‘Gender Issue In Nigeria Is More Rooted In Culture Than Religion’
PROFESSOR Hauwa Imam, Director, Centre for Gender Security Studies and Youth Advancement, University of Abuja, says the gender issue in Nigeria is more deeply rooted in culture than religion. It also differs from one community or ethnic group to the other.
“In the North, parents go out of their way to incur huge sums of money in the marriage of their female children. Some people unwittingly find themselves in debt just to keep up with tradition or send the girls hawking to gather money for their weddings.
“Coming down to the East, in some communities, women are made to shave their hair when their husbands die and they can be inherited by their brothers-in-law. These aren’t religious practices!,” she averred.
Prof Imam noted that one thing society must not run away from is that women and men are created differently by God and it is no accident of nature. It is to enable them play different but complementary roles in raising families.
“Men and women are equal in the sight of God and everyone is accountable for his or her deeds at the end of the day. We need both men and women to play complementary roles if the country must move forward and be developed.
“The developmental concern of women and men are different. This is more aptly captured in a documentary I watched sometime ago, Daughters of The Niger Delta, produced by the maverick film producer, Ilse van de Moen. In that film, it was quite clear that we will continue to have militants in the Niger Delta if we do not adopt a holistic approach to tackling the developmental needs of the women and their children. We have to think beyond settlement to more sustainable development,” she said.
Prof Imam is concerned about the place of women and their deal with society. “Women should not be undermined and condemned to playing the role of second class citizens. I am not a feminist, because I love being a woman. I believe women are the most beautiful people. This is the gender to which I am born. What I ask is that you please respect me as another human being and recognise that I have brains and can contribute my quota to development.”
Recently, Imam, a distinguished scholar, an educational manager par excellence, a planning and policy expert, a celebrated writer, author and poet, who was elevated to Professorial chair in Educational Administration, said the issue of Nigerian women and political appointments should be viewed from cultural perspective.
According to her, the idea of 30 per cent appointment quota given to women under President Goodluck Jonathan to a large extent reflected party affiliation and godfatherism.
“In President Obasanjo’s and late President Yar’Adua’s cabinet, we saw evidence of meritocracy in the appointment of women to positions of trust.
“If we are to have true affirmative action, the quota for women should represent a combination of both party affiliation and merit within parties, and where technocrats are appointed, merit should be the factor. It shouldn’t be because I am related to this or that person, or I have a godfather in X political party, else we will just be making a mockery of the provisions of 30 per cent affirmative action”.
She submitted that women have all it takes to contribute to national development. “But then, who says the womenfolk cannot compete favourably with men in contributing to national development except we have affirmative action?
“In the university, you bag your professorship on merit, not affirmative action. What is needed is attitudinal change that both men and women are needed to play complementary roles for the benefit of the society”, she opined.
Imam faulted the implementation of representation of women in government, saying: “The 30 per cent thing given to women representation is good but faulty in terms of implementation. I am totally against its implementation because majority of the women who were appointed into such offices are not technocrats but are those with godfathers or those who can compromise on certain things.
“This is an ugly trend but we are happy because we still have many women too who will not compromise on standards. We must also let the whole world know that the issue of quota for women should be basically on the fact that women are capable and that is why they occupy such positions and not due to quota.”
On her expectations for women under the incoming administration of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.), Imam said it would no longer be business as usual for godfathers who capitalise on the alleged present docility of women to trample on their rights.
“If you follow the trend of events, you will see that women are not making noise like men. Besides, for a woman to be actively involved in politics she must have courage and the money to do so. Even then, more often than not, she is robbed of victory where self-styled godfathers kick against her in favour of male politicians.”
On how politically-inclined Nigerian women could break the seeming barrier placed on them, Imam reiterated: “Most of our problems here are about culture. If you look at many of the religiously-inclined countries of the world, barriers have not prevented women from having ambition, and ascending to the pinnacle of their careers. But one thing we must not lose sight of is that women hope to make success of political careers and raising their children. This will enable them invest their time and energy in giving back to the society.”
On the kidnapped Chibok girls, she said: “As a woman, I see every crime committed against fellow women and girls as a crime against humanity. As a mother, the case of the kidnapped Chibok girls is a tragedy and nightmare no parent will wish on another.
The North East has sadly been grossly neglected. It is unfortunate that the government was not seen as doing something about it until the Chibok issue broke out. My prayer is that more women, girls and boys taken away will be found and properly rehabilitated.
“The abject failure of government to protect its citizenry and the ostrich-in-the-sand syndrome occasioned by denials of the occurrences, leaves much to de desired. The region has been grossly neglected by government in terms of development and security. If there had been sincerity of purpose and government had shown just a little more care, the girls would have been found”.
She said Nigerians should continue to pray fervently for the girls to be found and commiserated with the families, friends and communities of the Northeast, saying that God will comfort them.
The don decried the unhygienic and ill-equipped state of the various rehabilitation centres. “It appears that enough is not being done for the citizens”, she noted.
On her awards, she says: “My most cherished award is the Law Society Award of the University of Lagos bestowed on me in 1996 under the auspices of Law Ladies Forum, for contributions to the upliftment of women in the Nigerian society.
“I got the award for my soap, Winds of Destiny, which ran on prime time Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) network. The theme was women empowerment. The montage of the soap showed the silhouette of a woman with her veil fluttering in the wind walking majestically towards the rising sun.”