Kayanja...making a case

As part of efforts geared towards gender balance in the society, the issue was discussed by experts on March 8 to mark the International Women’s Day, write Ugo Aliogo and Jemima Bolokor

The United Nations celebrates the International Women Day (IWD) on March 8 every year. It is an occasion set aside to mark the economic and social achievement of women globally.

This year’s celebration theme: ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality’ aimed at propelling men and women to take action in order to escape poverty and discrimination by the year 2030. It was also aimed at achieving effect advocacy for the empowerment of the female gender.

According to United Nations statistics, nearly 14 million children are forced into marriage yearly (that is 37,000 girls are being denied of their fundamental human rights).

The statistics also explained that 7.3 million babies in developing countries are born to mothers who are 17 or younger. One in three women are subject to gender-based violence, and 200 million women and girls today have undergone female genital mutilation.
In his opening remarks, the Director United Nation Information Centre, Ronald Kayanja, said many women and girls have limited autonomy and low status, which expose them to increased risk of hunger, gender-based violence and other human rights violations.

He explained that improving access to quality education, sexual and reproductive health services is essential for women’s empowerment “ability to earn money, create and sustain livelihood.”

Kayanja, added that women can contribute positively to the economy if given the opportunity to make free and informed choices in marriage and all spheres of life.
The UN chief explained that the 2016 International Women’s Day theme presents opportunity and challenges for Nigeria and its partners including the UN.

Kayanja, also stressed that Nigeria needs to reassess the level and effectiveness of her gender equality commitments in its entirety (education, health, governance and employment) in order to improve the lives of women and girls.

He further stated that women represent 58 per cent of all people living with HIV, noting that women are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic, “more men than women die of AIDS yearly in Nigeria.”

According to him, “The UN is greatly concerned about the country’s political will to implement the Nigeria National Gender Policy, which commits to affirmative actions and requires that women fill 35 per cent of appointed positions.

“Regrettably, we are far from the target presently. For instance, in the current National Assembly, women representation is at its lowest with only 5.6 per cent of members of the House Representatives and 6.5 per cent of Senators are women.
“This is below the nine percent representation in 2007, and the seven percent in 2011. It is also far below the global average of 22.5 per cent and the average for sub-Sahara African countries of 23.4 per cent. this is why there has never been a woman governor of any of the 36 states of the federation.

“As of 2012, only four percent of councillors at the local government level were women. Some of the reasons for these situations include huge campaigns financing, and the way women in politics are perceived and treated. We need to collectively take urgent action on this in Nigeria.

“Over the years, the UN in Nigeria has supported the government of Nigeria to move the gender agenda forward as a key policy consideration for the country. Working with like-minded partners we have integrated gender in health programmes for states managers in over 15 states.”

Continuing he said, “We have provided technical support for National Guidelines for the management of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and harmful traditional practices. We have also repositioned family advocacy toolkit and trained programme managers across the federation. We supported the national policy and plan of action for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria. We recently supported the passing of the Violence Against Persons Act (VAPAct) 2015, scaling up the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and working to end the HIV epidemic in Nigeria.

“On humanitarian situation in the North-east Nigeria, the UN system is one of the lead actors partnering with government for durable solution. In 2015, we initiated a protection monitoring exercise with state actors in North-east states which has contributed to filling information gaps on protection risks and needs of the most vulnerable Internally Displaced People (IDPs) at the local government areas levels.”

In her address, the National President of Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), Barr. Chikue Ochiagha, said the world economic forum predicted in 2014 that it would take 2095 to achieve global gender parity.

Ochiagha, explained that for the society to witness gender parity, concrete steps need to be taken to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, while calling for gender balanced-leadership and an end to workplace bias.

She added that: “Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity. Globally, individuals are pledging to move from talk to purposeful action and with men and women joining forces, we can collectively help women advance equality to their numbers and realise the limitless potential they offer economies the world over.”

In an effort to ensure that women get fair hearing as they seek for justice, the Director, Citizens Mediation Centre (CMC), Oluwatoyin Odusanya, said citizens’ mediation is a comprehensive process of resolving differences, and disputes between parties, individuals, governmental agencies, using alternative mechanisms outside the formal court system, while calling on women to visit the CMC and lodge their complains.

Odusanya explained that the centre which was established in 1999 under mediation law 2007 renders free services for indigent residents of Lagos.

She noted that the centre provides alternative dispute resolution scheme that ensures speedy dispensation of justice, “without recourse to the existing cumbersomeness of the court system of justice in Lagos State. Mediation services are free.”

According to her, “The CMC is in partnership with the UNIC, Lagos. The centre organised a walk for peace last year to commemorate the International Day of Peace. The centre also participated in the International Day of Tolerance. The centre intends to make this an annual event.

“The centre is also into partnership with Justice for All (J4A), Mirable Centre (for cases relating to rape), Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) Office of the Public Defender (OPD) for criminal cases, Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Office of Youth and Social Development (matters relating to women and children).

“The Lagos State government is committed to ensuring access to justice by all and sundry without fear or favour, therefore the state Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has instructed that CMC and OPD must be present in all Local Government Areas and LCDA.

“In 2015, a total of 37,274 complaints were received while 22,952 were mediated upon, out of which 21,534 matters were resolved and monetary settlement was upto the tune of N812,401,964. The current year 2016, 7,511 cases were received, while 4,088, were handled by the centre, out of which 4,069 were resolved with value of settlement being N84,934,349.”

In an effort to frustrate the gender equality bill, the National Assembly, rejected a proposed bill aimed at eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.

The Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill was rejected last week after some lawmakers voiced their opposition purely for religious reasons.
The bill according to right activists would promote women’s equality in marriage, inheritance and education.
Senators who opposed the Equality Bill said it was not compatible with the Nigerian culture and religious beliefs, while other
senators argued that the constitution already recognises the rights of everyone.

The bill which was sponsored by the deputy Minority Whip of the Senate, Biodun Olujimi, was rejected by the Senate over alleged constitutional violations.

A human rights activist, Bukky Shonibare, said it was a sad day for Nigeria women, stressing that: “It shows how backward we are and how much we want to hold our lopsided religious and cultural beliefs. It is unfortunate that some men who see the emancipation of women as a threat, are the ones being entrusted with making laws and order.”

Reacting to the issue, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, advised Nigerian women to reintroduce the bill, stating that although the bill had suffered setbacks, it could still be amended and reintroduced.
“Unfortunately, the bill suffered a slight setback because there was some parts of the bill that some senators disagreed with along the lines of religion and tradition.

“The beauty of democracy is that it gives us the opportunity to consider different opinions and this bill can still be represented and reconsidered on the floor of the Senate. I have it on good authority that Senator Biodun Olujimi, who introduced this bill, will reintroduce it after redrafting it to address some of the reservations that were expressed on the floor of the Senate.

“As I said during the International Women Day last week, I am of the opinion that there are substantial parts of the bill that are crucial to the development of our nation. Such bills like the Equal Access to Education, Strengthening of the Laws on Violence against Women, Ending Abduction of Girls, Sustenance and Promotion of Entrepreneurship Opportunities, Gender Mainstreaming and Gender Equality are equally important.”

It would be recalled that this is the third time the gender Equality bill was rejected by the Senate.