Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations reinforced the premium which the UN places on gender equality in his message to mark the 2018 International Women's Day (IWD) on March 8. In his message titled: Gender Equality: The Unfinished Business of Our Time, Guterres said:
"The United Nations stands with women around the world as they fight to overcome the injustices they face – whether they are rural women dealing with wage discrimination, urban women organizing for change, women refugees at risk of exploitation and abuse, or women who experience intersecting forms of discrimination: widows, indigenous women, women with disabilities."
Guterres emphasized that the world is at a pivotal moment for women's rights. He noted that the historical and structural inequalities that have allowed oppression and discrimination to flourish are being exposed like never before:
"Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world. The activism and advocacy of generations of women have borne fruits. There are more girls in school than ever before; more women are doing paid work and in senior roles in the private sector, academia, politics and in international organizations, including the United Nations. Gender equality is enshrined in countless laws, and harmful practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage have been outlawed in many countries."
However, Guterres said that despite the positive results recorded in these areas, serious obstacles remain as UN member-nations strive to address the historic power imbalances that underpin discrimination and exploitation.
In conformity with the observation of the UN Scribe, the UN Women affirms that although the 2030 Agenda promises to put an end to barriers that prevent women and girls from realizing their full potential, significant challenges lie ahead. In its report titled: Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN Women observed that in 18 countries, across the world, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working; in 39 countries, daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights; and 49 countries lack laws protecting women from domestic violence. Globally, 1 in 5 women and girls under the age of 50 reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period. According to the report, the figure is even higher for sub-Saharan Africa, where 22.3% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 reported to be experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period.
With particular reference to Nigeria, the report revealed that 23% of women have been victims of physical or sexual violence by a previous husband and 17.3% by another relative.
The report of the UN Women also identified inequalities among women and girls within Nigeria across a range of development dimensions. According to their findings, those who are deprived in one dimension are likely to experience deprivations in other dimensions as well. The findings of the report on Nigeria are as follows:
• Education: The report shows that wealth is a driving force behind educational attainment: 13% of women and girls from the richest households in Nigeria reported completing six or less years of education, while in the poorest households, 96.5% are education-poor.
• Child marriage: The findings of the UN Women indicates that a low-income, rural woman of Hausa ethnicity (from Northern Nigeria) is eight times as likely to be married before the age of 18 as a high-income, urban woman of Yoruba ethnicity.
• Violence against women and girls: The report shows that 23% of women have been victims of physical or sexual violence by a previous husband and 17.3% by another relative. Igbo women and girls are the likeliest to report being victims of violence at the hands of a relative: 25.2%.
• Clustered deprivations: The UN Women's report reveals that 15% of all women aged 18–49 (or 5.2 million) are simultaneously deprived in four SDG-related dimensions. These women were not only married before the age of 18 and education poor, but they also reported no agency in healthcare decisions and said they were not working at the time of the survey.
Similarly, the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) shows that Nigeria has failed to close widening gender gap. The report shows that Nigeria has a lot to do in improving the parity between the sexes. The Global Gender Gap Report by WEF places Nigeria 122nd out of 144 countries investigated across the world. Thus, while Nigeria is focussing on diversifying from oil, fighting against corruption and showcasing the talent of its citizens to the world, it appears to be lagging behind in closing the parity gap between men and women in their contributions to society. The report explored and ranked the progress of gender-based disparities in Nigeria and other counties, particularly in Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. "The rankings are designed to create global awareness of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them," the World Economic Forum posted on its website.
Indeed, in the past few years, Nigeria has become a focus of global leaders in the SDGs Gender Equality. This is because it is one of the many countries where tradition, custom, sexual stereotyping of social roles and cultural prejudice militate against the enjoyment of rights and full participation of women on an equal basis with men in national development.
However, since Nigeria has subscribed and pledged to actualize the Gender Equality Sustainable Development Goal Number 5, there are indications that the country's fortunes are likely to change for the better through the expected bridging of the gender gap.
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari places emphasis on gender equality because the linkage among gender, poverty and education are well known. But based on the enormity of the challenges of gender equality, government alone cannot effectively address them. Interestingly, other stakeholders, particularly the civil society organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria have been working in synergy with the governments at various levels in gender mainstreaming.
Gender mainstreaming is also gradually becoming mandatory in all government and private sector policies in Nigeria. CSOs continuously advocate and collaborate with the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs (OSSAP- SDGs) and other relevant agencies to ensure that women are given equal opportunities to contribute in the national development process by actively participating and championing policy changes and practices.
