister of finance and current DG of World Trade Organisation, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, among a few others have played outstanding roles in projecting the voices of women in the last few decades.
Various governments in Nigeria at all levels have made promises on gender balancing. Very little has been seen in the area of fulfillment. Reacting to how women have fared so far in Nigeria, a leading human rights activist, Dr. Joe Odumakin said; “truth is, women have not been adequately represented in governance in Nigeria”. She however admonished the women folks to take their rightful position in the country by forming a coalition within their circles to push their issues to the front burner.
For her, “when it comes to women grabbing any leadership position in Nigeria, there is the need for strong legislation that will support the struggle for gender equality, like it is done in other parts of the world.”
On his part, Chairman, Center for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran says; “women should be given political appointment based on merit and efforts. In Nigeria, women are appointed based on agitations that were made over the years, not because the men allow them to occupy their rightful position that they deserve.”
He pointed out that, “women should be recognised based on their own merit rather than being compensated. The current administration has also recognised women in one way or the other.”
He also hammered on the need for women to support one another in all areas, especially politics. He noted that “the international bodies recognise our women even more than we do, and the moment they put themselves together to project their demands, the men folks will find it difficult to undermine them. Women will now begin to win elections as governors, local government chairmen, even as president.”
It is remarkable to note that women have made their marks in the present government of President Buhari. Zainab Ahmed as Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning; Sadiya Umar Faruk as the Minister for Social Development, Pauline Talen as the Minister for Women Affairs; and Gbemisola Saraki as the Minister of State for Transportation, have all made remarkable impact in their respective ministries. Folashade Mejebi Yemi-Esan is equally the Head of Service of Federation and another woman of impact in the present administration.
The framework for women empowerment and human development (UNDP:2012) is reflected in the broad vision espoused in the Millennium Development Goals, the internationally agreed set of time-bound documented goals for ensuring gender equality and advancing opportunities in diverse areas of human development.
The convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and accepted by 180 states outlines the rights and equality of women and their freedom from all forms of discrimination.
The gap between the Millennium Development Goal of promoting Gender Equality and its actualisation in Nigeria is the action dilemma of governments at all levels. The obstacles include lack of political will, the prevailing patriarchal culture, false public investment, and the absence of adequate productive capacity that will create the opportunities for women empowerment and development.
These problems explain the inevitability and imperative of a pragmatic action-based approach that will translate gender equality programmes and goals into concrete reality. The task of achieving the target of gender equality in Nigeria in the coming years requires not just passive policies that are separate and distinct, but an active process embodying proper analysis, goal definition, specific actions, and adequate monitoring of results.
From observed trends in other countries, one or two changes in laws and policies can also go far in creating a chain reaction that can yield multiple impacts. Understanding this fact, the Lagos State Government under the then leadership of Babatunde Fashola approved six months of maternity leave for female public servants from the day they give birth. The essence of the leave according to the Lagos State Government, was to enable mothers breastfeed babies to optimal standard.
Also, Kogi state government, under the leadership of Governor Yaya Bello did same by extending maternity leave to six months. Yaya Bello is known for promoting gender equality by appointing a woman as secretary to the state government. He is also the only governor with an all-female team of bodyguards.
In the same vein, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, the first governor from Northwest Nigeria to appoint a woman as his deputy, equally approved six months for maternity leave for female public servants in the state.
Political parties in Nigeria have also encouraged women in Nigeria to join politics by granting them waivers in the payment for registration forms for elective positions in some cases.
The problems of gender inequality in Nigeria have been on for decades. Issues of patriarchy and gender equality are always touchy topics when it comes to any country in Africa because it is largely influenced by religious beliefs and diverse cultures.
Even the current pandemic caused by COVID-19 is worsening the issue of gender inequality. The United Nations (UN) said that the impact of the ravaging COVID-19 may lead to eight million more women than men sliding into extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa this year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti stated this in a message to mark the 2021 international women’s day.
According to her, “inequality that causes disadvantage to women have been exacerbated during the pandemic. The pandemic will have long-term impacts on the social and economic fabric of our societies, including progress towards gender equality.”
On the intervention efforts meant to curb the impact of the problem, she disclosed that WHO is providing guidance and technical support to governments to ensure the continuous delivery of essential gender-responsive services and to assess the barriers girls and women face in accessing these services.
The above position of WHO is what should make gender equality and women empowerment central themes in global treaties, covenants, and declarations principally, is a strong catalyst for all development strategies. Empowering women can target and draw in positive factors like poverty reduction, improved living standards, good governance, and profitable productive investments. These factors are critical to the creation of an enlarged capacity that provide men and women equal opportunity and unrestrained access to an improved standard of living.
Essentially too, African countries have demonstrated some measure of concern about human development problems by initiating specific developmental goals and strategies and accepting the critical role of gender equality or parity in the developmental process. The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) adopted in 1981; the Women Right Protocol of 2003; the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) adopted in 2001, are some of the initiatives that are linked with the Millennium Development Goals and at the same time, a testimony to a commendable response from the African continent.