Tuesday, 5th December 2023
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Women seek end to discrimination, demand gender equality in leadership, employment

By Iyabo Lawal, Helen Oji, Tobi Awodipe, Ijeoma Thomas-Odia, Waliat Musa, Silver Nwokoro (Lagos), Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja) and Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna)
08 March 2022   |   3:46 am
Over a million Nigerian women from different walks of life will be out today to protest against rejected gender bills in the National Assembly. They will also be protesting against the denial of citizenship to the foreign-born husband of a Nigerian woman

National Assembly

One million women march against rejected gender bills
• N25 trillion lost to gender inequality every year
• Turn the clock forward on women’s rights, says UN
• Odumakin seeks enactment of a legal framework to protect women
• Gender parity achievable in Nigeria, insists Ojobo
• NACA calls for concerted efforts to end sexual harassment, violence
• CNPP faults lawmakers over rejection of gender interest bills

Over a million Nigerian women from different walks of life will be out today to protest against rejected gender bills in the National Assembly. They will also be protesting against the denial of citizenship to the foreign-born husband of a Nigerian woman, women’s inability to take indigeneship of their husband’s state after five years of being together, denial of 35 per cent appointed positions, party administration and leadership, as well as, rejection of specific seats for women in the National Assembly.

Gender equality, parity and end to discrimination against women will equally take the centre stage as they join their counterparts across the world to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD).

Celebrated every March 8, IWD is a day set aside to celebrate women globally. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. It was first celebrated by the United Nations in 1975.

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.

Harsh tagged #breakingthebias, this year’s IWD is themed, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.”

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, in his message, lamented that women and girls have frequently borne the brunt of the consequences of the COVID-19 virus spreading worldwide, resulting in women doing the vast majority of the world’s unpaid but essential care work.

To remedy the situation, Guterres called for guaranteed quality education for every girl, massive investments in women’s training and decent work, effective action to end gender-based violence, and universal health care.

Other measures recommended by the UN chief include gender quotas that could result in the world benefiting from more women leaders.

According to the convener of Womanifesto, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Nigeria has a woeful women representation in political and elective positions. According to her, at the National Assembly, only 29 are women, which amounts to six per cent in total.

Akiyode-Afolabi noted that a low women representation in leadership positions amounts to denying half of Nigeria’s population the voice and opportunity to contribute to governance and development.

For Chairperson, Women in Politics forum, Ebere Ifendu, part of their demands include urgent re-convening, reconsideration and immediate passage of the five gender-related bills; and passage of the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEOB) bill, currently before the senate.

Ifendu added that failure to address women’s issues through the gender bill showed that women are irrelevant.

A member of the Lagos State House of Assembly representing Amuwo Odofin Constituency and Chairman, House Committee on Women Affairs, Poverty Alleviation and Job Creation, Mojisolaoluwa Alli-Macaulay, lamented that women, over the year, have been denied leadership positions in governance and business, and demanded an end to discrimination.

Chief Executive Officer, Rellies Works, who is also the founder, The PowerWoman Network, Kemi Ogunkoya, said there is a need to rethink the entire construct of gender from cultural and political spheres.

Ogunkoya insisting that equal opportunities should be the norm, tasked women to focus on building and developing themselves.

“We need to step out of playing the gender card and start playing the value card. When we bring value to the table, it has a way of dispelling bias. Enough of being waiting to be handed a spot at the table, let’s create our table by focusing on our unique gifts and never be ashamed to put ourselves and the value that we bring out there,” Ogunkoya said.

President, Medical Women International Association, Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi, said women face bias and discrimination against them from conception.

Citing the medical profession, for instance, Nwadinobi said there are fewer women heading health institutions. “She faces biases in the context of inheritance rights, burial and widowhood rites. At the end of her time on earth, the woman faces the bias of where her remains will be laid to rest. The most toxic and life-threatening bias is the intentional and targeted violence against women and girls in their homes and communities. We must speak up and speak out against this violence that is an existential threat. The solution lies in a global treaty to end all forms of violence against women and girls.”

Founder, She Forum Africa, Inimfon Etuk, stressed that beyond the more widely acknowledged challenges of gender-based violence, limited or no access to quality and affordable healthcare, as well as education, including low retention rate of girls in school, a critical challenge women face, is bias itself, and this is multi-faceted.

“There is the bias of men towards women, bias from institutions, where stereotypes are pervasive and deepened, conscious and unconscious strengthening of patriarchy through state actions or inactions, such as the delay or refusal to adopt and domesticate international treaties that support women development and gender equality, as well as the failure of women to speak up against discrimination,” she revealed.

Etuk said: “We have to re-group, stay focused on our goals and evolve hands-on strategies to not just negotiate, but demand accountability from our political and governance actors. There is no better time than now, as we march towards the 2023 election, to wield the unmistakable influence of our numerical strength to change the narrative of political exclusion for good.”

Executive Director, Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, Bunmi Dipo-Salami, warned that if the current situation persists, women will not have a level playing field, and would be worse off than what happened in 2019.

