Many a times, the word 'Gender' generates lots of discussion and controversy to the extent that its meaning might be lost. Sometime we jump to the conclusion that gender always means women's stuffs. It is not the case, but of course because in many societies women are at disadvantage, economically, culturally and socially, gender connotes then to women.
Some simple definitions will help us to examine gender and the role of women, as shown below;
According to ITU GGI selection of definitions on 'Gender'
'Gender refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/ time-specific and changeable.
Gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman or a man in a given context. In most societies there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities.
Gender is part of the broader socio-cultural context. Other important criterion for socio-cultural analysis includes class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age.'
'Gender in Nigeria Report 2012; Improving the lives of Girls and Women In Nigeria' made available by British Council with funding from DFID/UKAID brought to the fore the issues of gender in Nigeria and what need to be improved or done to redress the situation.
It is a document that is supposed to be read, digested and implemented by policy makers not only at the federal level but at the state and LGA level. But the fundamental questions are 'How many of our policy makers will have access to this report in a way that they will have the time to read and take action?' How many of them put it in the term of reference for their special advisers to be sourcing relevant information and explaining to them for critical action?
The report reiterated why citizens and policy makers should pay attention to the situation of women in our country? Nigeria has the largest population of any African country, some 162.5 million people. Of this magnitude 49% are female; some 80.2 million girls and women. So any discussion about Nigeria's future must necessarily entail consideration of girls and women, the role they play and the barriers they face in making the future.
The report is of critical importance because it emphasise the role of girls and women in. It distils from that corpus the key issues that need to be addressed to maximise the potential of girls and women.
Key findings of the Gender Study
1. Gender and inequality of opportunity; Nigeria's 80.2 million women and girls have significantly worse life chances than men and also their sisters in comparable societies. Violence compounds and reinforces this disadvantage and exclusion.
2. Sound policies need follow up and implementation; excellent policies and intentions have not translated into budgets or action to make the changes required if women are to contribute effectively to Nigeria's development. The National Gender Policy has yet to bear fruit, while implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has stalled.
3. Jobless growth, inequality and poverty; 54% of Nigerians still live in poverty and the proportion has doubled since 1980 (when about 28% were classified as poor). 42% of Nigerian children are malnourished. The averages hide a context that is worse for women and girls.
4. Educated women are more likely to use health services and to have fewer and better nourished children, and their children are more likely to survive. Girls who are educated will also contribute to future economic growth. Education policy can influence parental decisions about the age at which daughters marry. Recent research shows that, for many parents, the costs of education appear currently to outweigh the benefits.
5. Maternal mortality; Nigeria has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world. One Nigerian woman dies in childbirth every ten minutes. Spending and implementation have not matched policies. Nigeria spends only 6.5% of its budget on health care. Decisions to seek treatment may be influenced by a woman's social position in the household, and her economic status, age, and education.
6. Poor access to safe childbirth services, and lack of adequate and affordable emergency obstetric care (EmOC), are some of main reasons for high mortality. Only 36% of women deliver in a health facility or in the presence of a qualified birth attendant.
7. Family planning plays an essential role in reducing maternal mortality. At 5.7, Nigeria's overall fertility rate has declined. However, it is higher in the North-West (7.3), where use of contraceptives (3%) is very low. There is a high unmet need for family planning (17%). Addressing this could avert tens of thousands of maternal deaths by 2015. Female education would also increase contraceptive uptake.
It takes more than political will to redress the issues exposed by this report. Girls and women have the potential to transform Nigeria. Let's invest in them.