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Denied equality, women still lag in finance, politics, education

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Nigerians watched in horror as news of the death of 17-year-old Gift Alonge, an SS1 student of Ososo Grammar School, Akoko-Edo in Edo state filtered in. She was brutally raped and impregnated by her 52-year-old father, Jacob Alonge and was killed in a car accident alongside two workers of Braveheart Initiative for Youths and Women while trying to seek justice. She was 25 weeks pregnant at the time and would have turned 18 next month. Jacob Alonge is largely unremorseful and is roaming the streets of Edo State today, his dead daughter apparently forgotten.Every hour in Nigeria, a woman is assaulted or abused. As most cases usually go unreported, the exact number of women assault cases is not known but according to the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, (DSVRT) they receive at least, six cases of rape daily, 42 weekly and 167 monthly. Last year, 4808 cases were reported in Lagos alone with 2356 being sexual assaults, a whopping 451 percent increase from the year before. According to the coordinator of the DSVRT, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, the increase is due to increased awareness but to put it simply, Nigerian women have become greatly endangered.

Everyday, the media is awash with stories of assault; abuse and murder of women and Nigerians seem to have become numb to this horror. This year again, the country joins the rest of the world in celebrating another International Women’s Day (IWD). But what really has changed for the Nigerian woman? The theme for this year’s IWD is “Think Equally, Build Smart and Innovate For Change”. Two days ago, Forbes released the list of the richest women in the world and Kylie Jenner was crowned the youngest female self-made billionaire in the world. No Nigerian or African woman made the list this year and while that should give us cause for concern, Nigerians were fighting on social media over whether Jenner deserved to be called a self-made billionaire or not. While there are so many empowerment programmes, conferences and self-help master classes targeted at women these days, most generally pay lip service to actually developing and empowering women and female inclusion in key areas is almost non-existent. Let us examine some of the key areas in which Nigerian women significantly lag behind, compared to their counterparts in the rest of the world.

Financial
Regardless of their educational qualifications, Nigerian women not only occupy fewer positions in the public sector, but also earn consistently less income than their male counterparts. For instance, women occupy fewer than 30 percent of all posts in the public sector and only 17 percent of senior positions. In addition, nearly five times as many judges and permanent secretaries are men rather than women. Women own only 20 per cent of enterprises in the formal sector and only 11.7 per cent of board directors in the country are women. While income equality in the formal sector has grown over the years, only one in every three employees in the privileged non-agricultural formal sector is a woman. Worse still, only 15 percent of Nigeria’s almost 100 million women operate bank accounts and a woman is three times less likely than a man to receive a bank loan even though research has shown that women are better at managing and returning loans.

There are 54 million women who live and work in rural areas and even though women constitute 60-79 percent of the rural workforce, a woman is five times less likely to own land than a man. And despite being better educated than their male peers in the micro-enterprise sector, women are less likely to secure loans and three times less likely to be employed. According to a 2016 report from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, (NBS) from 2010-2015, on the average, 72.3 percent of senior positions in State Civil Service were occupied by men compared to 27.7 percent occupied by women. In business, there is an apparent deficit of women in the formal sector (they make up only 20 per cent) as the majority are located in the informal sector. This is partly explained by women’s limited access to finance; as a matter of fact, men are twice as likely to access finance compared to women, despite various research showing that women are more likely to repay loans.

This inability to access finance is partly accounted for by their lack of property rights which hinder them from providing the collateral needed for loans. Despite the attempt to strengthen their property rights via the Land Administration Act, land ownership remains dependent on a patrilineal inheritance system that ensures land is passed from fathers to male descendants. To put this in context, women own only 4 per cent of land in the Northeast and just over 10 per cent in the South-South and Southeast. While there is an obvious need for relevant institutions to implement this law to enhance women’s access to finance; financial institutions also need to make their products more gender sensitive. Worse still, in many areas, women find it difficult to even rent houses as they are told to go and bring their husbands, whereas men are never asked to show responsibility by bringing their wives.

