Making Women Affairs Ministry relevant
What will the political officers and women rights activists in Nigeria tell the world body as the major achievements of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development (FMWASD) when they converge at the United Nations in March next year to appraise the Beijing Declaration of 1995? This question came to the fore recently when some observers and analysts sought to question the relevance of the special ministry for women affairs and social development amidst multifaceted challenges facing women and children in the most populous African nation, Nigeria. It is against the backdrop that next year, there will be an appraisal meeting in New York where such questions may arise.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), the world will converge at the United Nations Headquarters in New York) from 9 to 20 March 2020 for the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
The meeting is to review and appraise the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcomes of the 23rd special session of the United Nations General Assembly. The review will also include an assessment of current challenges that affect the implementation of the Platform for Action and the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women; and its contribution towards the full realisation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
To assess Nigeria’s level of preparedness, it is imperative for the nation to appraise the extent the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, established by Decree No. 30 of 1989; with the broad mandate to advise the government on gender and children issues and issues affecting persons with disabilities and the elderlies has lived up to its billings. The ministry is also mandated to initiate policy guidelines and lead the process of ensuring gender equality and mainstreaming at both the national and international levels; and has National Council of Women’s Societies (NCWS) and National Centre for Women Development (NCWD) as extra-ministerial departments and agencies.
While it may be acknowledged that FMWASD has moved the concerns of women to the fore in the nation and made some progress on its mandate of ensuring gender equality; apart from publishing the National Gender Policy, which is a strategic intervention, most of its interventions adopted the needs-based (Women in Development (WID) approach, which uses practical interventions to integrate women into existing structures, using welfare and women-only projects to increase women’s productivity and income; and their ability to manage households.
However, this is usually short-term and does not integrate women into all facets of our national life. Equality approach using needs-based, seeks to integrate women into the development process and views women’s exclusion and lack of participation from the development process as the problem. It ‘preaches’ marginalisation and feminises poverty. So, it focuses on women’s involvement in productive labour, reproductive role and women in labour force. The solution, strategy and policy approaches of WID, integrate women into existing structures using welfare, anti-poverty, efficiency, economic change i.e. empowerment, women only projects, increase women’s productivity, increase women’s income, increase women’s ability to manage households and focuses only on how women could better be integrated into ongoing development initiatives. This approach sees women as recipients of change, which has been the main focus of the pet projects of Nigeria’s first ladies (past and current), who most often than not have worked in collaboration with FMWASD. .
For instance, the women empowerment projects of first ladies (past and current) such as the Mariam Babangida’s Better Life Programme for Rural Women (BLPRW); Maryam Abacha’s Family Economic and Advancement Programme (FEAP), Honorable Justice Fati Abubakar’s NGO – Women’s Right Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA); Stella Obasanjo’s Child Care Trust (CCT); Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua’s Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation (WAYEF); Dame Patience Jonathan’s Women for Change Initiative (WCI); and Aisha Buhari’s Future Assured Project (FAP) mainly adopted the WID approach because all their interventions have focused on economic empowerment; skills acquisition; political empowerment merely in mobilising them to vote, but not putting them up to be voted for. It will be recalled that Sarah Jibril had only one vote during the presidential primary in which she contested and the then First Lady and Minister of FMWASD also voted during the presidential primary in this democracy.
So, while women leaders under the aegis of the FMWASD claim that they have made impact in Nigeria, such may not have been significant, after all. Doubtless, Nigeria may be far from achieving SDG5 if the nation continues in this trajectory.
Mainstreaming gender into all spheres, particularly in parliament will enhance having women in decision making positions. However, the outlook for this in Nigeria is poor as the European Union (EU) report on 2019 general elections shows a decrease in women elected. The report also stated that Nigeria has the lowest rate of women in parliament in Africa, with the number progressively decreasing since 2011. While attempts have been made to introduce legislative reform, there are currently no legal requirements for the promotion of women in political life.
Hence, FMWASD needs to refocus its interventions using the rights-based approach by adopting Gender, Legislation and Development (GLAD); because as contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to take part in the advancement of his/her country. Adopting GLAD approach will allow Nigeria to draw on the full range of human resources available to it to progress; and help to ensure that women’s and girls’ needs are adequately met in policy making process.
The equality approach using right-based approach seeks empowerment of women through participation and transformation of the unequal power relations between women and men. It recognises unequal power relations between women and men; and argues that women’s subordinate position prevents gender equitable development and women’s full participation in society. The right-based approach is focused on unequal power relations and women’s subordinate position, gender mainstreaming policy; recognises women’s triple roles – reproductive, productive and community; and sees women as agents of change rather than passive recipients of development.
The solution, strategy and policy approaches of GLAD is anchored on women’s empowerment through participation and being in decision making process; gender mainstreaming in planning, policy making and programmes implementation to achieve equity. The dominant interventions of GLAD use direct state interventions (policies and legislations) to reduce inequalities; affirmative actions by the state; and pro-active approach by CSOs and women’s groups advocate who promote this framework against the forces of patriarchal class society.
Furthermore, GLAD says that the attainment of gender equality should not only be seen as an end in itself and a human rights issue but a prerequisite for the achievement of sustainable development. This is against the backdrop that holistic development integrates women into all facts of our national life and gives them the opportunity to play complementary roles in the nation’s development.
Essentially, there is still an opportunity for FMWASD to review its strategies and consider how to accelerate the 2030 agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of SDG N0.5 – ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.’ It should be looking in the direction of using integrated and innovative approaches and new solutions that disrupt “the usual” to advance gender equality and empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection, participation in decision making, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure. FMWASD should, therefore, focus on gender-balanced boardrooms, gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth and gender-balanced sports coverage amongst others. Achieving these requires addressing structural issues such as unfair social norms and attitudes as well as developing progressive legal frameworks that promote equality between women and men.
Therefore, for Nigeria to attain gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls i.e. SDG 5, which is at the centre of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, the nation needs to address the barriers to advancing women human rights’ particularly in education and politics.
All told, FMWASD should continue to push for educating girls because it is a strategic intervention for empowering them to make genuine choices over the kinds of lives they wish to lead. When a girl is educated, she realises the full potential in her; she discovers to be who-ever and whatever she wants to be. With education, she would break the shell of ignorance and open that of self-discovery. So, investing in girl child education is also a social protection and a holistic approach to so many socio-cultural challenges women and girls face. It is a holistic empowerment for improved reproductive rights, maternal and child health.