Where are we now? The existential question women globally should be asking? Here in Nigeria women have been swept under the rug for many decades in various sectors of society. In the recent times where such matters are progressing, Nigeria might be stagnant and in some cases, sliding backwards with issues concerning gender equality.
“My wife belongs in the other room” was a controversial statement made by President Buhari that forced many locally and internationally to reflect on women and their position in the Nigerian society. This women’s month, Guardian Life asks questions regarding the future generation of women looking to be leaders both in the workplace and in politics. What factors continue to delay our progress and what measures should be put in place to resolve the issues? Like many other African countries, Nigeria provides a society where the roles of women are closely associated with our cultural and religious ways of life. This greatly influenced the structure of our constitution, which largely lies in favour of men economically, politically and socially.
The United Nations Population Funds reported that six out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women, about two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. On matters of health, for both physiological and social reasons, women are more vulnerable than men to reproductive health problems. Pregnancy or childbirth is the number two kill of women of reproductive age. Globally, only 23 percent of parliamentarians are women. Laws against domestic violence are often not enforced on behalf of women. Women have less access to property ownership, credit, training and employment.
The exclusion of women
“Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Starting with a simple observation such as the language of the constitution, According to the Premium Times, ‘The Nigerian constitution was written as if only the male gender exists, with ‘he’ used 235 times and the word ‘she’ only twice.” The official 1999 constitution strictly written by men is a body of fundamental principles that essentially governs our society. However it seems rather unconventional as women make up about 49.4% (almost half) of the Nigerian population and should be recognised as part of the governing laws.
Rejection of the gender equality bill
“What is democracy? Is it people for the people, or men for the people,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, told journalists in New York. Women’s voices are still missing from the executive branches of governments and parliaments worldwide. It’s no secret that the Nigerian political sphere has always been a male dominated field, which leaves little or no room for female participation. According to Betty Apiafi the first female member of the House of Representatives in Rivers state, “The last two elections, we lost every gain we made at the political front, the numbers reduced drastically for women that where represented in the senate and the house of assembly. As for the local government, where we had women before, it is almost non-existent, so on a political level, we have lost.” Apiafi explains her utmost disappointment with the country’s lack of effort in encouraging female political involvement particularly in 2015, after the gender equality bill was rejected.
The gender bill, which was aimed at eliminating discrimination by seeking equal rights for women in marriage, education and the workplace, was rejected due to the voting system where seven out of 109 senators are women, as well as the Nigerian religious and cultural values. According to a BBC news report, the Sultan of Sokoto at a Koranic recitation ceremony in northern Zamfara state, said: “Our religion is our total way of life. Therefore, we will not accept any move to change what Allah permitted us to do.” The idea that women are naturally unequal to men is a notion, which is supported by the religious interpretations and is the very foundation, which the constitution stands.
Furthermore, Apiafi adds, “The men will not support those bills because the political arena is a boys club and very few women are represented… The argument for men is always “whose seat will be relinquished for a woman?” The most recent bill, which was passed, reducing the legal age of marriage to 13 years of age as permitted by the constitution consequently shows that our laws are made by men without the consideration of female wellbeing.
What’s happening on the economic front?
“The gender pay gap reflects the unjustifiably diminished position of many women in society and helps to keep them there,” said UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“Can women have it all?” is a question that is often asked when referring to women who are successful financially. Many will agree that women are often forced to bear many responsibilities when it comes to balancing work with family and social life. While men do not normally bear the same burden, it is inevitable that every human being must choose matters to prioritize more than others, particularly in order to be successful financially. Perhaps the notion of “having it all” does not exist for anyone, yet even if women work twice as hard as men in the same field, she is more likely to earn less because of her gender. Can the issues be resolved?
The main issue lies in the constitution
Gender inequality is no stranger to the African context. The gender inequality issue has been addressed by the Pan African Parliament (PAP) and countries like Rwanda, who have specifically put laws in place to not only increase female political participation but also laws protecting them from discrimination.
The PAP on Health, Gender and Education, that was held a meeting during the International Women’s Day Commemoration, themed “Combating Gender Based Violence through Education: A Parliamentarian response towards achieving women’s empowerment.” According to Hon Hasna Houmed Bilil, “The important role of the parliament is to ensure that reforms and laws are implemented.” In the PAP if the president is male, it is compulsory to have a female representative as vice president in order to improve the female participation.
According to The Guardian UK, Rwanda celebrated 20 years since the end of the genocide, which saw the deaths of more than 800,000 people. They add, “The country made history as the only country in the world with more female MPs than males, a statistic that has attracted a good deal of international attention.” Rwanda is ranked number one on the world classification of women in national parliaments, while Nigeria ranked 181 out of 193 countries. The Rwandan parliament consists of about 64% women parliamentarians – the highest proportion of any parliament in the world, according to Apiafi, this number was achieved through making provisions for women by law, through the constitution.
“The rape culture in Nigeria is terrible. There’s a lot of victim shaming.” – Oghenekaro Omu a social media specialist and the founder of Sanitary Aid for Nigerian Girls.
In Nigeria, there is no such thing as marital rape. A man cannot rape his wife. Section 182 of the Penal Code provides that “sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife is not rape if she has attained puberty.” While according to the thesaurus dictionary, rape takes place “without the consent of the victim.”
Preparing women for the workplace
Ahunna Nwaogwugwu, the opportunity manager at Microsoft explains, “When I did my MBA, my professor who taught us organizational behaviour actually kept trying to prepare the female students for what it is like to work in a male-dominated industry…when women advance, the whole society advances.” In order to close the gap on gender inequalities, the issue must be brought to light through education.
Furthermore, things are moving forward locally as organisations continue to take the initiative on the issue as NGOs such as She Leads Africa, Wimbiz, the Mirabel Crisis centre and many others are dedicated to empowering and equipping women. The well known One.org aimed at the eradication of extreme poverty aligns with the idea that to train the girl child is to train the community.
Education has no gender
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation reported that nearly 17% of the world’s adult population is still not literate and two thirds of them women. According to The Guardian UK online publication, “Nigeria has the highest number of children out of school [globally]. Of the 57 million youngsters worldwide who are not receiving a formal education, more than 10 million live in Nigeria – and in the current climate that number is rising.” With a majority of the non-educated population being girls, this puts women at a disadvantage as members of the workforce. They add that the girls who don’t make it to school become wives before their 16th birthday and parents see the bride price as an incentive rather than paying school fees.
“Gender equality is not a woman issue, it’s a human issue. It affects us all”-Unknown
Perhaps we might not live to see a time where male and female roles are not compared, where we receive remuneration based on performance, not gender and when women receive justice for domestic violence and rape. The most important thing at this point is taking a step forward towards eliminating discrimination of all sorts, whether it’s gaining equality for women or fighting for the rights of the disabled community, particularly for future generations to come.