Accessing growth, welfare of women in politics
The state of women’s participation in politics, growth and impact especially as the political season heightens cannot be over-emphasised and women groups as well as civil societies have canvassed the need to ensure that more women embrace the political space. In a study collated by Community Life Project (CLP), gubernatorial candidates for tomorrow’s elections vying in 29 states across the federation with a total number of 1067 candidates only 80 (7.5 per cent) are women while 987 (92.5 per cent) are men. With states like Borno, Kastina, Plateau having no single women candidates, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Ogun and Yobe have just one woman candidate with Kano having the highest number of women contestants (nine), Delta (eight), Lagos (Seven), Oyo (six) Adamawa and Enugu with five candidates each.

At the Feburary 23rd Senatorial elections, just six women won their seats, Akon Eyakenyi (Akwa Ibom South, Akwa Ibom State – PDP); Betty Okagua Apiafi (Rivers West, River State –PDP); Aisha Binani (Adamawa’s Central, Adamawa State- APC); Stella Oduah (Anambra North, Anambra –PDP); Uche Ekwunife (Anambra Central, Anambra –PDP) and Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central –APC).

For House of Representatives 10 women got seats including Aishatu Jibril-Dukku – Nafada Federal Constituency, Gombe State – APC; Hon. Beni Lar – Langtang South/Langtang North Federal Constituency, Plateau State – PDP; Lynda Ikpeazu – Onitsha North and Onitsha South Federal Constituency – PDP; Khadija Ibrahim – Damaturu/Tarmuwa/Gujba/Gulani – APC; Lady Blessing Onuh -Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency – Benue State – APGA; Hon Rita Orji – Lagos – PDP; Hon. Fatima Muhammad – Lagos, – PDP; Hon Omowunmi Ogunlola, HOR from Ekiti State; Tolu Akande Shadipe APC- Oyo and Hon. Lady Nkeiruka Onyejeocha. Hon-elect, Isuikwato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency.

In the eighth National Assembly, women occupied seven of the 109 Senate seats and only 22 of the 360 seats in the House of Representatives. Reacting to this, Executive Director, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) and founding Director Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) Dr. Abiola Afolabi-Akiyode said that from the results, it looks like there might be more decline because political parties that are gateway do not support women’s participation. “It is very unfortunate for people like us who have been working to support women; we have not been quiet because we are constantly coming up with new strategies, there should be an impact with the gender support. So until there’s a formalisation of the law, whether it is in the political and electoral law or in the constitution that is when we can have the kind of balance that we require. When we look at the IWD theme which is talking about the need for more balance, more than any other country, Nigeria needs to work towards ensuring that kind of balance, because there is not balance in the socio-economic state of the country, so Nigeria more than any other country need to re-access the future of its gender balance.”

“We should work towards ensuring that this dispensation gets a balance; the Buhari regime has not done enough and it’s unfortunate as it becomes a problem for women to come up with strategies to address this balance. We need to ensure we mobilise and build alliances between men and women to ensure that the narrative changes in this administration.”

According to the executive director, Partners West African Nigeria (PWAN) Kemi Okenyodo, the subject of women participating and being significantly represented at the highest level in various spheres of social life is receiving considerable attention globally. Women should be constantly reminded that it is not just by setting aside a day to celebrate social, economic, cultural, and their political achievements but they can do more by supporting each other through understanding the importance of representation especially in areas where decisions are made that would affect women. Women should be reminded that they have to participate and register as members of various political parties that share the same ideology with them because women cannot make a difference in the political space as mere spectators.

She said that women have done well in making their voices heard most especially in the run up to the 2019 elections. “We have seen more women’s participation in the political space from our analysis. They have shown that despite all the different push factors limiting their participation there is nothing stopping them from making a difference. Women have moved from testing the grounds to contest contrary to what have been said about them to actually contesting and winning.”

