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Women and Nigeria’s development agenda

ON Wednesday, the International Women’s Day was marked the world over with fine rhetoric, promises and affirmative action on gender equality in politics and work places. In Nigeria, issues around women filled the air, the media and general political discourse. Women activists and their male sympathizers took the centre stage to campaign against all kinds of societal ills against women, both in the domestic and public spheres. Ample spaces in the newspapers were dedicated to issues that concern women. Much airtime was mapped out on television and radio stations to discuss women issues. Sundry music that sang about the virtues of women was played by most radio stations. For most times when the women’s day is celebrated, it has been marked by the same rituals, talks and promises that are always observed in the breach. This year’s celebration is not different either as all talks about affirmative action on gender are at best empty and impotent talks that will not be implemented even till thy kingdom come. Nigerian politics is full of poetry while the actual governance is full of inelegant prosaic explanations why things are not working or why the ruling party has been unable to fulfill some of its electoral promises. However, all things done to cherish women’s contributions to the nation’s development are commendable. Surprisingly, many male Facebook users use the occasion to pen fine poetry in praise of their significant other. Whether they mean what they are saying or not is a matter for another day. The general consensus on the condition of women in Nigeria is that women have been highly disadvantaged in the socio-economic affairs of the nation. The Nigerian society as configured is highly male-oriented. In fact, Nigeria is a man. Nigeria is created in the image of a man. That is possibly why everything in Nigeria revolves around the Nigerian men, especially politics, commerce and industry. Perhaps, that is why things are not working well in Nigeria. Nigerian politics lacks the humanizing effect of females. The few women in these vital zones are mere decorations. Men are dominant in every sector of the economy and they determine what the women get. Even though women account for about half of the nation’s population or even a little more than half; yet they are not given their due representation in politics. The fact that in Nigeria, everything revolves around politics, compounds the problem. The nation’s politics is monetized and women are highly disadvantaged to take part in cash and carry politics characterized by violence and avoidable deaths. Women loath Nigeria’s peculiar do or die politics. Beyond the symbolism of the event, women have not generally fared better in the nation’s politics. Their representation in politics is just a mere tokenism. It has nothing to write home about. Apart from a few women in the State and National Assemblies, and those the men have tolerated as deputy governors, women are yet to find their bearing in national politics. In the area of political appointments, Nigeria has not given her women a chance to participate actively in its politics. Since men engage in the political fight, they share the war booties, excluding women. Women have done well as home makers, doctors, nurses, midwives, teachers, pastors, lawyers, market women, and other professionals but they have not been given the right pedestal to stand in the nation’s body polity. And their absence in national affairs has left the country in tatters. Apart from their being discriminated against in politics, they are discriminated against in family inheritance. For instance, in some parts of the country, women don’t own land except the ones they bought with their sweat. Single women and girls find it difficult to rent a house except they are accompanied by men in most urban areas in the country. Generally, in most Nigerian cultures, women are easily molested by men and they are ready victims of male violence, battery and rape in the society. They are also victims of harmful traditional practices like widow inheritance, polygamy and female genital mutilation, just to mention a few. In most Nigerian cultures, much preference is given to the male child than a female child. The birth of a male child is overtly celebrated than the birth of a female child. Some husbands abandon their wives in hospitals for delivering a female child. Nigeria is regarded as the worst place to be a mother. We have one of the highest rates of child and maternal mortality in the world. Women account for more than half of the population considered to be poor, that is, those that live on below $1 per day. Nigeria is indeed one of those countries where poverty is feminized. Most of the nation’s 10 million out of school children are girls. The Federal and state government should begin to take more than a passing interest in issues that concern women such as health, education, employment and politics. Women’s participation in politics should go beyond having the right to vote others into power. We should allocate certain percentage of all legislative posts at local, state and federal to women. We may start with 25 percent with a proviso to increase it with time. We can give the post of deputy governors to women as a way of preparing them to be governors one day. Our affirmative action on gender participation in politics must be real. All Nigerian children, including women should have free and compulsory education up to SS3. This should be the minimum education a Nigerian child must attain if we are to build a strong and egalitarian society that our founding fathers dreamt about. We cannot develop as a nation if the potentials of more than half of our population are daily trampled upon in defence of archaic customs and traditions. The life of all Nigerian children, males or females should matter. The International Women’s Day should serve as a wake-up call on our governments to embrace the principles of gender equity in government and politics. We have for long romanticized on gender equality, let us put it in practice. We should do what we say and not say what we should not do. Women issues should go beyond the Women Affairs Ministry. Women issues must transcend other sectors and ministries for a holistic development of the country. Women must be factored in our development agenda. It is when we factor them in key sectors of the economy that we can proudly say we are marking a day for them. Until then, everything is fine poetry, romance and less affirmative action on women issues.

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