25 April 2013

Nigeria: Give It to Nigerian Women


As part of Nigeria's centenary celebrations, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation organised a two-day conference to celebrate Nigerian women last week. Discussions at the event included issues concerning women in the country such as gender imbalance, violence against women including rape, and girl-child education. Deriving from discussions during the conference, a country report is expected soon.

It was a well-deserved honour for famous Nigerian women of the past and the present. From the legendary queens Amina of Zazzau and Moremi of Ile Ife to last century's social, political and human rights activists such as Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Gambo Sawaba and Margaret Ekpo, and more recently our internationally celebrated writers and artistes such as Chimamanda Adichie and Omotola Jalade Ekeinde [who has just made Time's 100 most influential people], the nation's women have been worth celebrating. Justice Aloma Mukhtar, the country's first female chief justice, is still in office.

Yet, there is no denying the fact that the Nigerian woman has weathered many storms and is still facing numerous challenges usually fuelled by culture, religion and tradition. For example, women have been subjugated economically, especially in terms of access to financial services that would boost their business activities. And this is in spite of the generally acknowledged fact that, when it comes to repayment of loans, there are fewer women defaulters than men.

It is gratifying that the House of Representatives recently passed a bill for an Act to eliminate all forms of violence against persons. The bill addresses issues of violence against women and harmful traditional practices. Nigerian women should seize the opportunity to liberate their hearts and minds. Many suffer in silence because, in the first place, traditions and cultures saliently approve certain crimes against women. Besides, financial dependence makes it impossible for them to seek redress most of the time.

It is not only on the economic and social fronts that the Nigerian woman faces challenges. Men usually encourage women to participate in politics, but, before the elections, they are conveniently eased out of the space. Party nominations are made difficult for them to achieve, while, for those that squeeze through, the battle arena becomes too "hot" to handle. And since most are already financially disadvantaged, fighting for their rights in a court of law becomes near-impossible.

The theme of last week's conference - "Celebrating 100 Years of the Nigerian Woman: Achieving 50/50 by 2020" - is a reminder of the recent call that some percentage of elective seats and board memberships in corporations be reserved for women. But it should go beyond affirmative action; concerted efforts should be made in the context of our collective experience, backed by institutional and structural enactments. The required action must be sustainable and replicable.

The Nigerian woman has contributed her quota to national development within the reach of her resources and ability. We salute her and reiterate that she deserves much more than she presently gets. Nonetheless, she must make more efforts beyond clamouring for positions and offices. It is hoped that the country report will incorporate concrete recommendations that would lead to implementable policies to enhance the lot of the Nigerian woman.

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