On the percentage of women involved in major party politics, Okenyodo said that it is still very low as fewer women than men are major political party card carriers. “Statistics have shown that women’s overall representation is less than seven per cent and the party chairmanship position is nothing to write home about as the positions are dominated by men and I think this is because women concentrate more on the state and local level politics. Also certain rules and practices of political recruitment in Nigeria is another reason the percentage of women is low. My position is strongly based on the fact that if we want to experience a change in the percentage of women representation, women should participate without fear, engage at the grassroots and also call for a review of the discriminative political bottlenecks that deny women equal participation in governance in Nigeria.”

The PWAN boss stressed that as women are clamouring for equal representation there is no gainsaying the fact that an increase in women representation in government can empower women with its multiplier effects in overall development and also in terms of policies for women. “We believe that it is going to be business as usual where only lip service are paid to putting in place policies that would affect women positively. There is still no constitutional preference for the women in terms of Bills at both the state and national levels to protect the welfare of women.”

She believes that come 2023, there is a higher stake for women in elections judging from the number that participated in the 2019 elections, despite not scaling through the primaries and all the obstacles that limit participation. She is hopeful that the level of awareness being carried out by women groups and CSOs would in a way give them a better chance in the electoral process.

Executive Director, Echoes of Women in Africa Initiative (ECOWA), Lousia Onomhen Eikhomun noted that women should be reminded that organising is important to pushing for rights. “The gains we achieved over time are under threats and political space is being shut against us. Today more than ever, we should think of new strategies to get us into the room of decision-making. Waiting for it to happen is no longer the option. We have what it takes to lead. We have mobilised, sensitised and empowered women to be representatives but the political parties acting from a patriarchal point of view are still a huge barrier and the shrinking percentage attests to it. Promises not fulfilled and no one is held accountable for this injustice. This calls for urgent strategies and working together as victims cheated of our political rights. It is very disheartening to use women’s vote and deny them the right to be voted for.”

While stressing that women have really tried in participating in politics in Nigeria, Eikhomun said, “I score us 85 per cent, while 15 per cent is tied to finance. Women do not have the kind of money men have not because women are lazy but opportunities are limited. If women are funded in politics, they will be strong rivals to defeat politically. Political campaign and success strategies are not mysteries but process to be under-studied. Women running for office were trained on strategies by both international and national women’s rights organisations. But money politics is the order of the day, from cost of nomination forms to huge cost of campaigns; this affects women’s performance. We need a level playing ground and ban on votes buying during primaries and general elections.”

While lamenting that the gender and equal opportunities bill to close gender gaps was rejected by the senate of the eighth Assembly, the dwindling number of female legislators from 13 per cent to six per cent in 2015 is a further embarrassment. “If less than this percentage makes it into the ninth assembly, that will further widen the gap for women to achieve equality and the sustainable development goals 5.5 which emphasises the number of seats held by women in parliament. It is already a woeful situation compared to Rwanda and other developed nations who have achieved gender parity. Gender sensitive policies will only receive support if the male legislators are feminists. This will be tantamount to the head of a camel going through the eyes of a needle. Women must have zeal and determination to engage with new strategies for success always. But by 2023 will see some experienced female aspirants and candidates get eliminated by age as they get older and this can be curbed if the older women begin to mentor young women to hand over the baton. Mentorship is a strategy that women need to employ. Young women on their part should learn from older female politicians. For any woman interested in politics in 2023, the time to start is now to build structures.”

“Funding organisations should not wait till the 11th hour to mobilise and train women running for offices. They have a data of aspirants and candidates and can begin the process now. INEC, political parties and leaders need to be committed to create the enabling environment for female politicians with commitments to affirmative action. Violence against women in elections should be eliminated and offenders prosecuted. Until the space is safe, more women will avoid politics.”