Government-CSOs synergy on Nigeria's Gender Policy
In Nigeria, some laudable efforts have been made by government in conjunction with the CSOs to put in place the necessary mechanisms required for the elimination of gender discrimination so as to ensure gender parity and human dignity.
In line with various international commitments, as far back as 2006, the Nigerian government had developed a National Gender Policy that focuses on gender mainstreaming, women empowerment and eliminating discriminatory practices that are harmful to women. The National Gender Policy, which replaced the National Policy on Women (NPW) was designed to equip stakeholders, including the CSOs with strategic skills for galvanizing the levels of social change required for the empowerment of all citizens to participate actively in the country's socio-economic and political development. It was one of the cardinal objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which preceded the SDGs.
Under Nigeria's Gender Policy document, the Federal Government is committed to building a nation devoid of gender discrimination, guaranteeing equal access to political, social and economic wealth creation opportunities for women and men; and developing a culture that places a premium on the protection of all, including children.
To achieve this ambitious goal, the Federal Government pledged to take drastic policy measures that would promote the full participation of women in both the public and private sectors as agents of development. The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development is charged with the responsibility of working with relevant stakeholders, particularly the CSOs to ensure the involvement of Nigerian women in the mainstream of the national development processes.
The government also proposed to develop a National Gender Strategic Framework (NGSF) which would outline explicit implementation, monitoring and evaluation guidelines for achieving measurable targets and enhancing accountability to gender equality and women's empowerment.
With the adoption of the SDGs by the United Nations in September 2015, more interest has been generated and a better attention paid to the pursuit of gender sensitive policies by government with the support of the CSOs. Indeed, the CSOs in Nigeria have been collaborating with the Nigerian government to ensure that the balancing of the gender equation in the country.
Despite the collective efforts of the Nigerian government and the CSO to ensure gender equality, Nigerian women still face dehumanizing treatments, they are less represented in decision-making and have the least access to economic opportunities and ownership of resources. The participation of women in politics in Nigeria has remained low in spite of all efforts made so far.
Leveraging the CSOs for gender equality
Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, the focus of Goal 5 of the SDGs in Nigeria demands participation and partnership by the Nigerian government at all levels and civil society organizations. It is therefore heart-warming that CSOs in Nigeria as transformers in society have been involved in training and advocacy processes, which build the capacities and knowledge of the general populace towards achieving the SDG-5.
In fact, many the leading CSOs in Nigeria are working in the area of gender. Even when some CSOs are not working directly on gender, they usually mainstream gender into their plans and programmes. However, the activities of CSOs on gender go beyond mainstreaming. They also encourage governments at all levels to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere according to target number one of SDG-5.
CSOs such as CAFSO-Women's Rights Action Group (CAFSO-WRAG), Campaign against Impunity and Domestic Violence (CAIDOV) and Gender Development Initiative (GENDI) and many more are prominent when it comes to the issue of gender, especially working on violence against women and harmful traditional practices. For example, CAFSO-WRAG for Development recently submitted to Oyo State House of Assembly a bill on gender based violence while clamouring for a special court to try the violators.
Project Alert on Violence Against Women in Nigeria
Project Alert on Violence Against Women in Nigeria stands out as a frontline CSO devoted to educating the Nigerian society on the forms and prevalence of violence against women and rendering practical support to female victims of violence. Mrs Josephine Effah-Chukwuma, Founder and Executive Director, Project Alert on Violence Against Women in Nigeria said that the organization's vision is to seek to influence society by actively advocating for zero tolerance for all forms of violence against women/young girls.
According to her, sexual violence, whether domestic violence or otherwise, has become a real issue in Nigeria today. "With the increased level of information in this digital age, messages flow between Whatsapp and Facebook daily that speak of sexual violence, mostly of women and children. These victims are molested by their parents, landlords, teachers, drivers, pastors and so on," she said.
Over the years, Project Alert has carried out studies to establish the rate of sexual violence in Nigeria. On March 1, 2017, it released another report following the one it had done in 2013 on the state of sexual violence in Nigeria. In 2013, it reviewed 155 cases reported between 2010 and 2011 across the major regions in Nigeria to come to the conclusion that 69% of the victims of sexual violence were children.
The revised 2017 report titled:"Sexual Violence in Nigeria: A Silent Epidemic" was published with information from Mirabel Centre, the first sexual assault referral centre set up by Partnership for Justice (an NGO) with support from the Justice for All Project (J4A) of the UK Department for International Development (DFID). It shows that in Lagos State alone, there were 1,110 sexual violence cases reported between July 2013 and July 2015, and 98% of these victims were female and 2% were male.
