Managing Partner Edward Ekiyor and Co., Tonbofa Eva Ashimi, writes an open letter to the Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Jummai Alhassan, drawing the minister’s attention to the issues of rape, pedophilia, violence and discrimination which women are faced with in Nigeria
Dear Honourable Minister,
I write to provide some guidance on the value of your position to the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government of change and some vital steps that you must take.
The Ministry of Women Affairs “the Ministry” seems to be regarded as a vehicle for simply “organising” women’s attendance to government functions or an arm to the Office of the First Lady of the Federation. The Ministry’s duties are far more encompassing, they include: ensuring women, girl rights are protected, and even those of the disabled. In assessing the performance of your predecessors vis-à-vis the Ministry’s duties, I will score them low since the Nigerian girl-child, youth and women are still living with or fighting issues that infringe on their basic human rights. I call on you to understand the expectations from your Ministry and plan mechanisms to meet these expectations urgently. I will below address certain issues the Nigerian female gender face through various stages of their development and suggest some solutions you should consider.
The Nigerian girl-child is shocked from her innocence as early as two years old by abusive adults. Due to the pervasiveness of the Internet, we are constantly shocked by stories of girls/babies being defiled by those entrusted with protecting them. It is generally known that pedophilia has been part of our society for years, social media is simply outing it. Just as the whole world is doing, it is time for Nigeria to take a strong stance against pedophilia. We have been experiencing cases of girls being kidnapped from their homes and forced to marry their captors and bear their children. In some cases, the girls have been said to consent to the marriages. Various attempts that have been taken to increase age of consent for the girl-child have been met with stiff resistance in the legislature. The Ministry of Woman Affairs needs to keep the fight on this going.
The constant sexual harassment young ladies in Nigerian universities suffer from lecturers is now a known fact. It is the norm for university students to have to consider exchanging their bodies for exam scores from their lecturers. The federal legislature recognised this fact and is considering mechanisms for addressing this social problem through the laws.
Incidences of rape and sexual assaults are rising. Victims do not report due to public shame, ridicule- from even the police- and character assassination.
Work place sexual harassment is now fixed in our society. Women are subjected to assaults from bosses, colleagues, customers/clients. There are some claims that female marketers are encouraged by their companies to give in to sexual assaults to win accounts. This is wrong and should be condemned by all, led by the Ministry of Women Affairs.
Discrimination amongst women in appointments- in public offices especially- is widely known and seems to be so accepted that even our courts have opined that discrimination against women can be legal. (Tonbofa Ashimi v FCC &Ors, now on appeal).
Madam, the good thing is your work has already been simplified for you and yours is one of the Ministries that cannot hide behind “no budget/funds” as an excuse for inertia. There are tons of organisations that will sponsor any endeavour you commence to tackle any of the above social ills Nigerian females face. There are also orgnaisations already involved in tackling these issues that will eagerly partner with your Ministry. Some solutions you should consider include:
The girl-child, young lady and woman need to be educated in the mainstream manner, but especially on their value. Your Ministry should collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Education and States to ensure the girl-child is educated and there is an active curriculum in schools geared at teaching the girl-child their value. There are organisations that already embark on motivating the girl-child. Women in Business “WIMBIZ” organised visits to schools to motivate girls recently. The Ministry can partner with such organisations to achieve this goal.
Sponsoring and Enforcing Laws
The Ministry of Women Affairs should sponsor laws to protect women. There are various international treaties that are yet to be domesticated into laws in Nigeria, although our government has ratified theses treaties. The Ministry needs to push for these treaties to be domesticated into our laws.
We have laws in Nigeria that are never enforced. The Ministry should push for an intergovernmental agency comprising the Ministries for Women Affairs and Justice and the Nigerian Police to ensure adequate enforcement of our existing laws that seek to protect the female gender. Since the government approved such an agency for recovery of sums owed banks, why should there not be one to ensure the female gender is safe and protected? This intergovernmental agency should also ensure training amongst the police force on handling sexual assault and abuse cases and ensure their prosecution. The Federal Government has partnered with international developmental agencies to achieve police reform; the Ministry should push to ensure women and girl-child protection falls within the intended reform.
Naming and Shaming
The Ministry should also push for naming and shaming of convicted pedophiles, like the rest of the world is doing. It should establish a portal listing the names, locations of convicted pedophiles available to the public in order to deter perpetrators.
Madam, the Ministry of Women Affairs should be the watchdog for women’s affairs, literally. We must all understand that the woman is usually responsible for bringing up our leaders and the people who comprise our society. She does this by protecting her family and feeding her children with values that they will stand by in adulthood. When the girl-child is scarred from infancy, how can she play this role as a woman? What will she have to give but the manifestations of the abuse and torment she had been dealt as a child (unless she is healed sometime during her life)? An abused child cannot play her role as a woman and thus help to ensure we are breeding responsible adults for our society. It is the government’s duty to protect our children from harm to guarantee the next generations of responsible adults. It is our government’s duty to build the confidence of young ladies so they learn to believe in themselves and ascend life’s ladders based on merit. It is our government’s duty to protect women in their homes so they can help the government by teaching their families values.The government must also ensure the respect of women in the work place and enable a level playing field for women to participate in all spheres of the economy. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is the arm of the government to ensure the government achieves these goals for women.