It is no longer news that Nigeria has the lowest number of female parliamentarians in sub-Saharan Africa and ranks 133rd in the world for female political representation. Activist and head of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, (NWTF) Mufuliat Fijabi, said the situation is a national tragedy. “This is extremely poor and a decrease from the 5.8 percent of women we currently have in both houses combined, this is bad for our democracy because this simply means that women’s perspectives will not be considered in important decision making processes in the house. We are almost half of the population, why isn’t this number fairly represented in both houses? There is the need to step up action to ensure that women are not completely lost in Nigeria’s governance. The reduction in the number of women who win elective seats isn’t something that is caused by one factor but several. Violence in the electoral process is one of them; intimidation, lack of an enabling environment for women to participate and finance are just some of the other factors. There is the need for more deliberate action from relevant authorities and stakeholders to make the process seamless for all. Men experience violence as well but not at the rate women do. There is the need to be more innovative because we cannot continue to do what we used to do. The patriarchal nature of the Nigerian society has become almost like a battle line drawn and it is only innovation that can change this. This day is a time for reflection at different levels on how the world is impacting on women and vice versa. Women are doing a lot but we are still yet to get to where we want because we are still being excluded in governance and other key areas, this isn’t good enough. We hope that reflecting on this day helps us close these gaps that affect women and promote their abilities in the grand scheme of things. Clearly, there is a conspicuous and appalling absence of women at the country’s highest levels of decision-making despite mounting evidence that countries where women are engaged in the public sector tend to prioritise issues such as health and education, which are vital to overall economic development of any nation.”

Social media as a weapon
On January 5 of this year, Rahaf Mohammed opened a Twitter handle, @rahaf84427714, and sent a tweet stating that she was running from her family who were trying to send her back to Saudi Arabia. Rahaf, 18, barricaded herself in a hotel room inside Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, during a family vacation in order to prevent her forced return to a family she claimed would kill her. Following Rahaf’s tweet, which was translated from Arabic to English by Egyptian-American author and activist, Mona Eltahawy, the Twitter hashtag #SaveRahaf gained widespread support. Rahaf’s tweet went viral and she received protection from the United Nations in Thailand with Australia agreeing to grant her asylum if the UN found her claims true. Since then, Canada verified her claims and, subsequently, granted her asylum.

Social media creates a sense of community for women as it relates to feminist issues. It forges what Lauren Berlent calls a temporary ‘intimate public’—a collective digital space where women who share ‘viewpoints’ come together virtually—of solidarity as women with like-minded thoughts, experience and stories who seek to educate others about the meaning of feminism. Reading about other women’s experiences lets women know they are not alone in whatever situation. In this way, social media has a galvanizing impact, vis-à-vis feminist issues.

On October 15, 2017, American actress, Alyssa Milano, encouraged victims of the sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against the American film producer, Harvey Weinstein, to tweet #MeToo in order to ‘give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem’. This tweet popularized the #MeToo hashtag developed by American civil rights activist, Tarana Burke, and led to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. The hashtag went viral in October 2017, highlighting the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment particularly in the workplace. The #ArewaMeToo took a leaf from the movement and began to name, shame and demand justice from sexual abusers on social media leading to the arrest of one the co-founders, Maryam Awaisu by SARS operatives; a move that only served to explode the movement and activism into the consciousness of Nigerians. Awaisu was released after huge protests on social media and she said she would not be intimidated no matter what. The MeToo hashtag has led to continued discussions on women sexual harassment and abuse across the globe.

The movement has also led to open discussions and action on pay differences and improving sexual harassment policies. For example, Iceland recently passed the Equal Pay Certification law; the US Congress has also considered and passed a Member and Employee Training and Oversight on Congress Act (METOO Congress Act), which prohibits the use of taxpayers’ money to settle sexual harassment or assault allegations by members of Congress. Since that first tweet in October 2017, the #MeToo movement has morphed beyond social media, providing resources to victims for healing and open discussions about sexual abuse. The movement has also enabled prosecution of offenders such as the case of the US Gymnastics team, as well as advocacy for change in laws and policies surrounding sexual assault and harassment.

