Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Women across the 36 states caused a huge stir in Abuja recently as they took over the streets of the seat of power. They had a new message for the public: No more second fiddle role in Nigeria.
They urged women to no longer restrict themselves to working hard to ensure that men get elective positions. They said the solution is for them too to learn how to occupy the driver’s seat.
Acting under the platform of Women For Women (W4W) and HE4SHE Group, they held a rally in Abuja on May 10, 2018. The theme of the rally was: Pressing for Progress. Participants comprised former deputy governors, ministers, lawmakers, ambassadors, notable business owners, retired public servants, students and women living with disabilities, accompanied by the police band. They marched through the streets of Abuja before settling at the National Assembly complex to submit their demands to the federal lawmakers. They later moved to the Eagle’s Square, for the grand finale.
The women with some men who were sympathetic to their cause turned out in hundreds, dressed in colourful attires, with the dominant colour being magenta (deep pink) and white, openly canvassed better recognition for women on the social, political and economic forte.
The group called on government at all levels to create a level playing ground to enable increased participation of women in all spheres of national development. The W4W and HE4SHE also called on the National Assembly to take further steps to create an enabling environment for the elimination of violence against women and girls and curb the growing menace of sexual and gender-based violence.
They regreted that even with the landmark legislative achievement in enacting laws like the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP Act), the appetite to prosecute and enforce is limited. Offences against women and girls such as rape, sexual and emotional abuse, trafficking, and all other harmful practices against them are still perpetuated, primarily because of the patriarchal nature of the society.
The W4W and HE4SHE are uncomfortable with the decline or reversal of many of the gains of previous years as they record abysmal number of girls without formal education and increase in dropouts as well as women without access to health care especially reproductive health.
Also the number of women in politics has dropped drastically, elected and appointed representatives are few and there is total absence of deliberate action to advance the cause of women.
The gender policy of Nigeria, which guarantees 35 percent affirmative action in favour of women and the Constitution, which guarantees non-discrimination and parity for women are totally being ignored.
W4W expressed worried about the high incidences of unemployment, particularly among women and youth, which has further increased the poverty rate in the country. They decried the fact that the economic decline, the hope inspired by previous national programmes/actions is being deferred or abandoned.
On other fronts, the exposure of women to violent crimes, banditry, conflicts, internal displacements, exploitation by insurgents and militants, drugs and sexually induced crime/oppression and abuse have made the living environment for women and girls a matter of national emergency.
Yet, women are not helpless nor are they unmindful of their electoral power. Women are grateful for the partnership of men but challenge the leadership at all levels to act on these burning issues.
On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, W4W was compelled to recall the four UN global conferences on women giving rise to the Beijing Plan of Action, the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs.)
They insisted Nigeria cannot afford to abandon these commitments or pretend that they do not count. Notwithstanding these positions, progress has been slow with several reversals.
W4W and HE4SHE are working in collaboration with men to press for progress in the realisation of women’s empowerment and development in Nigeria.
W4W and HE4SHE also demanded that all who are desirous of leading Nigeria factor the demands of women into their campaigns, including the adoption of deliberate steps to increase women’s participation in politics/leadership and the twinning of women with men in all positions to ensure perspectives, which advance the issues/rights of women and girls are captured.
Former Minister of Women Affairs, Josephine Anenih, tied underdevelopment of many nations to them leaving their women behind in decision-making: “Women have been relegated to the background for too long. We are tired of sitting at the background, we are coming out to help our nation to move forward.
“We want to sit on the table but if they refuse to give us at the table, we will create our seats if necessary on the table. We want to work for equal opportunity for everybody. We want removal of impediments on the paths of women to be part of nation building.”
Obi Igwe Martha Dunkwu, the king woman of Anioma land, noted that human beings have failed today because they have failed God. She regretted that Women are failing today because they have abandoned womanhood and the children:
“If we do not bring children up well we have also failed God. It is our duty not to take the place of men but to step up and do what needs to done. Therefore the future of man is in the hands of woman.”
She commended the likes of the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emir of Kano, for championing the cause of women, and gave the North 45 percent for recognising the rights of women to own properties and inheritance but urged them to promote girl child education as well as put a stop to child-marriages.
She condemned the South East whose tradition does not allow women to inherit. She commended the Yoruba for supporting their women to soar in whatever area they choose to and to her Anioma land that has thrones for a man and a woman.
She called on the women to begin to train those that will take over from them and push for education, which is the universal law that liberates. She called for respect and prayers for the men, especially those in authority and urged to caution the youths not to abuse our leaders, “because if you can’t obey you can’t lead.
“I don’t want to see women become clapping members, cooks come 2019, vote for your kind who can solve the problems you are facing. Women should fund those seeking political office, the men do it for themselves, why can’t the women? Nothing will be given to you on a platter of gold, fight for it and take it.”
Former Minister of Education and World Bank Vice President for Africa, Oby Ezekwesili, noted that the competitiveness of a country is not dependent on whether they have oil but dependent on human talents. She regretted that Nigeria does not use human talents well because gender participation in development is very low:
“If Nigeria is going to develop like Singapore did, it must do what Singapore did. In Singapore, women are not excluded from development, from decision making at political and business levels. Women participation is guarantee.”
The she noted that while Rwanda has 68 per cent women participation, Nigeria has only 10 percent: “We must be giant of Africa in words and deeds.” She also noted that when women participate in process of development, everything grows faster and that equality of gender access to development is best guaranteed by women participation in politics:
“Every access that women need, they must first tackle political access else women issues will never top the agenda. We must support every woman that will run for office, if we do they will win.
“For good governance, when women are leaders, good governance is guaranteed. Women should understand their numbers. Twentynine millions voted out of which only 44 percent voted in the 2015 elections.
“In 2019, it will be 100 million that will vote and majority of them will be women. It is time to give red card for bad governance. The Nigerian women are the ones that will end poverty. Henceforth, Nigerian women are activated. Great Nigeria of our dream will be birth by our women.”
Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary General, who was represented said, “Gender inequality remains highest in the world, this must change. Upholding women’s right is a goal in itself. We need to keep standing up, speaking out and pushing limitations. The UN is in support of what the women are doing.”
Ambassador of Denmark and gender Champion for European Union said: “Nigeria needs many more women in politics, which is the EU agenda in Nigeria. You have shown that if you want change you must work for it and be proactive.
“We need partnerships, no woman or man alone can create the change we need. It needs the collective cooperation of all. The change you clamour for can’t come too soon, I support your clamor for change, I applaud the young leaders clamouring for change. We need the collective cooperation of all to succeed.
“Action is needed, we should not wait to see what others can do. We ourselves must be the change we want to see. You must be the activists, who will change the face of politics, break the glass ceiling.”
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Ayuba Wabba said: “We associate with this movement, is a great women movement that will emancipation our women. We will work with you to ensure that all forms of discrimination whether legal and cultural issues are removed.”