Wives associations, standing tall, filling gender gaps

A cross section of Customs officers Wives Association

A cross section of Nigerian Air Force Officers Wives Association

One noticeable trend in Nigerian’s political landscape is wives associations. These associations cut across sectors and are more noticeable in the police and military. They include, Association of Defence and Police Officers Wives (DEPOWA), headed by wife of the Chief of Staff; Police Officers Wives Association (POWA), headed by wife of the Inspector General of Police (IGP); Nigeria Civil Defence Officers Wives; Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA) and Naval Officers´ Wives Association (NOWA); Air Force Wives Association.
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Others include, Road Safety Officers Wives Association (ROSOWA); Prisons Officers Wives Association (PROWA); National Association of Speakers Wives’; Association of Wives of Secretary to State Governments; Wives of Southern Governors; Wives of Council Chairmen and wives of various states officials.

Interestingly, these associations sprang up in the bid to foster unity among wives of the armed forces and the police, especially, after the civil war, when the need to transform the lives of families in the armed forces and police barracks.

Other wives associations, which are also springing up, have their mandate based on the concerns for women and their welfare, which they carry out through various empowerment drives.

However, the growing concern about these associations is their political correctness and gender inclusion.According to the Executive Director of International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade, “to the extent that the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, I think that any group of people can actually come together by whatever name and for whatever objective to organise themselves. To that extent, we can concede to all these ‘Wives Associations’ exercising their constitutional rights.

“However, I would also like to say that, it is just a kind of Nigerian thing. A lot of things happen here that are so strange, and you would struggle to find them in existence in other states. But because it has been repeated so often, they make it look as if it is part of our culture. I think growing up, the culture we were used to, were the cultures of age groups, trade groups in the society. But now, you have all kinds of associates in society, particularly the ones that are defined by religion. To that extent, you now begin to point at these various wives’ association.”

Arogundade said, “I feel that we’re dealing with a peculiar ‘Nigerian disease’ that we have to contend with. What we then have to question is the rationale, the objective behind all these associations. And at the end of the day, it’s all about using what you have to get what you want. When you have for example, Senators Wives Association, what does that mean? If those of us who are gender rights activists have been advocating, are we now going to have Senator’s Husbands Association? So much as people are free to exercise their constitutional rights, I also feel there should be some limits to all these. It may even jeopardise the efforts at having concrete gender reforms in our society, when the whole thing now becomes a joke. The next thing you have is the Wives of Representatives Association, Wives House of Assembly Members Association.
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“I think women should be concerned about the impression that these platforms create. I would rather that we have organisations that coalesce around social issues and objectives. You could have an association that seeks better constitutional reforms for women; and the Wives of Senators or whatever name they call themselves can play a leading role in that, without necessarily calling it that name. All these things are just more like social groupings that really just use such connections to access state resources. I really don’t think they are using those platforms to advance women objectives in the fundamental sectors. They are more of social clubs, and like I said, using what you have to get what you want.”

Former president, National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Ifeyinwa Omowole, noted that these wives’ associations are as a result of filling the gaps and mainstream gender.

“So, what they try to do is to fill the gap where they feel we don’t have enough women, and we don’t have enough voices for the disadvantaged ones – those are the women, the children, and the people living with disabilities.

“I want to say that the wives associations of the military and paramilitary have been doing quite a lot over time. I think it started from Maryam Babangida opening our eyes with her ‘Better Life for Women Initiative’, and other people took a cue and started doing things for women, because the truth is that the government cannot do everything and there isn’t enough attention on women, but these are the visions that put a lot of attention on women, and the needs of women. They are trying to bridge a gap, it might not be totally filled, because, they also have issues of scarcity of funds, but then, it is better than none. They are doing quite a lot within their financial power.”

She noted that while these associations give the impression of more women in the room, there is still need for more women to occupy key positions instead of having them set up associations as a result of their husband’s being in office.

“We still need women to be Governors, Senators, we need more women at the Delegating House, because I always say what concerns women, it is only women who know. The men might seek to know, but it is not like you who wears the cap, or the shoe,” said Omowole.

Executive Director, Women’s Rights and Health Project (WRAHP), Bose Ironsi, said, “I see it as their freedom to associate with themselves, from a human rights perspective. It’s enshrined in the community that you can associate and come into groups, but I also feel that the women associations should try and look into women issues and try and solve them. For example, if you have the Police Wives Association, I don’t see why they cannot reach out to Women Police Officers and address some of the issues they face, because if you look at it, except recently, when we started having Police Women at high levels like in Ebonyi and Kwara States; if you listen to female police officers, you will understand that they too need help, same with wives of police officers in lower cadres like the Constables.”

A cross section of Customs officers Wives Association

Ironsi stressed that wives’ association should have a clear vision of addressing the numerous issues affecting women in their areas of concern.

