At the formal presentation of the British Council Gender in Nigeria Report 2012, women advocates and even men share experiences on gender problems in Nigeria and proffer solutions
The setting is somewhere in the northern part of Nigeria. A young girl of about 12 years is seen hawking on the street. She calls herself Amina Dibir, and as she stopped to display her wares, which comprises of shea butter, cocoa butter with vanilla and lemon flavours, she looked around her and went into a soliloquy, narrating the lot of girls her age, and the trauma encountered as a girl-child in Nigeria. Hear her: “I see girls as the hope for the future, but it is hard for us girls in Nigeria. We are expected to do everything in the house, eke out a living along the streets to feed the family. But we too, can become president, we too can make a difference if only the fat men in their offices can listen to us and help our situation.” She then asked, “Are Nigerians listening? Nobody appears to be listening to us, yet we can do great things for the country. We are ambitious and we are hard working,” she said.
With this video clips, the setting was set for discussions at the formal launch of the British Council sponsored Gender in Nigeria Report 2012, held May 10, in Abuja. Indeed, the video clips actually gave life to the report, which provides a comprehensive overview of gender issues in Nigeria. The report also assesses progress made in key areas, such as employment, livelihood, education, health, political representation and violence, and the verdict is ominous: Nigeria is a dangerous country to be a woman.
Chidi Odinkalu, chairman, National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, lends credence to this assertion, when he said the statistics emerging from the report are damning, and one that has shown that girls and women in Nigeria are facing so much hardship than their male counterparts. Citing examples from the report, he pointed out that when the incomes of men and women with the same education levels are compared, women at every educational level earn far less than their male counterparts.
Still talking about disparities in income between men and women, Lamido Sanusi, governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, confirmed that there are barriers to formal employment for women. Using the banking sector as a clear case study, the governor said before he became governor of the CBN, only four women had risen to become directors in the bank. Unfortunately, in the over 50 years of existence of CBN, with over 12,000 staff strength, no woman had ever risen to become a governor, whereas there is only one woman on the board of directors who happens to be a deputy governor and at the moment, only six are female directors. Although he said the bank plans to increase the number to about nine soon, based on merit, he predicted that come 2014, the CBN will parade 50 per cent of women directors.
He is not limiting his prediction of an increase in the number of women at the top hierarchy in the banking sector to the CBN alone. Sanusi said already there is an underground move aimed at getting the banks to come together to talk about the disparities. He explained that at the Banker’s Forum held recently, there was a commitment by all banks to target achieving at least 40 per cent of female directors, and 30 per cent of women on their boards by 2014. “If we don’t have women on the board, which is the highest decision-making body in the banking industry, how do we address women and gender issues, and come up with policies that can better the lot of women?” Sanusi asked. As a proactive way of curbing income disparities between the men and women, the CBN governor said 60 per cent of the fund meant for small and medium enterprises have been devoted to women involved in business and those who desire loans will be granted such, with single digit interest rate.
On the quest for education, the report came up with damaging statistics that more girls are dropping out of school, a trend which is more prominent in the northern part of the country, and the reason given is that most parents would rather send the boys to school because the girls would sooner or later become wives. Moreso, the environment provided in many schools does not currently convince the majority of parents that their daughters should stay on in school and defer early marriage and child bearing. In addition, the report also mentioned poverty and the high cost of education, as some of the reasons girls are dropping out of school.
Zainab Maina, minister of women affairs, confirmed the statistics that only four per cent of women in the North complete secondary school education, a trend that is not only disheartening, but one that has contributed to the under-development of the girl-child. “When a girl is prevented from going to school, how will she determine her left from her right. How will she know and defend her rights, how will she be empowered to engage in enterprise that will uplift her status, without education, a woman is nothing,” she said.
Amina Salihu, one of the researchers and contributors to the report, while giving an overview of the research findings, said aside from the aforementioned reasons affecting the growth of the women, there are still a lot of issues militating against the empowerment of women. One of such, she says, is the gender disparity in health and well-being, especially in the area of maternal deaths and delay in seeking medical attention. According to her, maternal mortality rates vary significantly within Nigeria, and they are higher in rural areas where the rate is estimated to be around 828 per 100,000 live births.
Lending credence to this assertion was Farida Muktar, who just finished her youth service, but was working for an non-governmental organisation, NGO, which caters for women. Hear her: “In the course of interacting with several women, especially in the rural areas, one is left with so much sorrow seeing the way women die unnecessarily because of lack of knowledge. Where I live, a neighbour who was at the point of delivering a child refused to seek medical attention, because she said her husband would not approve of it. She lost so much blood while trying to deliver her baby alone, and was eventually rushed to the hospital, when it was obvious she was about losing her life.” Such cases are many, she said while adding that some women even claim that it is against their culture to have babies in the hospital, but at home.
Another very frightening trend threatening the existence of the women and girls is the issue of violence, and it comes in various forms. Some of these women are raped, physically assaulted, trafficked, and in an extreme case killed. The report findings, says Salihu, “suggests an acceptance of cultural practices that condone and even encourage certain forms of violence.” An example was given by Maryam Uwais, a lawyer, who said some women still believe that their husbands has all rights to beat them as a corrective action whenever they do anything wrong. Some young girls in higher institutions of learning were also quoted to have accepted the dastardly act of being beaten, as a sign of love from the male counterparts.
In politics and governance, the lot of women in Nigeria, is nothing to write home about. Farouk Lawan, member of the Senate, confirmed this when he said in the National Assembly, out of 109 members, only seven are females in the Senate, while 19 women are in the House of Representatives. Aside from having low representation in politics, many women too, rely on their male counterparts to survive economically, says the report.
Just as the gender report revealed the many atrocities against women development, it also provided some recommendations to the government and policymakers, on how best to improve the lot of women. Some of these include the promotion of women’s livelihood, educating the girl-child, improvement of women’s health and reduction in maternal mortality through adequate provision of affordable health institutions, encouraging and supporting more women participation in politics, as well as tackling gender violence and conflicts through the provision of stringent penalties against offenders.
David Higgs, country director, British Council, as well as partners from the Department for International Development, DFID, said the Report on Gender in Nigeria has been long awaited and will assist policymakers in fashioning out ways to help girls and women adding that it will aid the process of encouraging more women to have a voice in the country.
Described as a report of Nigerians, by Nigerians, for Nigerians, Saudatu Mahdi, a frontline women activist, and one of the contributors to the report called on government, policymakers, NGOs, and other change champions to rise up to the challenge of empowering women, “for Nigeria must rise, and in rising, it must be with women and men.” And the time is now.