Abuja — Following the prevailing gender inequality in the military, wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, Thursday called for the eradication of gender bias in the armed forces.
Mrs. Buhari, who spoke at the Defence Headquarters' Maiden Annual Conference on Women, Peace and Security with the theme: 'Gender Mainstreaming in the Armed Forces of Nigeria for Peace and Security', said gender discrimination has prevented female members of the military from effective deployment in military operations and career progression, including occupying strategic positions in the military.
But the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin, maintained that the military had taken definitive steps to guarantee gender equality by ensuring that female members of the armed forces aspire to the peak of their careers.
So far, no senior female officer has held the position of a commanding officer or service chief.
The closest rank and positions occupied by female senior officers in the history of the three arms of the military were held by Rear Admiral Itunu Hotonu (rtd), the highest ranking female naval officer till date, who served as an instructor at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji; Commodore Jamila Malafa, who is presently the Director of the Nigerian Navy Legal Services, and Major General Abimbola Amusu, who recently retired as Army Medical Corps Commander.
But the first lady accused the armed forces of hostility towards female members by preventing them from occupying strategic positions and appointing them to key positions in the areas of logistics, human resources, welfare among others, stating that the war against insurgency had lingered because women were not effectively deployed.
"A good number of Nigerian women and I regard ourselves as soldiers. This is because we are the protectors of the family. Gender mainstreaming is a war against marginalisation of women, and we are in support for gender equality and increased participation of women in politics including the armed forces.
"The military is often hostile to women. The women do not join the armed forces early due to their genetic makeup, although this may vary on an individual basis. Women are faced with rejection, isolation and unhealthy attitudes," she said.
Mrs. Buhari stated that "these factors are usually pronounced during operational combatant sections of the armed forces. This manifests in sexist jokes and women not being taken seriously. Gender stereotype is a threat to women advancement in the military.
"There is a good number of reported cases where women were exempted from participating in combat duties. Women are often restricted from handling such positions as human resources, logistics, welfare among others with psychological implications."
She declared that "the security issue bedevilling our country still abounds probably because we are yet to redefine the role of women in the military for operational effectiveness. Women possess the traits of patience and perseverance. The role of the armed forces is to provide security for the country.
"The space for women must be created for them to participate in the security management of the country. There should be a role for women in strategic operational deployment; specific roles for women and as a matter of urgency, as well as the eradication of gender bias in the military."
She urged women to continue to show resilience in their professional conduct and be a source of inspiration to other women.
In his remarks, Olonisakin said the military had exceeded the 17 percent requirement for women participation in the United Nations peace-keeping operations, noting that the military high command had raised it to 27.9 percent.
He said the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) had commenced the training of female cadets as combatant officers while the navy had deployed women as sailors and for key aspects of ship maintenance.
The CDS said the Nigerian army established the Nigerian Army Women Corps while the Nigerian Air Force established the 'Women of War' in 2018 to involve women in all aspects of air operation, including flying, aircraft maintenance, air traffic control and engineering.
When THISDAY sought the opinion of a senior female military officer on the possibility of a female becoming a service chief someday, she said: "Am I the person that should answer that question? You want me back to my village?"
Speaking earlier, the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magaji, commended President Muhammadu Buhari for providing support in terms of equipment and capacity building for the armed forces, and pledged the unalloyed loyalty of the armed forces to the president.