How Nigeria can reduce maternal mortality, under-five deaths, by Ongile

Ongile-2-4-16Dr. Grace Ongile, representative of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-WOMEN) to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), spoke to EMEKA ANUFORO in Abuja on the health implication of forcing girls into early marriage, strengthening institutions to check violence against women and other issues.

Nigeria marked the International Women’s Day last Tuesday by disturbing reports about maternal mortality and under five deaths in the country. How can a society, like Nigeria, stop this trend?
Women need to be in charge to take the right decisions that concern them.

The International Women’s Day is globally acknowledged as a day given to women to really take stock of what has been happening. As you know, women agenda has been lagging behind for decades. Goal number 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals dedicated to women is key to all the goals.

We are taking stock of lessons learnt in the MDGs implementation and coming up with the things that we need to do differently.

The key thing for this day is step up efforts. By 2030, there should be a balance, in terms of gender equality at all levels, whether it is in parliament, where in Africa we are not doing very well, with Nigeria lagging behind.

We know from statistics that the representation, particularly at the last election, has been going down, in terms of women in the National Assembly. The figure cited for 2011 was seven per cent. For 2007, it was nine per cent and it has even gone down further.

Now, what can we do differently? If women are in key decision-making positions, all these Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP), issues of laws being passed discriminatorily, men are not likely to raise it as women. We are the mothers. Issues of early marriage and maternal mortality should be taken more seriously.

In fact, I was reading somewhere that if all women just complete primary education, there would be decline in maternal mortality and under five. Just by educating them, there will be decline, in terms of number of years for marriage, because they will be in school.

They will do better, in terms of employment. We have talked about these issues and heads of states and governments normally commit themselves, but the real issue is implementation.
How do we ensure committed, in terms of increasing women empowerment and enacting laws, and following it up to the end, so that if somebody has committed a crime like rape, he would not be set free?

How do we ensure that the institutions that we have are strengthened, because, clearly, there is a problem. There is a big problem, because we don’t believe in what we say, and most importantly, we don’t act, in terms of following up.

This day offered us the opportunity to take stock of where we still need to pull our weight really. Progress is so slow after so many years and we know that the African Union (AU) set a decade for Africa’s empowerment.

Even this year, the AU is concentrating on human right issues, with the singular most critical issue of empowering women.

So, if at those high levels, this is happening, we have to reflect that on what we need to do. It is our responsibility, not the UN commemorating the day. It is the government, private sector, civil society and really renewed energy, in terms of commitment.

We cannot continue to ignore this issue, particularly as women comprise 50 per cent of any population in the world. They vote for the men, yet their voices are not heard in parliament.

Of course, we can be quick to say it is a power struggle. Maybe to an extent, because men know that our roles are different. Men are not mothers; we are the mothers. We know that women vote more than the men, yet the men sit down in political offices and become very powerful.

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