At Aziza @ 60 Colloquium, role of women in society top agenda



When the current Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Administration, Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka, Prof. (Mrs.) Roseline Orioro Aziza, clocked 60 on March 11, 2016, tributes poured in like torrents from well-wishers. To celebrate the linguist and humanist, a committee of friends under the chairmanship of literary critic and eco-activist, Dr. Sunny Awhefeada, organised a colloquium in her honour titled ‘Aziza, the Academic Matriarch @ 60.’ Other committee members included Dr. (Mrs.) Rita Mebitaghan and Mr. Moses E. Darah to realise the colloquium on Monday, April 18, 2016 at the 750 Lecture Theatre (LT) at the university’s permanent site.

To deliver the colloquium lecture was the Director of Centre for Gender and Development Studies, University of Benin, Benin City, Prof. (Mrs.) Evelyn Ewa Edosomwan. Entitled ‘Gender on the Agenda: Rethinking the Role of Women in Nation Building,’ Edosomwan paid glowing tribute to Aziza, whom she described as a true academic matriarch. Her lecture was soul-stirring. She traced the root of gender discrimination and disparity from the homes, and regaled the audience with the grandeur and heroic deeds of some influential women in history whose contributions to nation building have been documented to be peerless. She called to mind the famous Queen Amina, the radical Margaret Ekpo, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, the late Prof. Dora Akunyili among many others.

Although Edosomwan lamented that women still suffer discrimination in the country, she acknowledged that Nigeria was taking steps to bridge the gap in gender inequality to boost development.

According to her, “Nigeria has recognized that modern development does not take place without the involvement of women hence; she has placed greater emphasis on the inclusion of women in all areas of nation building. However, the female gender suffers discrimination. Women have not been able to actualize their full potential because they have been significantly underrepresented in the formal and informal sectors, respectively, and also those who are in these sectors are restrained by their reproductive and domestic roles. The theme for this year’s 2016 International Women’s Day (IWD) celebration was “Planet 50:50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality” focused on accelerating the 2030 Agenda, which among other things, seeks to protect human rights and promote gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. This is to ensure that women and girls enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources and equality in political representations, employment, leadership and decision-making at all levels”.

For the gender specialist, discrimination is still at the heart of gender inequality in the country and cited a lack of political will by government to stop discrimination against women. But more importantly, Edosomwan blamed the Nigerian constitution for not adequately providing freedom against discrimination against women, as they are adequately protected from violence in the form of rape or other physical abuses.

“For instance, prosecuting a rape or sex abuse case could be very difficult due to the provision that evidence most be provided in prosecuting rape or sex abuse case,” she stressed. “A notable example is the case of a south-west traditional ruler who was alleged to rape a corps member. The case eventually went to court and the defense counsel was said to have asked the girl to exhibit her private part in court as proof of evidence that there was a penetration. This goes to show the difficulty and frustration in prosecuting criminal charges of rape and other violence against women. Even in the case of adultery under Sharia Law, only women culprits are punished while men are set free.

“In the labour women are underrepresented, for instance in terms of higher position in the civil service, a similar lack of gender parity is evident. In 2000, only 16 percent of women were Judges, 17 percent were Permanent Secretaries. In 2006, only 18.6 percent were Judges while 17.7 percent were women Permanent Secretaries. In 2007, 20.1 percent were women Judges while 20.7 percent were Permanent Secretaries. In the present administration, women are almost completely excluded at the national level.”

Although Edosomwan said Nigerian women play active roles in education, agriculture, politics and the professions, she noted that they are still constrained as a result of a number of factors associated with societal attitudes. But she also noted that women are making strides in the professions and in politics, adding, “Prominent women in Nigeria, no doubt, have played significant role politically and economically. Dr Ngozi Okojo-Iweala, for instance, during her first ministerial appointment from the post-1999 democratic dispensation, was very instrumental to the debt negotiation between Nigeria and the Paris or London Clubs. It was her diplomatic efforts that brought about the cancellation and forgiveness of Nigeria’s debt running into billions of America dollars.

“The late Professor Dora Akunyili, who served as head of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) contributed greatly to the economy and politics. The legacies of the professor has made it possible to control not only fake drugs, but also food items, body lotion, creams, soap, water, assorted drinks, etc…

“Women participate in politics as voters, supporters and usually attend political rallies in large number. Some even run for top political offices such as Sarah Jibril who contested for the office of the President with Goodluck Jonathan. As a matter of fact, women are said to constitute over 60% of the Nigeria electorate. The 2006 census puts Nigerian women at about half the population of the entire country. Despite this numerical advantage and the massive participation in voting, less than 20% of political offices are held by women.”

She concluded by submitting, “Nigeria is a vast country whose human and natural resources continue to deplete because gender is not an implemented integral part of our development policy. An aspect of nation building is developing human resources. Women constitute a huge untapped and undeveloped human resource. Until and unless this large resource is tapped and used, development has not begun, and whatever we believe we are doing towards development will be all motion and no movement.

“Human talent is a critical resource and women are half of that resource. Studies have shown that reducing gender inequality enhances productivity and economic growth. In order for Nigerian women to make maximum contribution to nation building, gender issues must be addressed; laws against gender-based discrimination should be fully implemented”.

Dignitaries present were; the former Deputy Governor of Delta State who chaired the occasion, Prof. Amos Agbe Utuama, Dr. Benjamin Okpevra, Rev. Father (Dr.) Mark Ikeke gave the opening prayer, Dr. (Mrs.) Enajite E. Ojaruega, a former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Prof. (Mrs.) Otete Okobiah, Prof. (Mrs.) Diana Arubayi, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victor Peretomode, his Deputy for Academics, Prof. Austine E. Anigala, Prof. Eric Arubayi, Prof. Godini G. Darah, Prof. Abednego Ekoko and Dean of Arts, Prof. (Mrs.) Grace Ojie-Ugwu.

Music Department Students thrilled the audience with heartwarming music. A 300 level student of the English Department, Karo Enajemo, performed a poem titled ‘Ode to the Rose of DELSU’ to a resounding applause.

After the lecture, Aziza who beamed with appreciative smiles, expressed joy, and burst into song of adoration, and everyone stood up and sang with her. Thereafter, she thanked everyone who came to celebrate her. She said the event came to her like a surprise, as she had no hint that such a momentous event would be held to celebrate and honour her for clocking the golden age. She went into memory lane and regaled her audience with the enchanting narrative of her life, . She paid glowing tribute to her husband, Mr. Moses Aziza, mentors, friends, students that have inspired her in her academic sojourn.

* Ajiroghene Oreh is a student of English and Literary Studies, Delta State University, Abraka

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