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Can the real Nigerians please stand up?

By Denrele Animasaun

“The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.” -Aung San Suu Kyi

The emotive assault in the last couple of days has renewed the debate for the rights of women in Nigeria. I am not going to rehash the high voltage of sentiments of the current protest movement but what I am going to say is that the current debate has open old wounds and it is high time we lanced the boil and let the healing and progress begin.

It is a known fact that Nigeria is not alone when it comes to the discrimination, violence and other injustices against women. We should though, not pride ourselves that we are not alone.  When something is wrong, it is wrong, no matter how many people do it or practise it. We should instead, work towards readdressing the prejudices and imbalance against women. So without the proper and sensible dialogue, we will perpetuate the ever increasing inaction and nefarious acts against women in terms of poverty, deprivation and the deterioration of the quality of life for majority of Nigerian girls and women folk.

We cannot afford to let the same old chestnut of this is “our culture and our religious” reasons to colour our sense of decency and morality to condemn half of our nation to the rubbish heap. The facts are there for all to see: Nigeria ranks 118 of 134 countries in the Gender Equality Index. And according to the 2012 Gender in Nigeria report indicates that gender inequality not only exists in our country but it is at an alarming and worrying level.

The country’s lawmakers can best spend their valuable time (which we pay them so  handsomely for!) to addressing the  lack of gender balance in the economy, education, politics, health, access to justice and almost all areas of human development. The longer they look for distractions  and more the citizens revert to their  respective religious  and tribal trenches  and the less likelihood  it would be for  Nigeria to  take  its  pride of  place in the league of productive  and civil society.

We have been in denial for far too long and so often we encourage such incorrigible attitude and discriminatory practices towards young girls and women in our country for peace of mind and to avoid disagreements. We are only storing problems for the future. The opportunity of a better and inspirational choice should not be for the rich and the educated, it should be for all irrespective of their religion, tribes or gender.

When  the  elite and the powerful lay claims to “saving” the  virtues of the young girls from societal evils and ills  by  marrying them young, they are being economical with the truth. In fact, they  are  being delusional  and uncaring. These young  girls  are too young, physically  and mentally  not ready to  be at  the beck and call  of  these  men who should know better. These young impressionables are treated with kindness or respect and definitely it is not done out of altruism or selflessness.

On the contrary, these girls are traded like  cattle and commodities, the  life  that awaits  these  young, naive and helpless girls is  a life of servitude; making babies, keeping the households, rearing children, taking on responsibilities  way beyond their capabilities. They often die in childbirth, or left with damaged bodies, physically and emotionally damaged.  When they no longer serve their  purpose they are often tossed aside for  a young and newer models.  So what happens  to them after? They  live  a life  of  poverty, destitution and abandonment because  they  are dependent on the whims of their husbands.

This road leads to nowhere as we all  lose out  on the potentials of what these  young  women as they  could  have been educated, learnt  a trade, given an opportunity to access adequate health  care. The law should do more to protect the needs of girls and women.  As it stands in Nigeria, the 80.2 million women and girls have a significantly worse life chances than men and also their sisters in comparable societies; 60-79% of the rural workforce is women but men are five times more likely to own land. In eight Northern states, over 80% of women are unable to read compared with 54% for men. 70.8% of young women aged 20-29 in the North-West are unable to read and write and only 3% of females complete secondary school in the northern zones.

We  should  be  doing  something  to improve  the lots of women, not reducing  their  rights  and marginalising   their  opportunities in life.  So  enough of this  disdain   towards women, we must address  the  inequality  and allow people  to  work their  way  out of  poverty and penury. These are the salient issues that need to be addressed instead of physically and emotionally abusing young and vulnerable   children.

Unless we look at the way we treat females in our society, we will continue to look for scapegoats. That is the case, where the men, women and the system continue to mistreat our womenfolk and further regress our society. We cannot afford not to educate our girls, and there has to be a conscious effort in order to remove the obstacles that may hinder their education and their development. Otherwise, the barriers to progress and wealth will continue to elude us.

The World Bank stated, that in Nigeria, if young Nigerian women had the same employment rates as young Nigerian men, they would add 13.9 billion Naira to annual GDP. We need to encourage our young women to live up to their full potential.

The sad fact is one-quarter to one-half of girls in developing counties become mothers before age 8 according to the United Nations Population Fund. The focus should therefore be on health and human rights of girls and women. It  is the  rights of  all Nigerians all  without  exception  to  live  up and be given  the opportunity,  to live up  to their  potential. Let’s not  look  only  to  our  law makers, as they say  charity  indeed begins  at  home. So what  are  we doing as  individuals, families and communities to better the  lives of  our  women and  young  people?  We are the ones to make the changes and nobody else.


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