“A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”
– International Women’s Day 2021.
According to the information gleaned from the Internet, the International Women’s Day has occurred for well over a century with the first gathering held in 1911. The IWD as it is commonly referred to is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activities are witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women’s achievements or rally for women’s equality. Marked annually on March 8, the IWD is one of the most important days of the year to: celebrate women’s achievements; raise awareness about women’s equality; lobby for accelerated gender parity; fundraise for female-focused charities.
The theme of the 2021 International Women’s Day celebrated on Monday, was #ChooseToChallenge. As a gender advocate, I chose to do two things in support of this year’s celebration. The first is to write this article in honour of great Nigerian women while calling for better life for Nigerian women and girl child. Secondly, on my TV show today, Development Focus with Jide Ojo on Independent Television, Abuja, I will be hosting a feminist, gender advocate, Chevening alumnus, publisher and blogger, Hawwah A. Gambo. She will be speaking more on the theme of this year’s IWD.
Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, comprehensively articulates the right to freedom from discrimination. However, this right is observed in breach, especially when it concerns women issues. Patriarchy is one of the greatest challenges facing women in Nigeria nay Africa. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, patriarchy is a social organisation marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line. Broadly speaking, it is control by men of a disproportionately large share of power. It is not uncommon to refer to men as chauvinists. This is because of the attitude of superiority men have towards women.
I have witnessed a neighbour of mine from the South-East who refused to appreciate the birth of a girl child because he felt the girl child is inferior to the boy child. The man tongue-lashed his wife for not giving him a male child, forgetting that it has been scientifically proved that it is a man who determines the sex of a child. This is because while a woman has XX chromosomes, man has XY chromosomes. It is when a man releases a Y Chromosome to meet one of the X of a woman that a woman will give birth to a male child while the release of X Chromosome by a man to join the X of a woman leads to a female child. Yet, disputes over the sex of child have led to some men marrying more than a wife or divorcing their wives. This is common among the Yoruba and Igbo. This they do out of ignorance. To rub salt on injury, some men refuse to send the girl child to school because of the erroneous belief that no matter how highly educated a woman is, she will end up in another person’s house as a baby factory and cook.
Tell me, who will not be proud to have a Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first female Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, as a child? Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija is ranked by Forbes as the richest woman in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of $1 billion as of 2020. In 2015, she was listed as the second most powerful woman in Africa after Okonjo-Iweala and the 87th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. Who will not be proud to have someone like that as a daughter or wife? Mrs. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh was the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Mulikat Akande Adeola was Nigeria’s first female Majority Leader of the House of Representatives; Mrs. Wuraola Esan was the first appointed Senator in Nigeria and proprietor of People’s Girls Grammar School, Molete Ibadan, Oyo State. The first elected female Senator, Chief (Mrs.) Franca Afegbua, elected in 1983, shocked the political world when she was elected as a Senator of the Federal Republic under the platform of then National Party of Nigeria to represent Bendel North. Who will not be proud of these amazons?
Tell me, won’t you want the world to know that you’re the father or husband of other prominent Nigerian women such as Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the first women to drive a car and women’s rights activists, Major General Aderonke Kale, the first Nigerian woman to attain that rank in Nigerian Army; first female Speaker of Ogun State House of Assembly, Mrs. Titi Oseni; first female Speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, Mrs. Margaret Mwuese Icheen and first female Speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly, Mrs Monsurat Sunmonu, who later became a senator in 2015. Is there anyone that would not be proud of accomplished women such as the incumbent Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, who has been chairman of a Local Government, Deputy Governor and now a minister? Women like the Queen Amina of Zauzzau, Hajia Gambo Sawaba, Mrs. Margaret Ekpo. All deserve accolades. Interestingly, one thing many of these prominent ladies have in common is sound education. Had it been that their parents denied them western education, there is a probability of them not getting to the political and economic heights they attained.
Quite unfortunately, girl child education is still a lingering problem in Nigeria. The larger chunk of the estimated 13.5 million out-of-school children are girls. Recent mass abductions of girls from school as happened on Friday, February 26, 2021 in Jangebe in Talata Marafa Local Government Area of Zamfara State and earlier in April 2014 at Chibok in Borno State have threatened to worsen the out-of-school children phenomenon. Already, Northern Nigeria has a challenge of early marriage where barely teenage girls are married off to prospective suitors. Child pregnancy often lead to Vesico-Vaginal Fistula.
Other things Nigerians need to rise against are harmful cultural practices such as the female genital mutilation and harmful widowhood rites. According to World Health Organisation, female genital mutilation involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice has no health benefits for girls and women and can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. Some of the harmful widowhood rites include forcing the widows to drink water used in bathing the body of their deceased husband in order to proof their innocence in the death of their husband; being asked to shave off their hairs and preventing them from bathing for some days or weeks as signs of mourning their late husbands. Despite Supreme Court ruling affirming rights of women to inherit their husband’s properties, in some parts of Igboland, this is still being observed in the breach. Also in some parts of the South-East Nigeria, women who are considered to be Osu (outcast) are not allowed to marry the supposed freeborn.
In politics and governance, women are still being discriminated against. Electioneering is priced out of many female aspirants and those that even have resources are denied party tickets. Not surprisingly, Nigeria has yet to produce a female president, vice president or governor. Only a few had been made deputy governors and the percentage of women in state or National Assembly are infinitesimally low. Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to give women 35 per cent slot in his cabinet, only about six women are in his 43-member cabinet! The situation is not any better at the sub-national level where number of women in elective and appointive positions is nothing to write home about. Worse still, Nigerian women suffer a lot of violence. These include physical, psychological and structural violence. Rape is one of such. It is now so endemic that Kaduna State House of Assembly recently passed a bill which has been assented to by Governor Nasir el-Rufai for child rapists to be castrated.
All well-meaning Nigerians must choose to challenge all the aforementioned discriminations and violence against women. Nigerian women need affirmative action in the constitution to enable them participate better in politics and elections. A country like Uganda has reserved seats for women in parliament. This is highly desirable for women in Nigeria. An all-inclusive Nigeria is desirable and needful.