Identifying increased advocacy and public enlightenment as imperatives for gender equality in the world, human rights activist, Joe Odumakin, canvassed the enactment of a legal framework to protect women’s rights. She also called for continuous advocacy and public sensitisation on the protection of women’s rights.

MEANWHILE, the Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX) has called for gender equality in areas of leadership, employment and entrepreneurship.

NGX, in collaboration with International Finance Corporation (IFC), Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) Initiative, United Nations (UN) Women, UN Global Compact (UNGC) and World Federation of Exchanges (WFE) will be hosting a virtual symposium, in continuation of the IWD celebration.

According to the exchange, this year’s theme is a call to action to spur women and men into taking bold steps towards closing the gender gap.

NGX, during a series of events held in commemoration of women’s day, also celebrated the recently appointed female board chairpersons and chief executives of listed companies and their affiliates who were appointed in 2021.

ACTIVIST and International Programme Director, Christian Aid, Ms. Ojobo Ode Atuluku, noted that gender equality is achievable in Nigeria. She maintained that with continuous agitations, gender imbalance in several sectors, including politics would be corrected.

“There is a lot of inequality for female citizens in the country and some of them are even backed by law. That is what is bringing about the agitations that we have had through time for gender equality in many sectors,” she explained.

Speaking on the recent refusal of the National Assembly to create special seats for women, Ojobo blamed the action on a lack of understanding of the benefits of having women in policymaking positions.

She blamed the failure of the bill on injustice and the lack of enabling laws that recognises the peculiarity of feminine gender in the country.

Ojobo stated that increased representation of women in electoral and appointive positions is a battle that all Nigerians that believe in the development of the country should join.

She clarified that gender equality has nothing to do with women taking over from men.

“I think that is one of the major fears that drive some of the resistance that we see around gender equality.

“When we talk about gender equality, we are talking about equality of rights, about the fact that women’s rights are also human rights and should be recognised as such; the fact that both genders should have equal rights as given under the constitution and also, the fact that once women have and enjoy their rights, it doesn’t deprive men of enjoying their rights and having those rights as well.”

Speaking on the theme of this year’s celebration, Ojobo noted that it should run continuously until every bias against women is eliminated.

THE UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Comfort Lamptey, also expressed concern that over N25 trillion is being lost to gender inequality every year and might degenerate further if the situation is not corrected.

Speaking at the inaugural IWD Awards Gala held in partnership with UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Lamptey said when women are given unfettered access to participate in the economy of the country, the entire nation benefits immensely.

Renowned writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who spoke on Reflections of women’s leadership and gender equality, said the non-passage of the gender bills showed that women do not matter.

“We should all be outraged at the injustice Nigerian women face daily. We must judge women less harshly and support them. There is nothing to celebrate if we really look at it, but there is still hope. We have made small progress, but we still have a very long way to go. Till date, we’ve never had a woman governor or president; there is something really wrong with this,” the famous writer said.

On her part, Toyin Saraki enjoined women not to be discouraged by current trends, but to be steadfast and determined to achieve their goal of gender parity, while the actress Kate Henshaw pointed out that support for women is needed across the world especially in Nigeria, as the National Assembly has sent a strong message and Nigerian women must remind them of their importance.

IN the same vein, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) has faulted the rejection of bills meant to promote the interest of the female gender in the ongoing constitutional amendment by the National Assembly.

The group urged lawmakers to end the habit of taking the country back to the primitive days and revisit the rejected gender equity bills.

CNPP asked members of the Senate “to revisit the rejected pro-female gender bills to align the country with the theme of this year’s celebration.

In a statement signed by its Secretary-General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, the group noted that the lawmakers have always failed to flow with the mood of the nation and prevailing international standards at all times.

DIRECTOR General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr. Gambo Aliyu, has called for concerted efforts to bring an end to all forms of discrimination, sexual harassment and violence against women and girls in the country.

He said Women must be empowered to transform their perceived weaknesses into opportunities if we must break the cycle of poverty, diseases and particularly reduce the HIV burden in Nigeria.

In a statement, Gambo noted that international women’s day provides an opportunity to empower women in all settings, rural and urban, and celebrate activists who are working to claim gender equality for women to enable them realise their full potential in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of leaving no one behind.

He noted that most gender-related interventions have focused on breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty, particularly for disadvantaged women and girl children, but have been weaker in promoting women’s economic empowerment through employment or sustainable livelihoods.

Gambo said this year’s celebration is an opportunity for the agency to reposition for change and build on the previous achievements, with a focus on awareness creation on the impact of HIV on indigent persons, particularly women and girls, while calling for greater gender equality and equity.

MEANWHILE, Chief Executive Officer, Future Software Resources Limited, Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho, has charged women to join technology regardless of the challenges.

Begho spoke at Duale Ovia and Alex-Adedipe (DOA) event themed: Girls in Tech: “Breaking the bias in technology,” which had six private schools in attendance.

She said it is important for organisations to get more women into technology and inspire women who want to pursue careers in technology because women in the field are few.