The First Lady, Aisha Buhari, has called on governments at all levels to rise to the global challenge of making sure the country attains its target for gender equality as set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Gender equality is the fifth of the 17 goals and 2023 is the deadline. In her goodwill message on the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) ‘Day of the Seafarers’, she appealed to ministries, departments and agencies to work harder for the empowerment of women and girls. The theme of the 2019 event was “On Board with Gender Equality” in the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Lagos. The First Lady called on government agencies, especially those in the maritime sector to ensure the attainment of the UN goals.
The Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Usman, commended NIMASA for initiating the theme at a time the First Lady is pushing for an increase in women’s participation in the nation’s maritime sector. Ms. Usman regretted the prevailing gender imbalance in the labour market which she said was a global problem although the “worst example” exists in the maritime community where records from the IMO indicate that a disheartening two per cent of the workforce are women. She encouraged young girls to take interest in science and technology subjects to enable them pursue careers in Shipping. The NPA, she said, now grants women a generous 16-week maternity leave and other incentives.
We commend the First Lady for her efforts and we urge her not to relent, especially when it is remembered that Nigeria failed to meet its target for the millennium development goals. The UN goals are indices of development, which indicate how well or badly a nation is doing in terms of real development. As the NPA MD further said, the nation needs to be constantly reminded that women and girls matter, and that “when we build women, we build humanity.” The Director-General of NIMASA, Peterside Dakuku, spoke of the agency’s gender sensitivity through which more Nigerian girls would be given training in specialised courses to enable them take up professional responsibilities, in addition to the 304 female cadets trained since the inception of the Nigerian Seafarers’ Development Programme (NSDP).
The muffled voice of the Nigerian womenfolk is hardly heard due to cultural history, yet it is in the interest of the country to let the women rise and shine. To do so, women must be encouraged to embrace politics and be entrusted with power to make them less dependent so they can contribute maximally to the development of the country. It is sad that women seem to have lost the gains they made during the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, when they controlled some of the country’s most important ministries. This is where we urge the First Lady to do the country a favour by ramping up her advocacy. President Buhari must increase the number of women in his new cabinet and other important public offices.
Our cultural preference for male children may have diminished, but the responsibilities we allocate to women in our public life need to change for higher responsibilities. We have tried to play deaf to the practice of affirmative action which has become the rule in many countries to correct the unhealthy imbalance in public office. We are playing an ostrich game. Statutory discrimination in inheritance and land ownership may have been accepted as unjust, yet its shadow hangs over every discussion about female property ownership.
The National Assembly should take our laws concerning the status and responsibilities of women to the 21st Century. The equal treatment of men and women is taken for granted in the country but issues like child marriage, sexual harassment, rape and other kinds of ill-treatment of women need to be changed. Above all, the economic empowerment of women is imperative for the reduction of poverty. The reality is that gender inequality hinders the growth of countries. It is an obstacle to the development of individuals, and is a hindrance to the progress of societies. We should strive to end female genital mutilation, which is against female health and well-being.