The shocking part of the report is that 77% of the 1,110 cases were children between the ages of 0-17 years old. Effah-Chukwuma said:
"Thus, there was an increase by 8%.There was even a case of a victim as young as four months old. "Considering the fact that 77% of the victims were children aged 0-17 years, the most prevalent form of sexual violence in Nigeria, is defilement of children. It is important to note that the perpetrators are not strangers to these children. They are family members, neighbours, friends, teachers and religious leaders to these children. They are people these children know, love & trust. They are in 95% of the cases not strangers."
She pointed out that the way forward is that the federal and state governments should as a matter of urgency "acknowledge that we have an epidemic on our hands and immediately come out with a national plan of action, to respond to it."
According to Project Alert, there is an urgent need for community sensitization programmes to help create public awareness on this debilitating issue. "The criminal justice system should be urgently reformed to ensure that officers are well trained and funded to respond to reported cases in a timely and sensitive manner; and not to make justice so expensive that victims continue to say "I leave it to God". They do so because victims of crimes in Nigeria are made to foot the bill for seeking justice, right from the police station," Effah-Chukwuma added.
Apart from the report on sexual violence, Project Alert had on November 25, 2017 (International Day on Violence Against Women) commenced its 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence which ended on December 16, 2017 (International Human Rights Day).
Reflecting on the activities of Project Alert in past 18 years, Effah-Chukwuma said that the organization may not have solved half of the problems in relation to violence against women and girls in Nigeria, but it has definitely impacted individuals and institutions. "It definitely is not business as usual in relation to violence against women, as it used to be in the 90s, when I joined the movement. The silence which used to surround such issues has been broken...We are happy with the progress we have made so far, but we are not resting on our oars," she said.
According to her, gender-based violence or violence against women is not only physical, sexual and psychological in nature:
"It also includes harmful traditional practices that abuse the rights and dignity of women which in turn results in or could result in physical or psychological consequences. These harmful traditional practices include widowhood rites; girl-child disinheritance; male child preference; and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Widows should not be subjected to obnoxious practices under the guise of culture and tradition; and widowhood period should not be score settling time. The girl-child has a right to inheritance and should not be discriminated against. The girl-child should also not be discriminated against at birth and patriarchal cultures that prefer male children should be done away with. FGM which has been outlawed in several states in Nigeria should be enforced."
Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC)
The Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) is another CSO which focuses on the promotion of women's rights, governance, human rights and the rule of law. Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Executive Director of WARDC said that since it was established in 2002, it has served as a platform for addressing issues relating to gender-based violence. "In the process of addressing gender-based violence, we go to court a lot. We deal with at least 2,000 cases that have to do with women in a year. We also engage in policy advocacy to give women more voice in society. We have a shelter in Ogun State that caters for women, so we've come a long way in terms of intervention in this area," she said.
Akiyode-Afolabi, who is a lawyer, added that WARDC has consistently fought for the rights of women in Nigeria because they have continued to suffer structural and institutional injustices:
"The programmes and projects of different governments majorly have consistently and consciously excluded women despite their huge population. The environment is not suitable for women; there is a very strong 'shadow system' that continues to suppress women irrespective of their struggle for change. There seem to be no serious commitment to advancing women's cause in Nigeria and that is why today, violence against women is treated with impunity in most states."
In terms of the clamour for 35 percent affirmative action and women's participation in politics, Akiyode-Afolabi, who is also the President of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), described it as a matter of right and not a privilege:
"We claim as women that we have suffered injustices not because of our fault, but because the society has led us through several factors like religion, culture, law, beliefs to where we are. For us to be able to rise above all these anomalies, we need a level playing field. The call for affirmative action is not just a Nigerian thing but also a global principle to support marginalised groups."
She explained that over the years, it has been established that increased representation of women has had an immediate and important impact on Nigerian politics. She, however, explained that there exists an underlying factor in relation to women participating in the electoral space in Nigeria either as politicians, office contestants, voters and members of election management bodies. According to her, although many women aspire for electoral offices, party politics and structures as well as god-fatherism and tokenism prevent them from emerging as candidates in their parties. "To give increase women participation in politics, political parties should provide a level playing field for all women, who have indicated interest in contesting election, so as to get more women into electoral offices," Akiyode-Afolabi said.
It is noteworthy that WARD used the opportunity offered by the celebration of the 2018 International Women's Day, WARDC) to urge the Nigerian government to implement policies that will promote the inclusiveness of women in politics and governance of the country. WARDC also asked government to revise laws and administrative policies and practices that are denying women equal rights and access to economic resources while undertaking legal reforms that will give women full and equal access to economic resources.
