Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba
A special forum to mark the International Women’s Day organized for women in the Niger-Delta was on Monday held in Asaba with calls on all levels of Government and other relevant bodies to work towards more empowerment of women in Nigeria in the interest of the country’s economic development.

The forum noted that women as good managers of the home and financial resources could make a greater impact on the nation’s economy if they were given improved access to credit as well as break down all existing barriers to women empowerment.

The theme of the forum organised by the Partnership Initiatives in the Niger-Delta (PIND), was Pledging Parity for Niger Delta Women in Agriculture”, with support from Chevron Nigeria Limited and USAID and other organisations.

The event attracted participants from numerous groups and non-governmental organisations across the region, including those from the states of Cross River, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ondo, Edo and the host, Delta State.

Critical appraisal of the plight of women, especially those involved in agriculture, as well as measures to effectively address the identified challenges in order to advance the cause of women in the Niged-Delta  featured at the conference which lasted for about six hours.

In an address the Programme Director of PIND, Mr. Sylvester Okoh, noted that the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its Global Gender Gap Report 2015
estimated that it would take over 220 years to achieve gender parity particularly in the workplace and 117 years for gender equality to be achieved in companies and government.

Okoh admitted that while no single measure could totally arrest the critical situation of the “Global Gender Gap Index”, certain measures were relevant to the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas of health, education, economy and politics.

He noted that in the British Council in Nigeria report of 2012, Nigeria ranked 118 of the 234 countries by the gender equality index, saying the situation demanded intensification of efforts towards bridging the apparently yawning gap.

The Programme Director said that the report noted that majority women
live and work in rural areas, constituting 60-79% of the rural
workforce, which is predominantly in agriculture, with only 21% of
women in  non-agriculture labour force.

He therefore advocated for increased role for women in government and
employment opportunities and urged Nigerians to take concrete steps to achieve gender parity more quickly.

Okoh noted that it was cause for serious concern that an insignificant 7.2% of women in agriculture the oil-rich Niger Delta region own the land they farm on, saying this acts as a major limiting factor in “their ability to access credit and constraints their entrepreneurship/business development.”

according to him, “Parity is just another word for fairness or equality. That
would mean things like both genders having equal opportunities, receiving equal treatment and getting equal pay.”

In his remarks, Mr Deji Haastrup, General Manager, Policy, Government and a public Affairs of Chevron, commended the collaborative efforts that culminted in the forum, saying the conference was timely especially at a time Nigeria was struggling to break away from a mono-economic entrapment.

Haastrup said that the theme of the event “is very apt apt as the country continues to shift its focus from being a mono-economy based on oil and gas to their sectors – especially agriculture.”

“We believe the shift from from total dependence on the oil and gas sector as the source of revenue for the country to other sectors is the right thing to do”, he further said, adding that Star Deepwater Petroleum Limited, a subsidiary of Chevron, “have supported and rolled out initiatives aimed at enhancing the development of agriculture in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria” in partnership with PIND.

The event also included a Panel Discussion which featured several groups, including Afican Development Bank (ADB), Bank of Agriculture, Lift Above Poverty (LAPO), representatives of states of the Niger Delta, a media Insihts Communications, Family Resources Development Centre, Owerri, Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) and Nigerian Women in Agriculture of the University of Uyo.