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Women must never settle for inferior positions – Eta, DG, National Centre for Women Development

Nkechi Chima Onyele, Abuja

Mary Eta, director-general, National Centre for Women Development, is a reputable legal practitioner and former gubernatorial aspirant in Cross River State.

The renowned politician is a representative of South-South women on the board of trustees (BoT) of the All Progressives Congress (APC). She is also a farmer and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation.

In this interview, Eta speaks on issues affecting Nigerian women and how to tackle them. She also expressed concern over the low level of women participation in active politics and elective positions, among other issues.

What was the state of the National Centre for Women Development when you took office?

It is barely four months since I took office and, expectedly, there are changes to be made to add value as the incumbent leader of the organisation. I am not leaving any stone unturned to implement my duties as the boss of this reputable centre for women development, to the change mantra of Mr. President.

What are the challenges of your new role?

It is nothing different from the habitual challenges; when you assume office, or relocate to a new apartment, you are expected to examine the place effectively to address issues on the ground. Consequently, I am gradually getting myself acquainted with the environment to reform the centre.

How do you intend to take the organisation towards attaining its objectives, for the realisation of the change mantra of the present administration?

It is centred on working with the agency to achieve the manifesto of this administration. Moreover, the past administration didn’t do well in carrying women along, especially empowering women, which is my cardinal point in office. Also, we are working toward gender-based issues, where women would be adequately represented in governance.

Again, we will be organising seminars and training to educate women on financial management and the need to multiply sources of income to alleviate poverty. When you empower a woman in a home, indeed, you have empowered an entire community. Advisably, women should join hands to make the nation greater.

What projects are you planning to execute for Nigerian women?

The centre has its mandate, to liaise internationally, nationally and regionally unto the grassroots for the development of women, which is a vast venture and we have several projects for the year.

Recently, we graduated some artisans who were trained as tilers, air-conditioner and generator repairers. Again, we have the catering aspect, where we train caterers, homemakers, event managers, interior decorators and fashion designers.

We are looking at enrolling a minimum of 5,000 women for training in different skills with a startup pack to support their businesses. Consequently, we want women to have alternative incomes, not just depending on salaries or their husbands for survival. Also, we intend training women in agriculture and fishery.

What categories of women are expected to participate?

Mostly, it is vulnerable women in the society who are our main focus for this empowerment. We will select them from their wards or local governments in collaboration with the states’ ministry of women affairs and social development at the grassroots.

You didn’t mention urban women; are they not part of the plan?

It doesn’t mean we don’t give urban women opportunities to participate, but we feel rural women are more vulnerable.   

There were allegations of abuse of office by your overseeing ministry (Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development) during the past administration, what are your experiences like?

We have a cordial working relationship; I have not perceived or experienced any form of abuse since resumption. I must say that (the minister) Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan is executing her duties to support the agency in achieving the change mantra and I must applaud her motherly role toward us. In fact, she is an administrator to the core; I will always celebrate her wealth of knowledge, contributions toward achieving gender equality, women participation in governance and supporting Nigerian women to live a sustainable life.

Recently, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development launched the HeForShe campaign; how do you intend to achieve this goal?

God has always emancipated women and made us equal with men by creating man and woman. But, traditionally and biblically, men remain our head, while we represent their neck as support or helpmate. So, I don’t think there should be any disparity, religiously or morally.

For instance, during examinations in school, women are not given lesser exams, we write same script. We go out for the same campaign, pay equal taxes, pay bills, levies, so there is no reason why women should be sidelined in governance.

Consequently, there is need for gender equality, since women are equally intelligent and hard-working. HeForShe was introduced last year at the United Nations, while we launched it in Nigeria recently. So, we are working toward urging men to join in the campaign to make sure their sisters, mothers and daughters are protected. Meanwhile, we hope men will always consider women as equal partners for adequate protection as our head, just as God commanded. We are encouraging men to join the advocacy for the passage of the bill.

What were your endeavours before your appointment?

I have been working as a legal practitioner and a tax consultant. Also, I’m a farmer; I have over 100 acres of land for farming: two acres for cocoa, cassava farm of 30 acres and rice farm of over five acres in Cross River State.

As a lawyer, politician and tax consultant, what did you do to achieve all this?

My involvement in politics as BoT member for South-South zone of the APC, is on merit. And my life as a legal practitioner would be attributed to sheer hard work, determination, tolerance, fear of God, humility, perseverance and dedication.

You are an intimidating beauty; what is the secret of your good looks?

I am an advocate of natural looks. I bathe with black soap and use moisturiser for healthy skin. However, I don’t joke with exercise and I eat healthy. Most importantly, I ensure I live a happy life, regardless of what life throws at me. Psychologically, when you are happy, everything around you will be impactful. Above all, God is the secret behind my existence.

Critics contend that women are obstacles to fellow women, especially in workplaces; what is your take on this view?

Auspiciously, I have not been a victim of such; and I don’t do that, because it is evil to work against the progress of another woman. Nevertheless, God admonishes us to love one another. Again, I have worked with women and they have encouraged my success. I believe it has to do with individual character, some women lack the ability to submit to their superiors and there are superiors who perceive themselves as god.

It is advisable for women, irrespective of age, to acknowledge the leadership of any organization, regardless of gender, to achieve goals. 

Also, women in elective positions should carry themselves with dignity and exhibit good morals to young ones, because these young ones look up to them as role models.

In addition, young ladies should inculcate discipline and respect, to enjoy a good working relationship with their superiors. Women must learn to help one another succeed, irrespective of status, religious or tribal differences.

What is your advice to Nigerian women?

They should stay focused, be industrious and never assume themselves inferior to their counterparts; they should be prayerful, knowledgeable, submissive and hardworking to attain their destiny.

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