In 2017, following a sexual assault in Bengaluru, India, a group of young people organised the #IWillGoOut campaign. In a paper in the Journal of Gender and Development, Divya Titus, one of the leaders of the campaign revealed that the #IWillGoOut campaign was triggered by the comments of two politicians blaming victims for the sexual assault.

In response to these comments, Titus sent a Facebook message to ten friends asking them to join her in a petition that sought to demand a public apology from the politicians and draw attention to sexual assault in India. The message gained a strong response and, within days, the thread expanded to 200 people. A Facebook page and website were created, attracting supporters from across India. This online movement culminated in offline action on January 21, 2017 when more than 30 events and marches happened across India.

In December last year, a group of young Nigerians came together to organize the Yaba March which sought to highlight the sexual harassment experienced by Nigerian women who visit the Yaba Market in Lagos. Following the march and the backlash the protestors faced, many visitors to the market reported a change. This led to calls from women across Nigeria for a similar march in their cities. In her now globally recognized TED X talk, ‘We All Should be Feminists’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called for citizens around the world to understand the necessity and significance of feminism. In Nigeria, her speech started a fiery discussion on social media with many condemning her views and others using it as an opportunity to talk about feminism.

In 2015, an Abuja-based book club meeting led by Florence Warmate met to discuss the book version of Adichie’s TED speech. The group of about 15 women ended up sharing their challenges and experiences as women living in Nigeria. By lunchtime the following day, the Warmate Book Club decided to create and put out the hashtags #BeingFemaleInNigeria and #BeingAWomanInNigeria, asking women to share and highlight first-hand the stories of sexism and patriarchy in Nigeria. The response was overwhelming. Thousands of Nigerian women joined in the conversation.

Adichie also sparked a discussion about feminism and gender roles following her Facebook post, ‘Dear Ijeawele or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’. The Manifesto, made up of more than 9000 words, is a letter response to a request from a friend, Ijeawele, who had just given birth to a daughter and asked Chimamanda for advice on how to raise her as a feminist. Chimamanda’s suggestions were timely—a venture into the world of Nigerian Twitter or Facebook, reveals topics, ‘Feminism’ and ‘cooking’ are often controversial and lend to discourse that ranges from ‘who has the responsibility to cook?’ to ‘how much should a man give to his woman’ or ‘should a woman spend on cooking a sumptuous pot of soup’?

Issues such as ‘cooking’, ‘changing one’s name after marriage’, ‘menstrual hygiene’, ‘child marriage’ and other issues affecting women are discussed extensively on social media. But, in Nigeria, feminist online activism does not just raise awareness; it has generated tangible results too. Social media backlash against certain injustices has resulted in open discussions about taboo topics and has meant, in some cases, a call to action. These cases include but are not limited to #JusticeForOchanya, #SexForMarks, #WeWillNotBeSilent and the famous #BringBackOurGirls

Sexual/reproductive health
Among reported cases of diseases, HIV/AIDS affect women more. On the average, the disease accounted for 58.6 percent of female deaths compared to 41.4 of male deaths. Nigerian women still suffer genital mutilation with 89.9percent on the average of women and girls’ in the ages 15-19 years experiencing genital cutting at ages under five years (NBS, 2016). More women were trafficked between 2010-2015 with the proportion of women trafficked for prostitution as high as 70.8 percent for persons in ages 18-27 years in 2015. This number has steadily grown worse with over 10, 000 women leaving the country yearly to be used as prostitutes in Europe and other neighbouring African countries. Sometimes, these women know they are being trafficked while most have no idea.

The Lagos State Ministry of Health, (LSMoH), has said that the uptake of family planning (FP) by 600,000 women in less than six months helped the state avert 46,000 unsafe abortions, 143,000 unintended pregnancies and 800 maternal deaths. While the number of women that die from unsafe abortions yearly is unknown, Ayo Adebusoye, Chairman of the Public Health Sustainable Advocacy Initiative (PHSAI) told The Guardian that no monies were released by the last quarter of last year for family planning despite repeated advocacy visits because Governor Ambode was approving all releases of funds from the State Treasury Office.