In August 2017, WARDC had organized a gender dialogue in commemoration of 50th anniversary of the creation of Lagos State. At the event which was attended by many prominent personalities, the organization called on policy makers in Nigeria to reassess the level and effectiveness of her gender equality commitments in different sectors such as education, health, governance and employment in order to improve the lives of women and girls across the country.
Akiyode-Afolabi explained that the event was useful in aggregating the concessions among stakeholders to mainstream gender equality, support a dialogue that will build the enabling environment for gender policy in Lagos State and build capacity in gender mainstreaming knowledge and skill. She further explained that the objective of the Policy Dialogue was to support the government and people of Lagos State in shaping policies that will promote gender equality and the development of women in the state post-50 years' celebration. "In reality, there are still lots to be done in promoting gender equality and development in Lagos State," she said.
The Women Environmental Programme (WEP) is a leading CSO which has carved a niche for itself as a strong advocate for gender equality in Nigeria.WEP is a CSO with consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), observer status to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and observer status to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Dr. Priscilla Achakpa, Executive Director of WEP said that the organization is committed towards achieving environmental sustainability, while empowering women and youth not only in Nigeria, but across the world.
In 2016, WEP had designed a project geared towards ensuring effective implementation of programmes, policies and legislations, which would contribute to achieving gender equality in Nigeria by 2030. The project funded by the Kingdom of Netherlands, targeted at contributing specifically to the attainment of gender equality in Benue and Zamfara states of Nigeria.
In Benue State, WEP organized the project in collaboration with the Benue State Ministry of Women Affairs. The pre-project advocacy and sensitization forum took place at the Benue State Planning Commission's Conference Hall, State Secretariat, Makurdi, Benue State, on December 8, 2016 and brought together members of the Benue State Executive Council, legislators, CSOs, women groups, traditional/religious leaders and the media within the state.
As a follow-up to the pre-project advocacy forum, WEP organized a two-day workshop for the Legislators, Commissioners and other State Executives held on June 7, 2017 at Benue Hotels, Makurdi, while that of the personal assistants to the State Executives and Legislators held from June 8 to June 9, 2017 at Hallydays Hotel, Makurdi, Benue State.
The workshop provided a platform for the legislators, commissioners and other members of the State Executive Council to clearly understand the concept of gender equality and practical ways of mainstreaming gender in programmes, policies and legislations. It became very clear to all at these workshops that gender equality is not a ploy by women to take over from men, but a request for equal opportunities for both men and women to realize their potential.
Achakpa said gender mainstreaming is very critical to the success of the SDGs in Nigeria, hence the decision of WEP to advocate systematically to the leadership of Nigeria and other African countries to understand why they need to address gender issues:
"They have all signed on to the SDGs and goal 5 of the SDGs specifically talks about gender equality and women's empowerment. As such, integrating gender into our development agenda is a very important issue. Although I will say it is a slow process, we strongly believe we shall get there."
The Initiative for Peace and Comfort (IPC)
The Initiative for Peace and Comfort (IPC) is also deeply involved inensuring gender equality and empowering all women and girls. Dr. Comfort Onifade, Executive Director of Initiative for Peace and Comfort (IPC) said the organization's work in ensuring gender equality and empowering women and girls in Nigeria are evident in the organisation's engagement in many activities that would enable them fulfil their aspirations in a peaceful and prosperous country. She said that IPC in collaboration with the Community Education Advancement of Peace and Development Initiative (CEAPDI) and the Gender Development Initiative (GENDI) recently conducted training on information and communication technology (ICT) for about 40 girls and over 50 boys at Asayi Lokoji Village. IPC also organized a Capacity Building Retreat for couples in Abeokuta, Ogun State, South West Nigeria where they discussed extensively the Equal Roles of Men and Women Towards Achieving Peaceful Homes in a Peaceful Society.
In collaboration with a research team from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), IPC has equally conducted a study on "Violence Against Women" at Ode-Omi of Ijebu waterside, Ayetoro in Ogun State, and paid sensitization visits to some parts of Kwara State where it advocated for gender equality. Over 200 women and 100 men were sensitized.
Besides, IPC had partnered the Women of Worth Team to train and educate thousands of Nigerian women on Improving Female Self Worth at Achieving Gender Equality in the Society.
Women Arise for Change Initiative (WA)
Women Arise for Change Initiative has equally been active in championing the cause of women and clamouring for the elimination of all kinds of gender-based discriminations affecting women in its bid support the Nigerian government to achieve Goal 5 of the SDGs by 2030.
Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, President of Women Arise for Change Initiative (WA) said in order to help government address issues affecting women and girls in the country, the group provides training for women and girls in both the rural and urban areas . The training programmes are mainly on women's human rights as a way of equipping the women with basic knowledge needed to defend their human rights and fundamental freedoms. "Our organization also conducts advocacy meetings and policy dialogues with the federal and state governments in order to formulate pro-women policies. Between 2013 and 2017, WA has met with not less than 16 state governments across the nation. WA continues to conduct women political participation capacity workshops across the nation," she said. According to her, Women Arise also operates a counselling centre for women and girls where survivors receive prompt response to issues of gender-based violence such as rape, sexual assault, battering, abandonment, stalking, and psychological torture. It has handled not less than 4,000 cases in this regard.
She noted that although the Nigerian government has pledged and signed various international agreements and treaties that seek to end all forms of violence against women and most importantly gender-based violence, the past and present administrations have not demonstrated the political will to ensure an end to all forms of discrimination against women by the year 2030:
"Though there are pockets of laws and policies that have been put in place through civil society efforts and partnership with government at the federal and state levels, the implementation of the laws and policies have been very slow and in some places not even implemented at all. For instance, the Nigeria gender policy stipulates that there should be 35% affirmative action in political and elective positions for women at all levels of government but till date; no government in Nigeria has implemented this aspect of the policy. The Nigerian government pays lip service to gender development as we are yet to see concrete actions that will really achieve the Sustainable Development goal number 5 by the year 2030."
Okei-Odumakin explained that as a gender activist, she is not satisfied with government's response to various issues affecting women rights, career and participation in the socio-economic and political development in the country:
"There are still a lot of issues that are begging for government attention. For instance, there are still a lot of work place discrimination against women as regards maternity leave, promotions and dignity of labour. Women are still majorly marginalized in politics. Women's political participation is very poor and women's economic empowerment is not a priority of government. Gender disparities in education have persisted from basic education to tertiary education. The invasion, killings and abduction of girls and women has worsened the condition of girl-child education in many parts of Nigeria, particularly the North East where Boko Haram insurgency has made life unbearable for women."
Okei-Odumakin said that WA would continue to canvass that government should put in place proactive policies and laws that would check violence against women. According to her, while the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act has become law at the federal level, several states in Nigeria are yet to replicate the law despite efforts by development workers and international development partners in Nigeria to push it through:
"A good number of states are still foot-dragging on this law and policies. In the same vein, the federal and states government are yet to legislate on harmful cultural and traditional practices that discriminate against women such as widowhood, not standing surety, right to own land. Violence against women is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence. Given the devastating effect violence has on women, government's efforts have mainly focused on responses and services for survivors. However, government needs to realize that the best way to end violence against women is to put in place laws and policies that prevent it from happening in the first place by addressing its root and structural causes."
To address gender imbalance in Nigeria, Okei-Odumakin urged government to recognize that male violence against women is a major structural and societal problem based on the unequal power relations between women and men and therefore encourage the active participation of men in actions aimed at combating violence against women. "Above all, government should develop policies that will enable women equal access to resources such as land, training, technology and credit. These efforts will go a long way towards attaining goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals," she said.
Campaign for the release of Chibok Girls
Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA), a coalition of over 500 CSOs, faith-based organizations (FBOs), Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), working in the area of education in the 36 states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is equally involved in the gender equality drive.
Since May 14, 2014 when Boko Haram abducted over 200 girls from Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS) Chibok in Borno State, CSACEFA has been working on the ground to lobby for the release of the girls. It has also been appealing to the federal and state governments to intensify efforts towards ensuring the security of children especially the girl-child in schools. CSACEFA members across the country equally joined the BringBackOurGirls #BBOG movement as they embarked on several campaigns and rallies in this respect until the release of a good number of the girls.
CSACEFA recently cautioned that the abduction of Chibok Girls in 2014 and another set of 110 female students from the Girls' Science Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State on February 19, 2018, would slow down the progress made in the campaign for girls' education especially in the north.
Mrs. Chioma Osuji, the Policy Adviser of the coalition urged the government to step up measures that would lead to the rescue of both the remaining Chibok girls. According to her, girls face increasing dangers in the society because if they are not raped, abducted and given out to marriage at tender age, they will be given out as house helps. "We are worried because as concerned citizens, the attacks on girls in schools in the North East will cripple the successes we have recorded in championing the cause for the education of the girl-child. And if this is not urgently addressed, in few years to come, it might endanger girls/women participation and representation in our democratic processes," she said.
From the foregoing, it is clear that CSOs in Nigeria have been mounting relentless pressure on government to implement good policies that would enable the country achieve gender equality by 2030.