Empowering women for national development
Women on the African continent are on both end of the divide. Given their numerical strength, statistics have it that they are responsible for over 60 per cent of the labour force and family income. And by virtue of their commitment to family issues, women are often worst-hit by economic hardships in these countries.
In African countries, Nigeria inclusive, the vulnerable conditions of the women-folks are more critical amidst the lingering gender inequalities, domestic violence, child abuse, and lack of social protection among others that worsen the economic misery through injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people.
If there must be economic growth, however, there must be well-being of men and women through job creation and fighting inequality and poverty holistically. Women and concerned stakeholders reiterated this position at the National Women Conference 2015 that was recently concluded in Lagos.
Chief host of the conference, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and his Kebbi State counterpart, Atiku Bagudu, in fact, called for women-friendly policies at all tiers of government to better the lot of women-folks nationwide.
The three-day annual conference, organised by the Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials (COWLSO), had in attendance wives of present state officials and former governors’ spouses.
Ambode noted that the Nigerian women, in their numbers, play very significant role in the economy and must be encouraged and properly enabled so that the country can benefit more from their immense potentials.
In his words: “At this critical moment of economic challenge, we cannot afford to leave our women behind. To do so will be like a bird that attempts to fly with one wing,” he said.
The Governor noted that Lagos alone has a female population size of over 11 million, making up 48.2 per cent of the total population and of this number seven million forms 30 per cent of the State’s labour force.
In recognition of their numerical strength and contribution to the economy, he said, the State Government had continued to increase its budgetary provision for women through the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, adding that his administration would continue in this line and create more platforms for Women engagement.
While he called on other States to do the same, Ambode pledged that his administration would pursue programmes that will enable women to be self-reliant through the provision of financial facilities and capacity building.
He promised to establish more Skills Acquisition centres to equip women to take charge of their destiny and show their relevance in the present economic turbulence. The creation of the new Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment will complement the achievements of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation (WAPA), he said.
He said:”As a Government, we have no doubt of our women’s relevance in economic turbulence. As part of measures to ensure that our women play an important role in the State, my government has also put in place policies to protect and secure our women. We are already on the right path in our battle against rapists and the need to protect rape victims.”
Ambode congratulated the Inspirational Woman of the Year, Nike Okundaye, who was at the conference honoured for her commitment to the promotion of Nigerian art and culture and women empowerment.
Kebbi State Governor, Bagudu, in declaring the conference open, commended the initiatives that Lagos has put in place to protect and empower women, adding that they are worth emulating nationwide.
Bagudu said that the conference theme: “Relevance in economic turbulence”, was timely to further drum up support for economic empowerment of women, given their huge potentials and contributions to development and sustainable growth.
He added that Lagos women would continue to enjoy more recognition in the food self-sustenance partnership programme between his State and Lagos.
Earlier in her welcome address, Chairman of COWLSO, Bolanle Ambode, said the conference was line with government’s vision of providing a platform for women, to contribute positively to the development to families, communities and the nation.
She said the theme of the conference was a clarion call to women to be prepared and sensitive to the economic situation in Nigeria and the world at large.
Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation (WAPA), Bola Dapo-Thomas reiterated the commitment of the present administration to the overall protection, safety and development of women and girl child.
Dapo-Thomas, in a paper titled: “Government’s Support for the Women in Challenging Time” stressed that the State Government has declared zero-tolerance for child abuse, sexual and gender-based violence with first time offenders being issued a “Yellow Card” which serves as a warning and a “Red Card” for prosecution of a perpetual offender.
She explained that Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) has been inaugurated as an immediate response to the increased incidence of rape, defilement, domestic violence, child abuse, neglect and maltreatment in the State, adding that these have made the enforcement of the Domestic Violence and Child Rights Laws much easier.
The Permanent Secretary stated that as part of efforts to ensure that victims receive adequate treatment for their trauma, the State Government is collaborating with the Mirabel Centre, a sexual assault and reference centre, at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, to provide assistance to rape survivors without divulging their secrets.
She further disclosed that all rape and sexual assault survivors can access free forensic medical and counseling services at the centre; this is in addition to a Transit Home at Ayobo/Ipaja LCDA established by the government to provide shelter for victims of domestic violence and Human Trafficking for a period of six weeks to six months.
According to her, “This Transit Home, which is been managed by WAPA and a non-Governmental Organisation -The Women Helping Hand Initiative, provides shelter for survivors for a maximum of six months, but in exceptional cases, for more than that especially if their cases are still in court or during the process of reconciliation and integration of survivors with their families. They are also empowered through the tuition-free skill acquisition training programme of the Ministry”.
She also averred that the State’s 22 Skill Acquisition Centres spread across the three Senatorial Districts of the State were partly created to ensure financial independence for women.
“These Centres have continued to mitigate the effects of poverty, frustration, aggression and criminal tendencies emanating largely from unemployment and poor economic situation in the country”, she said, stressing that since inception the centres have brought economic turn-around to the lives of more than 45,000 Lagosians.
She however implored kind-hearted individuals, private and public organisations to continue to partner with the government in its quest to alleviate the suffering of women and improve their general well-being as well as that of the girl child.