Gyang Bere, Jos
The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen has said politics would not be played with the issues of infants, maternal mortality, rape and violence against women in the country. She said a bill is ongoing in the National Assembly to address the issues including that of girl child marriage. Tallen said more women are being mentored to contest elective position in 2023 and to get involved actively in party politics.
You have been in the forefront of mobilising women in the country and now that you have been appointed Minister of Women Affairs, what are some of the challenges that you are passing through?
You will agree with me that Nigeria women are facing so many challenges, raging from domestic violence, which we are in the week of activism. The United Nations has declared November 25 to December 10 as week of activism against rape, violence against women and all kinds of inhuman activities. Apart from that, women face a lot of challenges; they are the mothers of the home, they are wives, sisters and everything to the menfolk. There is no man that will say he was not born by a mother and we tend to forget the significant role women play in shaping the society. A lot of women, particularly widows are left to fend for themselves and the children; and most of cultural problems where the husband dies, the family takes away everything and the woman is left alone to suffer with the children. All these are pertinent issues that the society must be concerned about it because the issue of women and children is Central to national development; and it is only ignorance that will make somebody to ignore the critical roles women play in the society.
The United Nations has declared these 16 days for the society to focus on issues that affect women and not that it will end after the 16 days but to make sure that the government addresses the issues. During the United Nations General Assembly, the world all gathered in New York, Presidents of the world and all African Presidents were all there. In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari led the delegation, myself and about eight Ministers from eight critical ministries. It will interest you to know that the issues of women and children top the deliberation; issues related to women are addressed, the issues that affect the family is addressed. Empowering and educating the girl child has multiplier effects; because once the woman is economically sound, the family is secure; you will eat good meal, if children are sick, she will take them to the hospital. I assure you that the woman’s money is for the family and this brings us to the issue of the girl child child. The girl child has a significant and multiplier effect if her issue is well addressed; and with God on our side, if you check the indices of almost all the convocations in Nigeria Universities in the last 15 years, the girl child has always emerged the overall best. Check the last convocation of the University of Jos, you will agree with me that the overall best students are female; the overall best students in most Faculties are female. I was overwhelmed with joy and we are going to do follow up on those girls. Those who have finished their NYSC and are doing there masters, I have got their contact from the University and we will locate them because this is what we want, for women to become the best in everything. We have millions of young people who have graduated and cannot get jobs; we are looking at how to engage them in income generated activities. They will be trained and empowered to boost their business; the girl child education is top in the front burner of Nigeria because the education of the girl child is very imperative; doing that is like educating the family and the nation.
Are we expecting a bill from your Ministry to ensure that education of girl child in Nigeria becomes necessary and to stem violence and rape against women?
Sure, in fact, the first day we flagged-off the 16 days of activism on women issues, the matter was raised in the Senate. I am working closely with female legislators, that is why there is a balance and better understanding between the National Assembly and the Executive. Female legislators have taken up the issues of women, since we launched the 16 days of activism; the chairperson of Senate Committee on women Affairs was there and she took it up. The following day, she presented a bill; women are taking it up at the National Assembly.
The figure of infant, maternal mortality rate is very alarming in Nigeria, what is your Ministry doing to address this scourge?
The issue of infant mortality is top and a very disturbing issue but you will agree with me that the number is coming down compared to what we used to have in the last four years. This is because since the assumption of this administration even before I became Minister of women Affairs, we were addressing most of these issues with the wife of the President. The wife of the President has taken up these issues very seriously. We are working closely with the Minister of Health and education to address the issues. I have reached out to Minister of education for intervention, Minister of Water Resources; Ministry of Women Affairs is not a stand alone Ministry, we are into every Ministry; women are every where and I have received the cooperation of all the Ministers particularly the Minister of Health to ensure that we intensify advocacy on the issues of infant, Maternal Mortality in the country. It is not acceptable, there is no reason why any woman should die in the process of bringing life, it is supposed to be a moment of joy and it shouldn’t end in sadness; we condemn it in totality and the United Nations is very concerned about that issue, Nigeria Government is committed, the President is committed, the wife of the President is committed and I am fully committed, the Minister of health is committed. Last week, after the Council meeting, a committee was put in place where advocacy will be intensified particularly from the grassroots. We are not just ending it at the state level, I am having a town hall meeting with women and the wife of the governor, Deputy Governor and all legislators and chairmen of Local Government Areas will all be in attendance so that the advocacy will be stepped down to the grassroots in Plateau State.
Issues of rape have been in the front burner for some time in Nigeria; are there going to be stringent punishments for culprits in the bill you are talking about?
If you had watched, we had a march against rape and violence against women that Monday to the Inspector General of Police office where I presented our issues. When we start the 16 days activism, we insisted that there must be punishment for those who commit these offenses. We have the support of the President, the Vice President and all the Ministers; all of them are concerned. I have visited the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, all of these issues were discussed. The state offender registrar has already been opened and the bill is before the National Assembly sponsored by the chairperson, Senate Committee on women Affairs; we believe that at the end of the exercise, the President will sign it into law.
What are you doing to stop under age marriage in the country?
The solution to end early marriage is education. I am committed to tackling this issue; the Minister of education is concerned about it. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, I was invited to the National Council on education where a lot of these issues were discussed. For you to know how we are working to stem girl child marriage, the Ministry of women Affairs and the Ministry of Education are working in collaboration and that was why the Minister of education invited me to the National Council meeting on education. Almost all the memos that came from the 36 states were on girl child education; and I am trying not only to ensure that the number goes up but to ensure that the girl is in school, retained in school up to completion and the government has made education free from primary to senior secondary school. Every child is expected to go to school. I am also working to ensure the implementation of the child rights act. I want to commend the governor of Plateau State; the state is among states that have domiciled the child rights act; the problem now is the implementation and part of it stipulates that the girl child go to school, remain in school until completion and by the time she finishes her Senior Secondary education, she should be about 18 years and she will no longer be a child. That is our prayer, that is what we are working towards, that is what we are fighting to see that it is done. If a child goes to school and remains in school until completion, we will conquer the issue of child marriage. If a child marries at 8 years, she is no longer a child; we are saying no to child marriage; from the age of 12,13 up to 17 years, she is still a child. But when she is 18, she is no longer a child, she can marry and then continue from there, but I insist, and I say no to child marriage; education first. I told the young girls to make education their first husband, forget about any man until they finish their University but if the parents insist because the child is mature enough, the minimum the girl child should get married is 18 years but we insist that the girl child should go to school and be retained until completion; once that is done, we have conquered early marriage.
What effort are you making to mentor more women so that they can participate in 2023 politics?
We are on it, it is top on our agenda, we have already started preparing them because we need early preparation and all those that we have started mentoring, we don’t start from the top; every politics is local, go back to the grassroots, mobilize people, do what you think will endear you to the people. If you are able to get it right at the grassroots, you will not have problem because you have to win the confidence of your people. If you have been identifying with the needs of your people and win their hearts, they will be the one to campaign for you; we are working to address those issues early enough; we are not leaving it until when election time comes. We are addressing women participation at the party level because all those that try to contest election, they were more than qualified. It is not as if they were not qualified but they were denied nomination at the party level because we don’t have women at the National working committee.