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Whither gender sensitive policies to guarantee women’s rights?

By Augusta  Akparanta-Emenogu
Early this year, a Non Governmental Organization held a national summit on Violence Against Girls in Schools. As part of that event, girls from schools in various parts of the country and from primary through tertiary institutions converged on Abuja.

They shared views about understanding of what the phrase “Violence Against Girls” meant, its ramifications, consequences as well as the effects on the lives of those touched by that scourge.

To one little girl, violence simply translates into “ that which pains’’. To another, “violence is when  you are cornered in the dark by some boys’’.  The Violence Against Girls’ campaign also had the support of some male students, especially those from institutions of higher learning.

A boy from an institution of higher learning in Abuja shared, on behalf of a female friend, the experiences of a rape victim within an academic environment.

No one said anything about whether such a rape victim had contracted HIV, neither did anyone hazard a guess as to whether she had received specialist counseling or medical care. Could this be because there are no gender responsive programmes and projects in most educational institutions?

All that was relayed at that event was that the rape victim had recoiled into herself and was desirous of putting the event behind her.

Habiba’s (not real name) story brings to the fore, the need to mainstream gender and human rights in various sectoral policies in the country. Even though HIV and AIDS interventions are expected to involve a multi-sectoral approach, hardly are concrete efforts made to include gender or human rights components in addressing the HIV pandemic in the country. Often, there are policies but such policies either are either not gender responsive or if they are, they are not well implemented.

Recently, to address this short coming, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in collaboration with the United Nations Fund for Women and the Centre for Women’s Health and Information undertook to raise awareness on the need to engender policies in three key social sectors of education, health and agriculture in order to guarantee women’s human rights. The initiative was implemented in Cross River, Taraba and Bauchi States.

It built capacity of women in these States begin  advocating for issues of women rights to be mainstreamed in policies so as to make them gender sensitive. The project also provided space for those empowered through the project to start engaging with duty bearers to demand for gender responsiveness in policy formulation and implementation.

Kemi  Ndieli, Officer-in-Charge  at the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) said need for the project was informed by the fact that although Nigeria had many policies, which address sectoral response to HIV and AIDS, such policies had not been gender responsive; neither had  policy makers made deliberate efforts to mainstream gender into them.

To address the challenge of gender neutral policy, which does not guarantee women’s rights, both Atinuke Odukoya of Centre for Women Health Information, Lagos, advise that many more local and international organisations should cease to pay lip service to issues of gender. They say there must be gender responsiveness both in designing and carrying out programmes.

Said Ndeili:  “ Many policy makers view women issues with disdain. But UNIFEM, OXFAM and a few others  carried out an analysis of our AIDS effectiveness and discovered that indeed, many organisations simply pay lip service to issues of gender and human rights.

“Year 2015 seems so far away but we have just six years to go. Organisations like UNIFEM and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) are ready to run with that vision. Many call them soft issues. But here are really the very hard questions, which go to the roots of addressing poverty issues. They must be tackled for us to make any form of progress as a nation.’’

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