A popular Chinese adage says "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day but teach him how to fish and you feed him for life." For many years, the office of the first lady was considered by many as an avenue for fashion parade or a circuit show.
Although, some past first ladies had at different times initiated projects that were specifically aimed at women and children, the impact of the office on the targeted beneficiaries has never been felt the way it ought to be. The high point of some of these pet projects was to share food stuff and perhaps clothing to women or donation of sewing machines, grinding machines and provision of small scale loans for the purpose of setting up petty trades. In other words, these projects were only aimed at the micro-economic upliftment of the womenfolk whereas they were relegated to the background on the issues of governance and politics.
This explains why in the 50 year history of this country, no woman has been allowed to occupy the position of president, vice president, senate president deputy senate president or governor. Even in the appointment of minister's, women are often assigned to ministries considered not to be on the grade 'A' list. In fact, credit must be given to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for having the foresight and courage to appoint a woman as minister of petroleum for the first time ever in the history of Nigeria . Mrs. Diezani Allison-Maduekwe is the first woman minister of petroleum resources. This is in spite of the fact that the women have distinguished themselves in all assignments given them both at the local, national and even international level. We are however happy that President Jonathan has recognized the contribution of women in nation building and has started leaving higher responsibilities in their hands.
Hence, in the past few months, a new wind of change has been blowing across the nation with the recent launching of the 'Women for Change Initiative', a pet project of first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan. It is a fact that the first lady is one of the most active and visible personalities' bestriding the nations political circles presently. But the first lady is not just flaunting her pecks of office; she has taken the challenge of liberating and empowering the Nigerian woman to another level within a very short time. As a trained psychologist, the first lady understands what the political discrimination against women has done to psyche of average Nigerian women and as such has taken the bull by the horn to redress the imbalance. It is not 'Eko for show'; it is real and it is happening.
The Women for change Initiative is a project aimed at promoting women's participation in every area of human endeavour especially in the socio-economic and political sphere. With the launching of this programme, most qualified women who were denied or intimidated from vying for political offices are now gearing up to give the men a fight for their money and masculinity. The Nigerian woman is gradually been taken out of her timidity and given a face lift in the political circle. It is not an affront on the men folk or an attempt to challenge man's natural leadership of the home but a way of encouraging women to offer their time, talent and motherly support to the development of the nation.
The initiative is also trying to develop a mechanism to monitor and facilitate Nigeria 's progress towards achieving and domesticating international agreements to which the country is a signatory. As a signatory to the United Nations Charter on Child Rights, we are still battling with some states of the federation to domesticate the Child Rights Act passed by the National Assembly. Again, the Women for Change Initiative is championing the review and revision of laws considered being inimical to the welfare and peaceful existence of women. And these laws abound in the country such as the tax laws, Land Use Act of 1976, Marriage Laws, Inheritance Act and even the Electoral Act. The high mortality rate in the country is unacceptable. Hence, the men need to give women a chance to help.
Many cynics are however misinterpreting the laudable intendments of this pet project. It is not a self-serving agenda but an enlightenment and educational based project with the clear objective of raising the standard of the average Nigerian woman to help eliminate discrimination of all kinds as well as eradicate poverty in the land. Already, the W4CI has been launched in at least six states across the country namely: Anambra, Delta, Kaduna , Katsina, Plateau and Rivers states. It is instructive that by the time the launching is conducted nationwide, a new chapter would have been written in the lives of the Nigerian women through the proactive efforts of the first lady.
It has therefore become incumbent on every Nigerian woman worth her salt irrespective of creed, religion, political party, social status, ethnic group to brace up to the challenge and join hands with the first lady to launch Nigeria into the comity of great nations. There is no nation on earth that attained greatness without the tacit support and participation of women. If Nigerian women must achieve the feat attained by Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, Indira Ghandi of India, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Angela Merkel of Germany, Cristina Elizabet Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, Hillary Clinton of US, just to mention a few; then this is the road to follow.
Dame Goodluck Jonathan has the magic wand to rebrand Nigerian women and reposition them for greater participation in political and economic decisions. The first lady has given the women a platform to ventilate and voice out their feelings. This must not be allowed to elude any woman in our society. The time is now and every woman should follow suit.
This is not the first time, Dame Patience Jonathan will be in the forefront to better the lives of women and children in the society. She had before now, established the Aruera Reachout Foundation, which has in less than ten years trained over 1,500 women in various skills thereby making them strong enough to support their families. Therefore, the W4CI is more or less a way of enlarging the coast of reaching out to the less privileged and lifting the downtrodden. Nigeria is too complex to leave it in the hands of men alone. After all, God knew the significance of women and that was why after creating man, he discovered that something was amiss and had to carve a woman out of his ribs as a helper. Therefore, let's join hands with the first lady and contribute positively to the socio-economic and political development of this nation. I believe with this first lady, we can re-write the history of this great nation.
Hon. Chinwe Ugwu is a National Officer, Women for Change Initiative and writes from Enugu