Generation equality takes a stand for women’s rights
International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated each year around the world on March 8. This year, the theme for IWD 2020 is Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights; marking 25 years since the establishment of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
In Nigeria, we will commemorate the entire month of March as International Women’s Month by highlighting a series of dynamic activities in collaboration with the Federal and State Ministries of Women Affairs, civil society organizations, and the private sector. UN Women in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs will officially launch the year-long Generation Equality campaign here in Nigeria.
Generation Equality further asks the question of what strides have been made since the historic 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, a generation ago in Beijing.
The conference identified 12 critical areas of concern where urgent action was needed relating to women and the issues of poverty, health, violence, armed conflict, economy, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, environment, education and training, power and decision-making and the Girl Child. Assessing progress in each of these 12 critical areas guides our ability to say whether Nigerian women and girls are better off now than they were twenty-five years ago.
UN Women is bringing together the next generations of women’s rights activists with gender equality advocates and visionaries who were instrumental in creating the Beijing Platform for Action more than two decades ago. Collectively, these change-makers of all ages and genders can tackle the unfinished business of empowering women through a new, groundbreaking, multigenerational campaign: “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future”. The Generation Equality campaign demands equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, health-care services that respond to their needs, and their equal participation in political life and decision-making in all areas of life.
Nigeria has witnessed key milestones in the advancement of women’s rights since 1995. For one, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs was established in 1995 following the return of Nigerian delegates from Beijing. The Ministry’s mandate to this day remains the advancement of women’s development and empowerment to ensure that the needs of women from State to Federal level are addressed. Nigeria has also made great progress in the area of girl child education; girls make up between 70 per cent and 89 per cent of children in primary education although there are clear disparities between girls in the North and South and low rates of transition to university overall.
On the legislative front, Nigeria recently launched the National Sex Offenders Register – a momentous step in the campaign to end violence against women and girls in Nigeria. In support of this, Nigeria is one of eight African countries in which the European Union and United Nations joint Spotlight Initiative to end violence against women and girls, is being implemented. Most recently, through the Spotlight Initiative, UN Women advocated against the plight of ‘Sex for Grades’ by backing the Anti-Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institutions Bill. It is reassuring, that in different spheres, conversations around violence against women and girls are being had; these contribute to breaking stigma and taboo which are major hindrances to ending all forms of violence.
This International Women’s Month, we should take stock of our achievements whilst admitting that we still have some way to go. According to the World Health Organization, Nigeria accounts for 20 per cent of all global maternal deaths and young adolescents are at higher risk of death and complications in pregnancy compared to other women. Coupled with the reality that Nigeria is in the top ten list of African countries with the highest rates for Child Marriage, the situation is serious. 43 per cent of women aged 15-49 are married before the age of 18 with severe consequences on their education, sexual and reproductive health rights, as well as their overall well-being.
Fundamentally, all women should live lives free of fear and the experience of violence. Not only does this constitute a significant aspect of their human rights, ending violence against women and girls has huge social and economic implications. The World Bank estimates that in 2015, Nigeria could have generated $7.76 billion if it had ended child marriage. Women and girls would have been more able to contribute to their communities and would have stood a better chance at living lives with dignity and social mobility.
Generation Equality means equal opportunity for women at all levels. The National Gender Policy stipulates 35 per cent affirmative action on the representation of women in politics and governance. Yet Nigeria ranks amongst the least across the world for female representation in the legislature despite the tenacious and proven effectiveness of Nigerian women in politics. It is not a coincidence then, that women own only seven percent of land despite contributing the most to agricultural labor in Nigeria and that 54 per cent of people displaced by Boko Haram insurgency are women. For as long as inequalities at governance persist, women at all levels will consistently get left behind with little opportunity to present their needs at the table.
Opportunities to further our progress revolve around the strengthening of legislation and the participation of gender-sensitive advocates for gender equality in Nigeria. The Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill is a progressive bill re-introduced in 2019. If passed into law, the Bill would further promote the protection of equal opportunities for all Nigerians irrespective of gender. The HeForShe initiative led by the United Nations recognizes the importance of men standing in solidarity with women for a more just and equal world. In 2020, the start of the Decade of Action toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we welcome more States working toward being recognized as HeForShe States.
In today’s world, both women and men all over the world are speaking up for themselves and for those who have been silenced, stigmatized, and shamed for far too long, many are from a new generation. They are seizing the moment to reimagine economies, societies, and political systems so that they uphold human rights and achieve gender equality, leaving no one behind.
UN Women is calling on all stakeholders to mobilize and take action to deliver concrete, game-changing results across generations for Nigerian girls and women. Let’s all come together, women, girls, men, and boys to help women achieve their rights. Let us all be #GenerationEquality.
Ms. Comfort Lamptey is the UN Women Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS.