Who really is standing with Nigerian women as they Press For Progress?

On the 19th of February this year, suspected Boko Haram militants kidnapped 110 girls from Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi in broad daylight and till date, their parents and the whole nation are still wondering what became of them. This brazen abduction is coming four years after the Chibok school attack where hundreds of girls were also kidnapped and till date, no one knows what has become of the rest of the girls who have not been rescued.

As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to celebrate another International Women’s Day (IWD), it has become pertinent to ask who really is standing for Nigerian women in their Press For Progress. The whereabouts of the kidnapped girls are still unknown, Nigerian women still suffer inequality, domestic, sexual and gender based violence, pay inequality, unbridled sexual assault, sexual repression, burden of child rearing, preventable deaths and illiteracy amongst many other issues.

Every year, speeches are given where the right things are said, events are held, ‘empowerment programmes’ are started; yet, the average Nigerian woman is yet to feel the impact of all these activities. The Nigerian female is severely endangered and has the odds stacked against her right from birth till death. With a current Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) of 576 per 100, 000 live births in Nigeria, it is one of the highest figures in the world. For comparison purposes, from 1990 to 2015, the world’s global MMR declined by 45 percent, from 385 deaths to 216 deaths per 100, 000 live births, according to the United Nations. Africa and Nigeria contribute a whooping 66 percent of maternal deaths, a figure that is steadily rising despite promises and affirmations from successive governments.

According to the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF), 40 percent of Nigerian girls do not attend any primary school, with the Northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate of the girl-child in the country. Currently, the female adult literacy rate (ages 15 and above) for the country stands at 59.4 percent in comparison to the male adult literacy rate of 74.4 percent and the differences in education have led to this gap in literacy. Before the age of 15 in many cases, most girls are married off and forced into adulthood, perpetuating and recycling an endless cycle of endemic poverty. Girls that go to school in order to become better women are kidnapped, harassed or forced into marriages, especially in the Northern part of the country.

Even in marriage, the Nigerian woman doesn’t fare any better. According to recent statistics, 30 per cent of women in Nigeria undergo domestic violence. This figure could be higher because the culture of silence is still heavily embedded in most homes and so, most women prefer to suffer in silence, hoping the situation would get better. The worst forms of violence are battering, trafficking, rape and homicide. Though not limited to class, studies have shown that the poorer the women are, the greater the risk of suffering domestic violence. Women with fewer resources or greater perceived vulnerability, girls and those experiencing physical or psychiatric disabilities or living below the poverty line are at greater risk of domestic violence and lifetime abuse. Children are also affected by domestic violence even if they do not witness it directly.

In couples where both partners have paid jobs, women often spend significantly more time than men on household chores and caring work, such as childrearing or caring for sick family members. This outcome is determined in large part by traditional gender roles that have been accepted by this society over time. Labour market constraints also play a role in determining who does the bulk of unpaid work and many Nigerian women suffer a double burden of most thankless, unpaid jobs. However, due to the general thinking that a woman’s time spent doing domestic work is more valuable than a woman’s time spent doing paid work, and that a man’s time spent doing paid work is more valuable than a man’s time spent doing domestic work, there is the issue of women having to do a large amount of both paid and unpaid work to keep today’s world running. All these are in addition to the usual factors most women suffer, often in silence.

Despite the country’s repeated vow to achieve the UN’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) by 2030 and eliminate discrimination and violence against women as well as promote the idea of freedom, equality and justice, Nigerian women’s rights are still violated with reckless impunity according to Dorothy Njemanze of the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation (DNF). “The government of Nigeria has been largely irresponsible in standing for the women of Nigeria. They pay lip service to women’s rights and issues and attack, dehumanize and abuse us at will. Despite the historic ECOWAS court ruling in our favour (Njemanze and three others vs The Nigerian Government) till date, damages have not been paid and our violation still continues.”

“It may sound unbelievable but when a female child is raped (I am using child because if this happens to female children, imagine what women go through) she is expected to pay the police to make arrests of the rapists. She is also expected to pay for her medicals and that of her rapist as well. This happens only in Nigeria. Government needs to be more supportive. They claim people are not speaking out but this is untrue. The people that speak out, what has been done for them? Are they not re-abused and made to relive their suffering all over again? The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act is not working for Nigerian women. The National Assembly needs to pass the gender and equal opportunity bill because surely, we cannot press for progress when we keep suffering gender-based violence.”

The head of the Gender and Vulnerable Group Care Unit of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Asmau Benzies-Leo insists that it will take the efforts of everyone to help Nigerian women press for progress, sustainable growth and development. “The quest for gender equality is not just a quest for women’s progress but a quest for national development and progress. We should ensure we leave no one behind in striving for progress. Women’s lives matter and must be given a chance to press for this progress at all levels; community, state and national. We need to move past offering mere lip service and empty rhetoric to women’s causes and actually stand with, encourage and support women to grown in all ramifications. ”

“The recurring farmers/herdsmen clash in many areas in the North and middle belt is affecting women especially as most farmers in these rural places happen to be women who are grass root and small time farmers. Because this women farm for sustenance and not commercial purposes, acute hunger has become a major problem as the women get increasingly endangered by the security issues of the day. We salute the resilience of women affected by insurgency and are striving to work with relevant bodies and agencies to proffer necessary and needed solutions and see how we can work with vulnerable and displaced women especially. Our aim is to Build Back Better communities, affected in the North East.”

For Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, the coordinator for the Lagos Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), there is a restored and growing confidence in knowing that government is available to help protect women by virtue of speedy arrests, prosecution and convictions of perpetrators of sexual and Gender Based Violence (GBV), and also by granting of restraining orders. “There is also the launch of a trust fund to help set up survivors so they become financially independent, this helps instill a sense of self worth and dignity. It’s simple but impactful steps like these that will help bring about a paradigm shift in how this cause is handled. I believe there is an ecosystem of activists, fellow women and NGO’s also doing great work in educating and sanitizing the populace and holding government institutions accountable in stepping up to the plate, these are sacrifices that have gone a long way in ensuring the issue is even brought to the table. If we continue at this pace, and everybody jointly works towards an outcome that is of a greater good, I firmly believe that Sexual and Gender based violence against women can be successfully tackled in Nigeria.”

Seeing the need to re-emphasise the Lagos State government’s intolerance to rape, domestic violence and child abuse, the governor, Akinwunmi Ambode will lead a symbolic walk on the 12th of March 2018 from 10am against Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and to advance the cause of women’s rights, gender parity and women empowerment.

Speaking with The Guardian on the country’s celebration of this year’s IWD, the National Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) national president, Iyalode Alaba Lawson, said today offers the country another opportunity for intrinsic reflection about the female gender; to affirm the varying limitations and challenges which still exist and are faced by women all over the world. “Most importantly however, is to acknowledge the remarkable successes women continue to achieve in science, education, technology, medicine, politics, leadership and business by breaking through adverse barriers set by our society, culture, politics, religion and even some organisations. These inhibitions continue to make us stronger and more determined to attain erstwhile unthought-of heights. As key architects of the society; women must in unity continue to press for progress in every area.

“Nigerian women and their counterparts globally continue to play important roles in the society and have attained heights previously thought unattainable. This alludes to the fact that if provided with an enabling environment and the required support, Nigerian woman can achieve a great lot.”

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