By Tobi Soniyi
A gender expert, Iheoma Obibi, has advised the federal government to put in place and enforce policies that would promote gender equity and protect the rights of women and girls.
Obibi, also a steering committee member, Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF), gave the advice in Lagos at the weekend.
According to her, this would bring a robust political and socio-economic development to the country.
Speaking on the theme of the conference was: ‘The Role of Feminism in Advancing the Rights of Women in Nigeria’.
Obibi said that the role of feminism in advancing women’s rights, though popularly misunderstood, was all about equality, fairness and a level playing field, irrespective of gender.
She also called for the implementation and enforcement of laws relating to gender-based violence, Child Rights Act, Female Genital Mutilation and Access to Education of Girls in those states that had yet to domesticate such laws.
Addressing the issues of molestation and assault of female students in secondary schools, Obibi urged the government to create mechanisms to protect and tackle issues of inappropriate relationships with minors.
She said that her committee intended to partner strategic male allies to further drive the forum’s advocacy on safety of the girl-child and women.
“All institutions must have safeguarding policies to alleviate or totally eliminate issues pertaining to sexual harassment.
“Secondary schools should have sexual health policies that make staff accountable.
“In my days, lecturers were not allowed to have female students in their offices with their doors closed among other precautionary measures.
“All these simple measures protected both the lecturers and students,” she said.
Also, Ms Chiwendu Anozie, Coordinator NFF, said the forum has been playing a critical role in advancing the rights of women.
According to her, this is by constantly questioning the patriarchal system and its effect on the family, institutions, and accepted societal norms.
Anozie said that feminism had provided the space to interrogate the intersectionality of age, class, education, locality and who has access to reproduction sexual health services, privilege and access to power.
“Our realities, as Nigerian women, have meant that when we speak or mention feminism, it is immediately assumed that all is not well with the world, especially with our sisters, aunties and mothers championing its cause.
“The real truth is understanding the importance that feminism and gender justice have in our trajectory in campaigning for women’s rights is critical in charting a way forward.
“There are, of course, biological differences between men and women, but it does not mean that men and women should have different rights and freedoms.
“The impact of feminist academic research and activism in Nigeria had been constructive and far reaching.
“Additional discourse and activities have also centered on confronting and questioning norms and age old traditions that strive to reinforce patriarchy.
“In the last four months, there has been an increase in Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) and Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in the country.
“However, through the efforts of women led feminist organisations in Nigeria, a ‘state of emergency’ on SGBV was declared by the Nigerian Governors Forum and supported by the Federal Executive Council,” she said.
According to her, this declaration led to the establishment of the recently inaugurated Presidential Inter-ministerial Committee on SGBV.