As the world marks International Women’s Day on March 8, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, has said though the country’s gender advocacy is improving, it can be better.
She said this on Friday at an Interactive Session for Women in Leadership Position in the Media, at her residence in Abuja.
This year’s Women’s Day with theme “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights,” aligned with United Nations Women’s Generation Equality campaign.
This year also marks 25 years since the adoption of the UN’s Beijing Declaration aimed at the advancement of women around the globe, the 10th anniversary of UN Women – dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women – and five years since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, one of which is gender equality.
Laing, who is the first woman to take up the position as British High Commissioner in Nigeria said: “One in six young girls and women are still subject to sexual abuse; child marriage is very wide spread and women are not, I’m afraid, represented in women senior political positions as they should be.”
She noted that the media has overseen a particular responsibility to showcase stories of success and more so shine the light where things are not going on well.
British High Commissioner said: “As we celebrate international women’s day and we look back at the journey since Beijing, the big international conference which took place 25 years ago, there’s definitely been some progress without a doubt.
“I think back at when I started as a young civil servant, it was completely normal for men to belittle you, demean you, sexually abuse you and we took it as quite normal. Fast forward 25 years and with the new ‘Me Too’ movement where women bravely stood up and called this out, we have definitely made some progress.”
Laing said the UK government is interested in addressing the twin issue of sexual abuse and under representation of women in senior political positions in the country.
She said: “So our priority for us as a UK government is to work on those two issues in particular and women who have been subject to sexual abuse to help them rehabilitate, come back into society and of course trying to prevent it from happening.
“Secondly, working with women senior leaders in positions of responsibility to inspire and encourage the other women to step up and stand for political office, take up senior positions in the media and so on.”
On whether the stories about women being abused is being told enough the British envoy said: “I think there are some big break throughs. Frankly last year, with the Me Too Movement, some of the stories that were breaking I think wouldn’t have probably had air time before. The famous one about a woman calling out the preacher who had abused her for example and I think it was quite game changing actually.
“First of all, people are now more willing to speak out. So I think there is a platform out there, not just on social media but in the traditional media. But of course we need more of this; we must never become complacent. We need every single one of these abusers to be called out, for the legal process to kick in and for women to be supported as they go through these difficult journey. So we are getting there I think, but there is still long way to go.”
On female genital mutilation, she described it as an extreme form of horrific sexual abuse.
Laing called on traditional, religious and community leaders to take up the responsibility to educate parents about the danger in such practice.
She said: “The reasons given for it of course is culture, tradition, religion, a girl won’t be able to get married except she does this which is of course is complete nonsense. We have to call it out. We recognize that these are deep rooted cultural practices and it is not going to be easy to change them. But I think these can change and I think this is where in particular there is a role for the religious leaders, Imams and community leaders; they are the ones people will respect and listen to. So if they are challenging this and helping fathers and mothers understand that this is actually a terrible thing to do to your child, that you are putting their life at risk as well as horrible form of torture essentially, and just gradually changing people mindsets.
“First and foremost, we need to know about it and this is something that is rather unspoken and needs to come out into the public domain.”