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Gender parity, equity resonate as women reject discrimination 

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Bassa-nge women from Gboloko Local Government Area of Kogi State celebrate the International Women’s Day in Abuja…yesterday.<br />PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ATEKO

• We’re not asking for lower standards for women, says CDD boss
• ‘It is a call for partnership, collaboration, and amity
• Yesufu blames Nigeria’s woes on women relegation
• Ihekweazu faults maternal policy
• COVID-19 worsened violence against women, girls, says UN

Women have called for an equitable society devoid of discrimination to enable them thrive.

They demand inclusion in the nation’s decision-making process and level-playing ground with their male counterparts for a better society.

They spoke in separate interviews with The Guardian in commemoration of International Women’s Day (IWD), which is celebrated every March 8. The theme for this year’s celebration is #ChooseToChallenge.

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They spoke just as the United Nations (UN) lamented that this year’s celebration came at a very trying time.

IWD is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women’s achievements or rally for women’s equality.

International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. Then in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by member states, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

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IN their comments to celebrate this year’s edition in the country, the Executive Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, human rights activist, Aisha Yesufu, President, Women Arise, Dr. Joe Okei Odumakin and Managing Director, Nigeria Health Watch, a health communication and advocacy organisation, Mrs. Vivianne Ihekweazu, lamented the continuous marginalisation of women in the scheme of things and demanded an immediate end to it.

Women representation in Nigerian parliament has been low. The situation reduces the support that can be garnered from the bicameral legislature for issues affecting women. This is in contrast with the situation in Rwanda, where women representation in the parliament accounts for 61.3 per cent in the Lower House and 38.5 per cent in the Upper House. This makes Rwanda the country with the highest representation of women in parliament out of 192 countries presented on the global database.

Hassan noted that due to years of marginalisation against women, issues of direct importance to them are not given the needed attention.

To buttress her claim, she pointed out that frontline issues like maternal and child mortality, poverty, armed and violent conflicts disproportionately affect women.

The CDD boss said the problems of  marginalisation, poverty and inequality confronting women are further worsened by COVID-19 pandemic, which affected businesses, particularly in the informal and small-scale sector dominated by women.

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Hassan described current attempts at redressing injustices against women as fundamentally flawed, saying to have a just, fair, and inclusive society, women must be part of decision-making, to define and push their agenda.

She said: “The argument is not for the standards to be lowered for women; our position is that women should no longer be treated as passive agents of their progress. They have to be active drivers so that the outcomes of their exertions can be organic and much more participatory.

“If you look at societies making progress around the world, they came to the realisation that they cannot afford to discountenance the talents, abilities and human resource embedded in their women.

Those societies worked systematically to address the injustices, prejudices and narrow mindset, which held women back. The call for inclusion and an end to marginalisation should not be misinterpreted as a divisive call for women to “take over.” It is a call for partnership, collaboration, and amity, without which a society cannot take the strides it requires in its march to progress,” Hassan added.

To actualise this, the rights activist said there must be a systemic change through a democratic process.

The director tasked women to rise above the challenges to bring about the desired change.

ODUMAKIN identified some of the challenges confronting women as poverty, lack of access to education, economic deprivation, gender-based violence and inequality, especially in work places.

To address these challenges, Odumakin canvasses a legislation that would protect women from discrimination and abuses, while violators of women’s rights are made to face the law.

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She warned that until the nation criminalises violence and other forms of abuses against women, there may be no difference anytime soon.

Odumakin urged women to remain committed to issues that seek to uplift them, continuously demand for their pride of place and resist suppression by societal factors that perpetually seek to make them lesser beings.

Yesufu, on her part, said gender inequality has hindered women from thriving over the years.

IN leadership roles, Yesufu wondered why a woman who is educated and has capacity for everything is prevented from joining politics; and when eventually allowed is relegated to the background in the scheme of things.

She said: “I look forward to a time when it would sound so ridiculous that a day is set aside for women, because there won’t be need for such if women are giving a level-playing field, equity and get to be treated as human beings first, not just as a woman

“Imagine, not because of your gender, capacity or what you are able to bring to the table, you are not given a level-playing field. A woman is paid less because of gender and not because the quality of her work is not good. The world is not in a better place today because we are treating human beings based on gender and 50 per cent of that gender is being sidelined, treated as second-class citizens. I think what we need to do is to allow women to be,” Yesufu added.

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As Nigerians joined the rest of the world to celebrate, Yesufu enjoined women to be guided by the theme of this year’s IWD, stressing: “We should challenge the little voices planted in our heads when we were little that said we couldn’t achieve as much as we could, we should challenge those little voices that said we cannot be independent, be leaders or excel, we need to quash those voices.”

She tasked women to stop waiting for men, create their own spaces and excel there.

MANAGING Director, Nigeria Health Watch, a health communication and advocacy organisation, Vivianne Ihekweazu, urged government to look at ways of making the workplace more equitable, in terms of access to opportunities for women and ensuring that they get leadership positions.

Ihekweazu also wondered why women who are doing the same job as their male counterparts should not be paid as men, adding that there should be no pay discrimination based on gender.

While advocating for a policy that would ensure equity in the workplace, Ihekweazu said the current maternal policy does not favour women.

She added: “We do not have enough women in leadership positions and as a result, when it comes to making decisions that affect women, they are often not at the table literally to be able to influence issues affecting their lives. How many women are in management positions in a lot of government agencies and when it comes to promotion or otherwise, are women given the same opportunity as men? What I’m saying in essence is that women should be given the same opportunity as men to lead organisations or put forward for leadership positions. Out of the about 50 ministers, only a few of them are women.
It can’t be right in a country where half the population is women. So, women are under represented in leadership positions in the country. Are women put forward for leadership positions or are they giving the same opportunity to rise to leadership positions?

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UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, in a statement to commemorate this year’s IWD, said the celebration came at a difficult time for the world and for gender equality, but at a perfect moment to fight for transformative action, salute women and young people for their drive for gender equality and human rights.

Mlambo-Ngcuka, said the focus is on women’s leadership and on ramping up representation in all the areas where decisions are made – currently mainly by men – about the issues that affect women’s lives.

The UN boss lamented that the lack of representation of women’s interests has gone on too long.

The statement read in part: “As we address the extraordinary hardship that COVID-19 has brought to millions of women and girls and their communities, we also look ahead to the solid opportunities of the generation equality forum and action coalitions to bring change.

“During the pandemic, we have seen increased violence against women and girls and lost learning for girls as school drop-out rates, care responsibilities and child marriages rise. We are seeing tens of millions more women plunge into extreme poverty, as they lose their jobs at a higher rate than men, and pay the price for a lack of digital access and skills.”

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