The United Nation Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, who was in Nigeria used her recent visit to up drum support for policies that will support women’s causes in the society. One of the highlights of her tour was a visit to the Ushafa Pottery Centre, an initiative to empower, Olawale Ajimotokan writes
Ushafa Community is a dusty settlement located about 40-kilometres away from the capital city, Abuja. The village, which has had no portable water over the years, can only be accessed through a narrow road that connects some adjoining communities, notably of which are Kubwa and Dutse Alhaji.
Ushafa is best known to the larger world for its pottery that has now made it a tourist delight. In this community, a large number of women eke a living and support their families by moulding pottery, which is sold to local and foreign markets.
Most Nigerians, particularly those outside Abuja, hardly knew of Ushafa and the scope of human activities, until August 2000, when the former United States President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, made a brief visit to the village during his official tour of Nigeria.
The visit brought Ushafa, a village sandwiched between a mass of undulating hills, into the limelight and has remained a talking point for its inhabitants, who pride themselves “Clinton Village.”
Since the epochal visit by Clinton, notable world leaders like the former President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, and former Swiss Vice President, Ruth Metzier, have followed in the same footsteps by making scheduled visits to Ushafa pottery centre while on official trips to Nigeria.
It is a little wonder that to confirm its place as one of global appeal, the community was included on Michelle Bachelet’s itinerary when she visited Nigeria recently in her capacity as the current head of UN Women, the global body for gender equality.
The pottery centre was established in 1989 by the late Maryam Babangida to promote self-help and vocational skills for women in the community.
Accordingly, the Executive Secretary, Social Development, Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Mrs. Blessing Onuh, said that the authority has proposed a certain amount in the 2013 Appropriation Bill to transform Ushafa pottery centre into a thriving and modern centre for international trade.
Bachelet, who was the president of Chile from 2006-2010, was accompanied by Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajia Zainab Maina, UN Women Regional Director for West Africa, Ms Josphine Odera and UN Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Dr Grace Ongile.
She was received by the chief of Ushafa, Alhaji Baba Mohammed and Chairman of Bwari Local Government, Mr. Peter Yohanna.
During the visit, Bachelet said UN Women was supporting women’s economic empowerment project in Ushafa, to enable rural women have access to international markets for their craft, in addition to a life of dignity for their families.
The 62-year-old administrator, who is also a qualified medical doctor, was shown the processes of traditional pot making, starting from the mixing of the clay, which is later burnt in a wooden kiln at a temperature that sometimes reaches 1,200 degrees celsius.
Encouraged by the beauty of the pottery and the long term economic potential derivable from the skills on display, Bachelet said that UN Women would provide the Ushafa centre with facilities and infrastructure to enable women attain their goals.
The UN Under-Secretary-General, who also once held the Defence and Health portfolios in Chile, said Nigeria must ensure gender equality in government if it aims to attain global greatness.
“Gender inequality is still widespread. Yet women play key roles in Nigeria’s economy and are mainly in the informal sector. Women should be part of the mainstream if Nigeria wants to be one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2020. The only way for Nigeria to achieve that is by ensuring equal opportunities for men and women in government,” she said.
Though she conceded that Nigeria has made substantial progress under the Goodluck Jonathan administration in relation to appointment of women in government positions, Bachelet said much more still needs to be done in line with the affirmative action taken in 2000 in Beijing that 30 per cent of positions in decision making positions in governments must be reserved for women.
Currently, the representation of women in both the executive and legislative arms of government in Nigeria stands only at seven per cent.
“Though there is remarkable progress and commitment, much is still required through political will that will ensure that women have all the rights and opportunities they deserve. In Nigeria, women constitute 60 per cent of the work force in the agricultural sector,” Bachelet said.
During her two-day tour of Nigeria, she had talks with President Goodluck Jonathan to drive home the UN agenda for continued collaboration on gender women empowerment programmes (GEWE).
Apart from holding meetings with the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi; Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala; Women Affairs Minister, Hajia Zainab Maina; members of the ECOWAS Parliament; and members of civil society organisations, Bachelet similarly held a session with the Speaker of House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal and other principal members of the House to seek support for the passage of relevant bills still pending in the National Assembly.