Mainstreaming Gender Policy in Nigeria
When in 2004 I wrote my debut book “Our Origin: Our Choice”, a book with a feminist view on religion, tradition and other issues, I dwelled extensively on the issue of women in politics. It was saddening then to face the reality that women had little or no presence in the governance of this country. It is two years after, I look back at the feat women have achieved in nation building, governance, economy and attitudinal change and my faith in the enormous strength of women and what positive changes they can bring in the body polity of the nation becomes stronger. I then appreciate the Obasanjo administration for giving women a chance to serve.
I have watched the reform programmes of the present administration and can confidently assert that these reforms are largely successful as a result of the thrusts made by women appointed to run them. Reforms in sectors ranging from tourism, transport, education, health, economy, solid minerals, due process, civil service, gender mainstreaming and a host of others too many to mention.
Never a time in the history of modern Nigeria had women achieved this feat but in this present time. The only time women were given the type of accolades they receive now was before and during the colonial era and shortly before independence when the likes of Queen Amina of Zaria, Inikpi of Ida, Madam Effuronye, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the famous Aba Women of 1929 and other women who in their different shows of good prowess ruled and fought the good cause of women gallantly.
After independence, few women have stood out and remained the women’s good-cause flag bearers. Such women include, among a few others, Sarah Jibril and the first female Vice Chancellor of Nigeria, Grace Alele-Williams. The latter has never relented in training and retraining women to assume their rightful places, especially, in the political arena. She keeps telling them that there is no victory yet for women so long as they continue basking in the euphoria of celebrating the “1st woman ever” in their chosen fields. Saying that “the first woman” is insignificant in the sea of men competitors in the same field and that until women come out enmass, then those celebrations are done in futility. A clarion call for gender balance and equal opportunities.
It is therefore necessary to say gender inequality is a reflection of the disparities existing between the male and the female sexes. These disparities result due to misconceptions of the natural differences and make-ups between men and women as designed by God. In Nigeria today, the attitude toward women is such that calls for serious concerns. Such patriarchal beliefs that engender discrimination against women are becoming too alarming even in public offices. If a young man is taught to believe that he is more superior to a young woman, he imbibes and grows up with such wrong notion and tends to treat a woman as such. If he is told that beating a woman is a mark of great strength and respect, he tends to exhibit his negative power motivated prowess at the slightest provocation by a woman. Men forget that the world is changing and need support systems in their counterparts – women.
The consciousness to advance women’s right and their place in good governance is ever building and growing. It is in recognition of all the above that the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs has been in the forefront of campaigns and advocacy to promote gender equality for sustainable development. And this time, the Minister of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Maryam Inna Ciroma, is in the forefront of this struggle. Recently, she made a call for the development of a National Gender Policy to engender gender mainstreaming during a one-day validation of findings forum at Bolingo Hotel, Abuja in November, 2006. She said issues such as overview of the national gender policy of Nigeria, status, policy framework, guiding principles, priorities and institutional/operational strategies are to be discussed if the gender policy framework is to succeed.
The initiative has a team of gender consultants led by Professor Aina Olabisi of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, who facilitated the discussions at the forum alongside other consultants including Dr. T. Tyoor, Director General, Quality Development & Management Resources, QDMRC-Nigeria and Dr. Bola Akanji, Associate Research Professor, Nigeria Institute of Social Economic Research, NISER.
The Minister also said that a National Gender Policy will empower, enhance cooperation and support of men, increase the participation of women in politics and the economy, defend and advance women’s right, fight against stereotyping in work places among others. She added that the policy will take into cognizance the twelve areas of concern of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, CEDAW, NEEDS, and SEEDS as well as NEPAD. The process which began in August 2006 is with a view to review the national and international documents and reach a consensus which will translate policies into actions. This will further produce a people-oriented policy to replace the National Policy on Women. She therefore called on the stakeholders civil society and development partners to see to fulfilling the yearnings to integrate women in national development. Participants were drawn from government agencies, inter-governmental organizations, UNICEF, NGOs, CSOs, OPS, institutions of higher learning, press and members of the public.
Also recently, the Independent National Electoral Commission, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and UNIFEM in a related development and in a bid to intensify the campaign on women’s rights advancement, organized a Stakeholders’ Conference on Women and the 2007 Elections with theme, “Women and the Elections: Issues, Challenges and Prospects for 2007”. This event held at the Yar Adua Centre, Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, December, 2006.
It has been observed that there are so many constraints hinder the implementation of gender policy in Nigeria. Culture features prominently, patriarchy follows as well as absence of legal instruments to drive actions. Also the lack of political will and low awareness of people in political issues are contribute as well as inadequate number of gender advocacy groups and the few existing ones do not practice what they preach. The negative portrayals of females by the media are a worrying concern.
Despite the above, there is still opportunity for gender policy formulation and implementation. Some vibrant civil society groups are causing awareness on gender issues. The presence of some good role models in government presents an opportunity. These efforts especially that of developing a National Gender Policy for Nigeria, has become imperative and commendable so as to effect a change in our attitude towards women. There is need for government, schools, the mass media, the family, civil society groups, non-governmental organizations, community based organizations, organized private sector, traditional and religious institutions, as change agents, to come together and support this transformatory and time enduring policy initiative of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs.
In this regard, deliberate efforts must be made by these change agents to influence our thoughts, feelings and actions towards the emergence of new national philosophy that can make the country a gender-balanced nation where our level of civilization is measured by among others, how we treat our women. Laws alone, like I said in my book, cannot erode the negative attitudes towards women. Let us begin to appeal to our hearts and consciences. It is a subtle but sure additional way of winning the fight for equality.
But for these efforts to scale through to success, our attitude towards gender issues must begin to change. Has anyone cared to ask if gender equality in anyway has hampered relationship between men and women? Maybe somebody should take a closer look at countries like Finland, Sweden, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana and Rwanda, where gender issues have been fully mainstreamed into their laws and practices, some of where women and men both enjoy maternity and paternity leave, freedom from sexual violence, women reproductive rights upheld, separate tax for women, parental allowances, separate commission on gender equality, mandatory legal/financial literacy for women, all customary laws against women stamped out, and so forth. has the emergence of a female president in places like Liberia, Pakistan, eroded the dignity of their men? In Nigeria, the journey may seem distant, but we are getting close. Let all hand be on deck.
National Press Centre, Abuja. December, 2006