Listing some of the barriers to effective FP to include long distance to PHCs; ignorance of FP methods, cost of FP consumables and general myths and misconceptions, he opined that more outreaches to the hard-to-reach areas; increased sensitization of communities in LGAs and implementation of free FP services policy at all public facilities will greatly improve the situation. Dr Omasanjuwa Edun of the Nigerian Urban Reproductive Helath Initiative 2 (NURHI 2) Project added that in order to address supply barriers, “we have to expand access by increasing the number of service points, increase the number of trained providers, increase the range of methods available, improve the quality of service provision and last but not the least, increase the frequency and intensity of service provision, i.e. number of days FP is provided weekly or monthly, as the case may be.

Dr. Johnson Taiwo, technical lead of the Post Preganacy Family Planning Project (PPFP) NURHI 2, opined that in improving post pregnancy family planning practices in Nigeria, we have to look at the supply and demand barriers. “The project is working to reduce the supply barriers by educating women about the benefits of taking up a family planning method soon after delivery and developing key messages about the conditions for using breastfeeding as a family planning method, also addressing ideational factors associated with using a method after delivery. On the supply side, the project is ensuring access to PPFP services by training the providers on the FP methods used after delivery and during breastfeeding, and improving the quality of FP services by providing necessary job aids and tools.

For Dr Ajoke Ashiru, there is huge room for improvement in women’s health issues despite government’s current efforts. Calling for improved sensitization, aggressive male involvement, improved media coverage in form of print and electronic media and media dialogue with the member of the communities, she says the burden is too much on women. “Men are not doing enough. There is room for more sensitization on the part of the men and increasing male involvement and we need adequate counseling on members of the communities by the health providers. FP counseling should be made more accessible to reach women of reproductive age as there is still a very high unmet need among women.

The country still averages roughly 600 deaths per 100, 000 live births while the global community has made significant progress in improving the lives of women during pregnancy. Globally, deaths per 1000 live births have dropped to just 29 while ours is on the increase. A recent Reuters report ranks Lagos as the eighth worst megacity for women. Nigeria’s largest city with an estimated population of almost 20 million people was sixth worst when it came to harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and forced marriages and seventh worst for women to have access to economic resources such as education, land, and financial services such as bank accounts and loans. These are dire statistics and we can no longer bury our heads in the sand and wish this problem away. Despite efforts from several quarters, basic issues like female education, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), child marriages, lack of financial freedom amongst other issues still dominate the over-riding discourse. In this part of the world, Nigeria boasts the highest number of child brides and records thousands of Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) cases yearly. In the North, boys outnumber girls 3:1 in schools and this number rises as they get older, as the girls drop out to get married from as early as 10 years old; a practice they see as a protective measure, regarding education for female children as tantamount to corrupting them and making them unmarriageable.

For women advocate and CEO, Women’s Radio 91.7fm, Toun Okewale-Sonaiya, there has been a huge improvement in women’s situation from last year’s celebration. Speaking with The Guardian, she said, “More are determined to make an impact in their communities and spaces. More are running and setting up enterprises, going into partnership initiatives and supporting others. More are guarding and implementing their rights and breaking cultural silences. Political involvements have positively increased with the Nigerian female politician being more active outside the traditional roles and we must acknowledge and commend the Nigerian woman. We must further spread our tentacles to gain more acceptance by building more impactful relationships at all levels from grassroots. We must be deliberate and devise strategies to overcome financial constraints while emphasising developmental capacity building to deliver at all levels. We must strive harder and be bolder in making positive marks anywhere we find ourselves and devise strategies for winning. Women in influential positions should advocate to get more women on board as positive allies,” she said.


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