BY VICTORIA OJEME
For decades, she has championed women causes, either as an activist, gender advocate, community mobilize or as a politician. Her in-depth knowledge on women development and gender equity issues were further manifested when she served as the National President of the National Council of Women’s Societies and recently, as the Director of Women Mobilization of the Goodluck/Sambo Campaign Organization.
In a recent chat, current Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina, nevertheless lamented the cost of gender inequality and the general poor condition of women, adding that it is a major constraint to growth in the country, and stressing that investing in girls and women is an investment in Nigeria’s future development.
Impact of inequality
THE statistics of the state of the Nigerian women and adolescent girls are appalling. Significantly, they are worrisome all over the country, North, South, East or West. Women everywhere in Nigeria have worse life chances than men. “Nigeria ’s 80.2 million women have a worse chance in life than the men; 60-79% of the rural workforce is women but men are five times more likely to own land. More than 70 % of girls and women between 20 and 29 in the North West cannot read or write and only 31% complete secondary school. Women occupy 21% of non formal sector positions and only 17 % of this in senior cadre,” she stated.
According to her, Nigeria is marked by huge geographical disparities. “Human development outcomes for girls and women are worse in the North, where poverty levels are sometimes twice as high as parts of the South (72% in the North-East compared with 26% in the South-East and a national average of 54%). Nearly half of all children under five are malnourished in the North-East, compared to 22% in the South-East. Hausa girls, for example, are 35% less likely to go to school than Yoruba boys.
“The impact of inequality on the lives of girls and women is reflected starkly in health and education outcomes, nationally and between North and South. Levels of gender violence are also high, notably in the South where inequality is greatest,” she said.
Maina further identified women economic independence as an essential dimension of women’s empowerment, saying, “Improving their access to and control over resources increases investment in human capital, will in turn improve children’s health, nutrition, education and future growth. Though many women are involved in subsistence agriculture and off-farm activities, men are five times more likely than women to own land. Women own 4% of land in the North-East, and just over 10% in the South-East and South-South”, she said.
The Minister advocated a reversal of the trend, insisting that, “Land ownership and land tenure give women security and provide a key to access other resources and opportunities.
Inequality in formal sectors
She also observed that income inequality in the formal sector is another area of concern for national gender mainstreaming, stating that only one in every three employees in the privileged non-agricultural formal sector is a woman.
The Minister noted that regardless of their educational qualifications, women occupy fewer than 30% of all posts in the public sector and only 17% of senior positions. She suggested that the public sector could highlight and address this issue by conducting a gender audit to identify where gender equity can be strengthened in recruitment, promotion and pay.
The issue of Girl-Child education is another concern for the minister as she noted that for Nigeria to capitalize on the potential of its people, and ensure healthier, more educated, empowered and productive citizens, it must invest in educating the mothers of the next generation.
“The evidence is irrefutable that educated women are more likely to use health services and to have fewer and better-nourished children, and their children are more likely to survive. Girls who are educated will also contribute to future economic growth. Education policy can influence parental decisions about the need to educate the girl-child”, the Minister said.
The minister also noted that Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world. The figures, according to her, show wide disparities between States and across communities as she said, “70.8% of young women aged 20-29 in the North-West are unable to read or write compared to 9.7% in the South-East. Several reasons explain this; socio-cultural traits, poverty, early marriage, early childbirth, poor sanitation, and the shortage of female teachers.”
Maina lamented further that the nation has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world with one woman dying every ten minutes during delivery, “That is 545 deaths per every 100,000 successful deliveries; nearly 50% of all Nigerian women are mothers before they turn 20.
She attributed this to the weak economic base of the women and their inability to access quality health care services, adding that “decisions to seek treatment may be influenced by a woman’s social position in the household, and her economic status, age, and education.”