BY JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin needs no introduction. The President of Women Arise for Change Initiative and also of Campaign for Democracy, she is an activist who has unarguably made her mark within and outside Nigeria.
Vista Woman had a chat with her at an event organised recently by the International Federation of Women Lawyers- FIDA, in commemoration of the Day of the African Child which is marked yearly on June 16. There she bemoaned the sorry-state of Nigerian women and children, and also expressed her optimism over the possibility of a better life.
Without doubt, women and children, two inseparable beings, have continued to be at the receiving end of bad policies and mal-governance in Nigeria. The Nigerian woman and child are maltreated and neglected despite the strategic position they occupy in Nigeria’s social, political and economic relations.
Government at all levels pay lip-service to the issues of the Nigerian woman and child, especially, health and education. As usual, Nigeria joins the global community to perform the yearly Women’s and Children’s Day Celebration, albeit with unfulfilled promises from government at different levels.
Politically, socially and economically, the Nigerian woman, despite several potentials, has continued to experience discrimination on account of sex, because unlike Ghana which is matrilineal, Nigeria is a patriarchal society.
This, through barbaric belief and harmful traditional practices which relegate women to the background, therefore chokes up women’s participation. Poverty, discrimination against women, harmful and barbaric traditional practices, marginalization of women in politics, poor health facility for women and children, insecurity, child labour and abuse are still the lot of the Nigerian woman and child.
It is becoming more obvious that due to the high poverty level, Nigerian teenagers and young adults are increasingly getting involved in crime. Although the absence of comprehensive data has made it difficult to determine the level of children’s involvement in crime in the country, reports have continued to indicate that most violent crimes committed in the country are carried out by either young adults or teenagers.
The recent post-elections violence in some parts of the North is a clear indication. Most of the suspects were teenagers and young adults.
The historical marginalisation of Nigerian women in political and appointive positions is well acknowledged and documented. However, there have been some progress and marginal increase in the number of women into elective positions since 1999 until the last elections which recorded an unprecedented decrease.
In the Senate, for instance, of the 109 senators who emerged winners at the 2011 polls, 7 (6.4%) were women as against 9 (8.25%) in 2007, 4 (3.6%) in 2003 and 3 (2.7%). In the House of Representatives, of the 360 seats women won only 19 (5.27%), an abysmal decrease in the light of the success recorded in 2007 where the figure was 27 (7.5%).
Many people have expressed the view that the future of this generation of women and children really looks bleak since they are denied political participation and education which imbues their counterparts in other parts of the world with basic life-supporting skills.
The Nigerian woman has come a long tortuous way. Every step into the past shows us a strong and beautiful account of the Nigerian woman. That is why the memory of the valiant women of Aba, the achievements of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Queen Amina of Zaria, Queen Kambassa of Bonny, Omu Okweri of Osomari and Lady Oyinkan Abayomi should not remain just a memory. It should be source of strength, a pool of inspiration and a very regular reference point for us today as we make our own history as the women of 21st century Nigeria who are faced with more demanding challenges of better place for our children.
The Nigerian woman today is represented by a handful of creative artistes, writers, lawyers, medical doctors, accountants, teachers and technocrats. But unfortunately, we seem not to have warrior-women anymore and it is sad because we have wars all over the place being waged by men and governments, against women and children in Nigeria.
So, how do we fight back without warriors? There was a season when names like Okonjo- Iweala, Dora Akunyili and Oby Ezekwesili got great mentions in the media and that was as good as it could be. But they were all appointees who were in office by the grace of men.
We all saw what happened when Dora tried to do it her way in the last general elections. In politics, the articulate and versatile Nigerian women are represented at the political kitchen by the market women.
They call them women leaders. The women leaders try their best, mobilise women for the candidates, collect whatever is given and wait for instructions – when to clap, when to smile, when to frown e.t.c.
But we cannot blame them; they have enormous responsibilities in a harsh economy which might worsen soon. The women leaders, therefore, fly with one wing because the women who are lawyers, doctors, engineers, e.t.c. are not with them in the political kitchen to show them why they should not mobilise for men who rig elections, and why they should mobilize and stand for true and honest process.
Human development experts, stakeholders and observers believe that the only way the future of the Nigerian women and children could be protected from this type of unfolding anarchy, is for the state governments to incorporate both the Bill on the Prevention of Discrimination Against Persons and the Child Rights Act into their body of laws. Unfortunately, very few states have adopted the Child Rights Act, while many of the states are yet to buy into the idea. Thus, the fate of children in most states of the federation hangs on the balance.
My advice to women and children is that we must call on the relevant authorities to go beyond rhetoric and begin to sit down to address the issues and challenges facing us.
There is the need to build a critical mass of women who will pressurise government at all levels to implement the National Women Policy, to achieve the 35 per cent women participation in governance and to intensify efforts to achieve the MDGs and Vision20:2020.
The various agencies of government saddled with the responsibility to tackling women issues such as the Ministry of Women Affairs & Poverty Alleviation, Ministry of Youths, Social Development and Child Welfare, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health as a matter of urgency will need to review their policies to meet current realities.
Government at different levels have the immediate need to review their health policies and ensure that they meet the UN recommendation of not less than 25 per cent of total health sector budget for women and children.’