These gender issues don’t seem to be ameliorating and in most cases, it is 2 steps forward and 4 steps backward. We appreciate the efforts of civil society organizations promoting gender equity in Nigeria but we need to do so much more. The cries and groaning of women needs to be amplified.
The International Women’s Day (IWD) is commemorated yearly on 8th of March. The origin of IWD dated back to 1909 but it was formally adopted in 1977 by the United Nations. For some countries, it is a public holiday and in others it is observed socially. It is intended to bring attention to gender issues such as equality, reproductive rights, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), etc.
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The IWD is fast becoming a social façade hiding the numerous challenges to which women are exposed. On March 8 every year, social media platforms are flooded with the annual themes of the day and graphical depictions of the theme. Organizations put out media statements and press releases to ‘identify’ with women without presenting to the public the gender composition of their boardroom and staff. Institutions that are known to the public to be unfriendly to women are also seen ‘celebrating’ women. In Nigeria, IWD 2023 enjoyed the usual social media hype. I could clearly hear the birds around my street corner singing embrace equity, also pictures of Nigerians with hands clapped around their bodies as if in warm embrace of a ghost greeted me on every social media platform I opened.
Yes, in Nigeria, gender equity is a ghost. Women are deprived in all sectors and while progress has been very slow in some spheres, others have retrogressed very rapidly in the past years. Women constitute about 50% of Nigerian population but the social, cultural, political and economic parities put them at 10% of the population.
Women are seen as weaker gender from cultural and religious perspectives. This has not changed. In most Nigerian culture and religion, women’s primary duty is to serve men and care for their children. They are expected to be backstage and, in most cases, not to be heard where and when men are talking. Albeit very slowly, this seems to be eroding as many women are finding their voices and gradually overcoming this suppression regardless of the stigma that might follow. SGBV is also on the rise. According to the 2020 Statistical Report on Women and Men in Nigeria by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 1 out of 3 women has experienced physical violence either by their partners or otherwise. Many young girls (about 45%) are married off or start bearing children even before they are 18 years old.
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In 2022, an estimated 43.7 million women (representing about 50% of people living in extreme poverty in Nigeria) were living below the poverty line (less than $1.90). Women represent over 60% of Nigeria’s rural labor force, yet they are five times less likely to own a land than men. Women smallholder farmers constitute over 70% labour force in Agriculture, yet women in that sector are the poorest. According to a 2022 report, only about 35% of women in Nigeria own a bank account in any financial institution.
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According to the NBS, only just 22% of engineering and technology University graduates (per annum) are women. In 2018, just over 9% of Nigerian police officers were female many of whom were in the rank-and-file cadre. Similarly, in the federal civil service, just 31% of officers on the directorate cadre and 27% of grade level 1-6 were women in 2019.
Politically, it is worst for women in Nigeria. In the current 9th Assembly, we have 9 female senators however of the 109 senators elect for 10th Assembly, only 2 of them are women. Similarly, we currently have 13 female house of representative members but this number is currently at 10 (out of about 340 results so far) for the 10th assembly. The political parties are seemingly not prioritizing gender inclusion in the political space. Gender equity and equality just doesn’t seems to be on the table for them at the moment. People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have 4 female senators in the current 9th assembly but could only produce 1 for the 10th assembly. The All Progressive Congress (APC) has no female senator for the 10th assembly even though it has 3 in the current 9th assembly. Labour Party (LP) however, managed to produce a female senator. For the house of representatives, the number of APC female members dropped from 9 in the 9th assembly to 5 for the 10th. Other parties with house of representative members elect are: PDP 2, LP 1, All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) 1, and Young Progressive Party (YPP) 1.
These gender issues don’t seem to be ameliorating and in most cases, it is 2 steps forward and 4 steps backward. We appreciate the efforts of civil society organizations promoting gender equity in Nigeria but we need to do so much more. The cries and groaning of women needs to be amplified. Women have endured enough of these suppression and discriminations. Women deserve a seat at the table, they need to be part of the decision-making process, they need to be heard and properly represented. Nigeria must start steering towards the attainment of SDG 5. For better economic growth, we need a more gender inclusive economy. Women are, against all odds, already contributing immensely to our economy and would contribute so much more if these barriers are eliminated.
Unfortunately, we cannot in all good conscience celebrate International Women’s Day with these very gory statistics. What we should be doing right now is to form alliances or rallying points to task every institution,/agency of government and every corporation in Nigeria to be gender responsive. We need to collectively develop and track certain indicators in line with sustainable development goal (SDG) 5. Every 8th of March in Nigeria should be a day to call for radical change and action for gender equity, a day to review gender audit reports of all organizations, institutions and agencies of government in Nigeria viz-a-vis the country gender indicators with a view to ascertaining areas we are making progress and where we are not.