“They should use the platform positively. They should reach out to women because it’s also a general thing. It’s not just enough for women to occupy the spaces. It’s also for women to be concerned about women.
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“For example, the Minister of Women Affairs is occupying space as far as I’m concerned. It’s not enough to say we want a woman in such positions, but we need more women who are concerned about women issues. They should be bothered about their hospitals, police wives’ hospitals, because it is the women and children that go to take treatment. The wives of Local Government Chairmen, they should speak to their husbands to get involved in projects that empower women. Primary health care centers should have what it takes to respond to women and children’s issues.

“For me, it’s not enough to say we have an association. What impact are they adding to the development of their various groups? Do you know what it means to say they want to vote for education, vote for health, to vote for several issues – what will the Senator’s Wives do? Yes they can apply pressure on their husbands to make some changes, but we also know it’s a country that for most women, when their husbands are at the helm, they pamper them. The women are not in the conditions to be assertive in the way that I would be.

“If my husband becomes a Senator or a Governor tomorrow, he knows that except he marries another wife, I will want to advocate for the issues that affect women. So, who are these Senator’s Wives exactly? We see that what most of them do is dancing around the First Lady and all of that, but that’s not we want. I’m not against association, as it is allowed, but that’s not what women want. What we want is equal representation at every level.”

Executive Director of Echoes of Women in Africa Initiative (ECOWA), Louisa Eikhomun-Agbonkhese stressed that wives association is a cultural thing and is still practiced in communities and villages of Nigeria.

While she supports these associations springing up, Eikhomun-Agbonkhese said they emerged as a result of the need to end discrimination women face, hence, they pick up projects that benefit women and execute, just like the DEPOWA or POWA groups.

“However, you cannot rule out the fact that with good intentions towards these associations, if it not executed by a good leader, then it fails. It should also not stop their good intent of empowering the girl child, bringing out more women from poverty and giving them a voice. What I seek is to ensure that corruption is not the bane of their activities.

“We cannot have too many women-led organisations flowing the many years of patriarchy that has eroded us as a people. So, I charge these associations to not only continue in their activities of creating a better life for women, but to be more innovative in their approach. We see situations where they donate sewing machines, or soap making; these are not sustainable initiatives. They should be able to come up with ideas that even the beneficiaries will be singing their praises, without making too much noise in the media. I advise that they collaborate with existing NGOs in their field of impact, galvanise and make impact.”

According to the Programmes Manager, Women Radio, Esther Alaribe, “I believe that these wives associations are borne out of the way our culture and traditions in politics which has conditioned us to be a part of a group. However, if we had more women in these key positions largely occupied by men, it will help their focus and give quick result because it is their core mandate. While it is not a bad idea to have these associations, but then analysing their core values can be a challenge. I recently learnt of the Senators Wives Association and for me, what is their mandate? We are still struggling to hold their husbands accountable. I honestly don’t think these associations set out achieve genuinely up to 10 per cent of their mandate.”

Alaribe stressed that what is most important is getting more women to occupy these key positions rather than settling with wives associations. “The 2023 elections have been an eye-opener for us all as over 96 per cent of women who contested in various positions lost their seats, what this means is that we have more men and so there’s need for more women to get up there as it is never the same as being in the wives association.”

On the core mandate for these associations, she noted that affairs of women in their sector should be their focus. “Like the Police Wives Association, let the police women and their children, advocate for better welfare for them too; some police officers still use their money to buy uniforms which shouldn’t be. Look at the barracks, they are places that have become an eye-sore, these are things they should focus their attention on.”
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Executive Director, Zamani Foundation, Dr. Talatu Zamani-Henry noted that wives associations are standing in place because there are no women in these positions, hence, they are strengthening the voices of women, even though they do not play the role they are supposed to play. “The objectives for their setup in the first place were for example, empowering the women in the barracks for the Military Wives Association and the Police Wives Associations, but, then if we look at it critically, especially as regards how things are moving now, I would say that we should refocus or broaden the objectives of these wives’ associations. They need to be more strategic, in ensuring that the voices of women are heard, speak for women and ensure that women are on decision-making tables.”

For Co-founder, Shenovate, Joy Offere, there are little these wives’ associations can contribute to influence the decision-making table. “It is important to have spaces for women on the table where decisions are made and critical issues discussed, that is where their insights and inputs are valuable. That is where their consents are buttressed. That is where a whole lot happens, but these wives associations tend to have their different goals, and may likely receive support from the offices of their husbands.

“I believe that before some of these women became wives’, they had a career; most of them still do have careers. They have things that they are passionate about, they have causes they are fighting for, and the fact that they are wives of these persons in offices, does not totally diminish the fact that they can’t work their fingers, or even bring their creative ideas to play.”

For founder, Women Connect Initiative (WCI), Murjanatu Suleiman-Shika, some of these wives associations function because these women want a community of like minds where they can share their emotions in their homes, they hang out too. “Women have peculiar issues and only women can understand our concerns.”
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