Yes, I thank God, I am not a woman. What a relief! I celebrate this because I cannot imagine how I would have coped with the mistreatment, molestations, and discriminations from the male folks who think they own the world. Globally, women’s rights are not guaranteed and well-respected. In Nigeria, nay Africa, the fate of women is worse off. It is said that poverty bears the face of a woman. Legally, culturally, socially, educationally, economically and politically, Nigerian women are discriminated against. This is heart-wrenching!
Culturally, in many Nigerian societies, women are not perceived as being equal to men. They are not allowed to be community leaders neither are their views considered when decisions are to be made about their families and communities. A section of the Nigerian society believes that women are acquired as chattels and do not have a say in how families are run. They are denied inheritance rights and are mistreated including being divorced on account of not being able to give birth to a male child even when science has proved beyond reasonable doubt that a woman can only give birth to a male child when the husband donates Y chromosome to fertilise the X of the woman.
Education of a girl child is not prioritised in many Nigerian societies. The boy child owes that premium. Rather than being sent to school, they are married off at a tender age to go and procreate. When they become baby mothers, they face the challenge of being infected with Vesico Vagina Fistula. Many of the baby mothers infected with the VVF stink because of the frequent discharges. Unfortunately, those families who dare to enrol their girl children in school are now being discouraged with the abduction of over 200 Chibok girls in Borno State in April 2014 and the recent abduction of another 110 girls in Dapchi, Yobe State in February 2018. Even in the cosmopolitan Lagos State, schoolgirls have been abducted.
It does not come to me as surprise therefore that research has shown that women account for more than half the number of people living with HIV worldwide and that young women (10-24 years old) are twice as likely to acquire HIV as young men the same age. This is because of the high prevalence of rape and sexual molestations against girls and women. There are also far more many women earning living as sex workers. In 2016, news broke about the sex-for-food phenomenon in some Internally Displaced Persons’ camps in the North-East Nigeria. In conflict situations, be it ethno-religious or political, women and children bear greater brunt of such crises. They are raped, maimed, and murdered while the traumatised survivors race to the IDP camps to live in deplorable conditions with no adequate food, shelter, clothing and medicare. Are you still wondering why I am thanking God that I am not a woman?
Economically, women are disempowered. Many of them are not in decision-making organs of the Ministries, Department and Agencies of government or are they to be found in the upper echelons of blue chip private companies. Men dominate those spaces. Those who want to obtain loans from the banks are asked for collateral which many women don’t have. Women are found more in menial jobs such as hawking, working as house helps, earning a living as site labourers and street sweepers. Some men who are financially buoyant sometimes bar their wives from working. To them, they are willing and ready to provide for all the family needs. What these men do not know or chose to ignore is that there is something called “occupational therapy”. Earning a living has its own therapeutic effect on a person.
In search of greener pastures, women are trafficked abroad to be used as sex slaves or house helps. They are the prime target of stalking ritualists who use their body parts for ritual money-making. Girls are also now being wired up as suicide bombers by insurgents. Socially, women are discriminated against. They are the butt of jokes of comedians and secular musicians portray them as sex symbols in their music. X-rated songs are composed for them while they are encouraged to dance almost naked in musical videos.
In politics, Nigerian women are worse off! Only a sprinkle of them are found in legislative assemblies at the federal and state levels. In the Eight National Assembly, out of the 109 senators, there are only seven women. For the House of Representatives, out of the 360 seats, women are occupying only 15. With almost a century of electoral democracy experience, Nigeria has yet to produce a single elected female governor while only four of them are currently occupying the seat of deputy governors out of the 36 states. In a federal cabinet of 36 ministers, only five are women. No female President or vice president elected yet in the country.
There are at present 68 political parties with few of them having female chairpersons. In many of these parties, the reserved position for women is that of Women Leader. Women do not fare well in Nigerian politics due to a number of artificial barriers and hurdles placed on their way. For instance, Nigerian politics is highly monetised, fraught with violence and discriminatory against the female gender. Nocturnal meetings are the norm and many married women who delve into Nigeria’s murky waters of politics are labeled as promiscuous and unelectable. Legally speaking, the law even discriminates against women. Did you know that Section 55(1)(d) of the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria provides that an assault by a man on a woman is not an offence if they are married, if native law or custom recognises such a “correction” as lawful, and if there is no grievous hurt. What kind of archaic law is that?
In order to change the tide in favour of women, many initiatives have been made. Apart from the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to many international human rights charters and instruments, we have participated in many international conferences aimed at addressing discrimination against women. Though Nigeria has signed on to the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the country has yet to domesticate it. While it is good that Nigeria now has Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, it has yet to have the Gender and Equal Opportunities Act. The bill was thrown out by the Senate. While it is true that by 1979 all Nigerian women therefrom acquired voting rights once they are 18 years old and registered to vote; and that we now have federal and state ministries of Women Affairs, a lot still needs to be done to ensure gender parity in Nigeria.
Just last Thursday, March 8, 2018, Nigerian women joined their counterparts the world over to celebrate the International Women’s Day while last Sunday was also celebrated by a section of the country’s Christian community as Mother’s Day. After the celebrations, what next? This is therefore a call to action to enhance the status of women in Nigeria and indeed globally. I like the theme of this year’s IWD which was #PressforProgress. Given the fact that the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings revealed that gender parity is over 200 years away, it is indeed time to press for progress.
Nigeria needs affirmative action to redress centuries of discriminations against women especially in politics and public life. This can be done constitutionally through quota system as is the case in Kenya, Uganda and some other countries or by entrenching it in the constitution of our political parties or both. I may be glad not to be a woman but I have a mother, a wife and a daughter. For their sake and because of millions of Nigerian women suffering from discrimination, I am pressing for progress; for the removal of all forms of barriers against women. A bird cannot fly with one wing neither is it possible to clap with one hand. Gender parity will enhance national development as both sexes get to play equal role.
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