Advancing women’s interests in nation-building
All over the world, women have been clamouring for gender equality, development and peace in the interest of all humanity. The calls reached a crescendo with the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPfA) put in place in September 1995 under the auspices of the United Nations (UN).
The Beijing Declaration was particularly targeted at ensuring that the voice of women everywhere was heard, while recognising the diversity of women, their roles and the circumstances inhibiting women’s interests.
The BDPfA also aimed at ensuring the full implementation of the human rights of women and the girl child as an inalienable, integral, indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
While some developed countries have fully embraced the implementation of the Beijing Declaration which surfaced some 20 years ago, some countries somewhat exhibited some measure of apathy towards implementing it.
For instance, a report on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration in the U.S. indicated that women contributed a lot to efforts to transform the country’s economy.
The report said that nearly half of all the primary breadwinners in the U.S. were women, adding that their labour had contributed a lot to the median family income, thereby expanding the economy.
It also said that President Barak Obama designated 2014 as Year of Action in the U.S., as part of designed efforts to expand socio-economic opportunities for all Americans.
A key part of the agenda was pursuing policies that would specifically promote the women’s interests, in recognition of their growing contributions to the national economy.
Besides, delegations from 21 Latin American countries gathered in November 2014 to unanimously reaffirm their commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
The goal of the forum was to remove the barriers which prevent the active participation of women in all spheres of public and private endeavours.
Commenting on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration in Africa, Ms Ayisha Osori, the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), said that Africa was still lagged behind in efforts to attain the targets of the BDPfA.
She noted that in Nigeria, for instance, the women had yet to secure 35-per-cent participation in the country’s political system and the decision-making organs.
She, therefore, underscored the need for the government to make pragmatic efforts to incorporate women into leadership positions, so as to allow their voices to be heard.
“From the angle of politics, women in Nigeria have yet to attain the 35-per-cent slot set out for them; we are still struggling to attain 15 per cent.
“This is partly because some women shy away from taking up leadership positions due to the cultural and African belief that men should naturally take the upper hand at all times,” she said.
Osori, nonetheless, noted that in spite of the fact that most African countries were still lagging behind in efforts to implement BDPfA, some countries such as the Republic of Rwanda had made remarkable progress in implementing it.
She said that in the central African country, enrolment rate for girls in schools increased to 95.1 per cent and 93.3 per cent for boys in the year 2008, while in 2012, it rose to 98 per cent, as against 95 per cent for boys.
On women’s participation in decision-making organs, Osori said that Rwandan women constituted 50 per cent of the judiciary, 39 per cent of the cabinet and 40 per cent of provincial governors, apart from holding other key positions in the country.
She particularly urged all stakeholders in Nigeria to devise pragmatic plans on how to improve the status and wellbeing of the women in the society.
All the same, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajia Zainab Maina, said that there had been improved collaboration in efforts to implement BDPfA in the country.
Her words: “There have been conventions among different groups and actors involved in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.’’
Maina said that her ministry had initiated multi-sector interventions, which aimed at improving the status and interests of women and girls in Nigeria.
She also said that the ministry had strengthened its partnership with international agencies and civil society organisations to create appreciable public awareness on gender and women empowerment issues.
The minister, however, lamented that poverty had particularly affected Nigerian women, saying: “In spite of several efforts to reduce feminised poverty in Nigeria, poverty among women still remains a major challenge with various manifestations.
“This includes lack of income and productive resources sufficient to ensure a sustainable livelihood; hunger and malnutrition, ill health, as well as limited access to education and other basic amenities,” she said.
Besides, Maina stressed that traditions, customs, sexual stereotyping of social roles and cultural prejudice had continued to militate against the women’s assertion of their socio-economic rights.
She said that reports indicated that the plight of women in the northern part of the country was more harrowing than that of the women in the South.
She expressed dismay at a situation in which women were denied their right to have access to property and inheritance, insisting that such practice rendered the women economically insecure.
In the area of education and training of women, the minister stressed that “gender inequality in education has remained a perennial issue in Nigeria.
“The achievement of equal status in educational attainment by men and women remains a key national development target,” she said.
Maina emphasised that girls who were educated would contribute to the future economic growth of the country, while becoming better mothers to their children.
She, however, conceded that policies and interventions aimed at improving the women’s access to education had received a tremendous boost over the past few years.
Maina also said that women also received support in the area of health care and the fight against high maternal mortality rate via the input of relevant stakeholders.
Nevertheless, the minister argued that violence against women had yet to decline, saying that violence against women was perceptible at different levels and in varied forms.
She said that such violence could be in the form of domestic violence, female genital mutilation, harmful traditional practices, rape and sexual harassment.
“There is a certain level of stigmatisation and fear that characterises issues of gender-based violence due to deep-rooted socio-cultural perceptions.
“These tend to reinforce fear and shame on the part of the victims and have further worsened the adverse effects,” she said.
Maina cited a study by the Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence against Women (LACVAW), which found that one out of three Nigerian women had been subjected to one form of violence or the other.
She, however, said that measures and plans had been initiated to ensure that perpetrators of violence against women were duly penalised.
“There are several ongoing efforts at national and state levels to address the issue of violence against women.
“Some states like Lagos and Ekiti states now have new laws on domestic violence,” she added.
With reference to the economic input of Nigerian women, the minister said that women contribute to the economy and poverty-alleviation schemes via payable and non-payable work at home.
She moaned that these contributions notwithstanding, several gender-specific disparities still existed in Nigeria as far as the country’s economic indices were concerned.
“Nearly six million young women and men enter the labour market each year, but only 10 per cent of them are able to secure jobs in the formal sector and just one-third of that figure is women,” she said.
The Director-General National Centre for Women Development, Ms Onyeka Onwenu, said that women’s empowerment was the foremost stride in every effort to attain self -reliance.
Onwenu said that vocational training was a way of developing skills and potential for self-sufficiency.
She noted that whenever women were self-employed and reliant, they would facilitate the government’s efforts to create jobs and employment.
“Women empowerment is the first step to freedom, whereby you don’t need to look up to anyone for survival even in the absence of a white-collar job,” she said.
Onwenu commended President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration for setting aside 60 per cent of the N220 billion earmarked for the development of micro, small and medium enterprises to women in 2013.
She, nonetheless, urged the government to initiate more economic empowerment programmes for women, particularly those in the rural areas.
All the same, analysts underscore the need to ensure the proper implementation of the BDPfA in Nigeria.
They argue that this will strengthen the voice of women and enable them to actualise their dreams, while contributing to the sustainable development of the country in a pragmatic way.