If we could sleep beside men in bed, we should participate side by side in decision-making outside the bedroom

THE PUNCH Newspaper-Kemi Ashefon

THE theme of this year‘s International Women‘s Day, ‘Equal opportunities, equal right, progress for all‘, was apt. To Hon. Binta Masi Kogi, the House of Representatives committee chairman on Women Affairs, the best description for it is:

”Women‘s participation in decision-making is very important in nation building. If we are allowed to participate, we will not make war. If we could sleep side by side with the men in bed, nothing stops us from participating side by side in decision-making outside the bedroom, especially in government.”

That set the ball rolling for this year‘s IWD celebration in Abuja on Tuesday. The official day for the IWD is March 8, but the Federal Government came late in celebrating due to the 52nd session of the United Nations on the Status of Women, which held in New York.

It was attended by the Nigerian delegation led by the (former) Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajia Salamatu Suleiman. This year marked the 100th anniversary of IWD and also the 15th of the adoption of the Beijing declaration and platform for action on the 12 critical areas of concern for women.

Moreover, it also marked the 31 years after the adoption of the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

This year‘s celebration kicked off with a walk round certain areas of the FCT with guests like the wife of the Acting President, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan, former women leader, Peoples Democratic Party, Mrs. Josephine Anenih, the minister, Suleiman, and a host of dignitaries in attendance.

By 9 am, women from various walks of life, including the civil society groups, were gathered at the Women Development Centre, Abuja, to continue the celebration.

With speeches from various development partners and Mrs. Jonathan, who urged stakeholders, including the government to help stop violence against women, the hall was kept lively with songs and cheers from the Market Women Association.

The high point of the event was the experiences shared by women from different vocations – politics, aviation and engineering. Violet Enahoro, a First Officer Lady pilot of Aero Contractors, urged women to encourage their daughters to embrace piloting as a profession.

”Gone were the days,” she says, ”when female children would say, ‘I want to marry a pilot when I grow up.‘ Rather, the men should say they want to marry female pilots.”

A graduate of chemistry from the University of Calabar, she explains that she ventured into the aviation sector because ”I wanted something very challenging.” Now married with a child, she was able to motivate the women and let them realise that what a man can do, a woman can do better.

Also from Jos, Plateau State came Mrs. Tina Pam, a lady mechanic, who also works as an engineer in a spare parts manufacturing plant. ”Women are better mechanics because they are more patient and are always at alert to sense danger,” she says to the cheering crowd.

All said and done, the questions raised by the various stakeholders are yet to be answered – when will Nigeria have the first elected female president/governor? When will there be a reduction in the maternal mortality rate?

Currently, Nigeria is on a 110/1000 live births, which is against the global target of 30/1000 live births by 2015. When will the rights of women and girls not be jeopardised simply because they were born female?

When will they no longer face discrimination as a result of their gender? These were questions which the average woman/girl on the street wanted answered as the country marked the IWD.

Almost all the women present nursed the same goal – equal rights. ”In politics, women are still alienated,” says Hon. Anthonia Okoli, the vice-chairman of the Abuja Municipal Area Council. ”We are threatened, we are called all sorts of names, and we are subjected to all forms of fears just because they want us to get out of the race for the men.

”When I was contesting for councillor, I was called all sorts of names and was even told that I am a widow, which I am not. They told me that my husband would die and I would soon become a widow. But I believe I am a citizen of the country and I have equal rights to contest and be voted for just as the men and I forged ahead,” she says while sharing her experience as a grass roots politician with other women.

The minister says that though there is discrimination against women and inequality reigned in the past, there is a gradual change. ”The landmark Beijing Declaration has had a deep and wide-ranging impact,” she begins. According to her, this year‘s theme is to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the declaration, which remains the most comprehensive global policy framework to achieve the goals of gender equality, development and peace.

”But since the landmark gathering, there have been signs of progress,” she adds. ”Most girls now receive education, especially at the primary and secondary school levels, while a growing number of countries have policies and legislation supporting gender equality and mainstreaming.

”In terms of policy thrust, a National Women Development Policy (2003) and a National Gender Policy (2006) with its strategic framework (2007) were introduced as working documents to guide the implementation of various national, regional and global commitments on women development and empowerment, as well as gender equity and equality in Nigeria.

”Moreover, there is the recognition of women‘s work and its inclusion into National Accounting System, in line with the National Economic Reconstruction and Reform Agenda. Though women‘s contributions in agriculture and the informal sectors of the economy were hardly recognised, this gesture has indeed motivated women towards greater productivity and enhanced their contributions to the economic sector.”

The minister is not done yet. ”Nigeria has had three elected democratic governments since Beijing,” she says. ”Though the participation in politics is still a male dominated affair, there has been an appreciable improvement in the number of women elected into political positions with every election. While in 1999, women made up only 1.2 per cent to 3.6 per cent of the elected members of parliament in all tiers of government, in 2003, the number increased to 3.7 per cent to 5.8 per cent.

”In 1999, there were 12 female state assembly members out of 990 members, 13 female House of Representatives members out of a total 360, three female senators out of 109 members. By 2003, there were 39 female state assembly members (compared to 12 in 1999) and four female senators (compared to three in 1999).

”Currently, there are nine female senators and 26 female members of the House of Representatives. This shows a remarkable increase from the previous two elections, though it is still a gross misrepresentation of women who are about 50 per cent of the eligible population.

”With the increase in the percentage of female ministers and special advisers from about 20.5 per cent to 27.3 per cent and appointments of women to boards and parastatals, it is obvious women are making a headway in the agitation to be a part of decision making.”

Isn‘t this true?


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