By Josephine Agbonkhese
P rofessor of Sociology and specialist in gender development, Mrs Olabisi Aina is a lecturer at the Department of Sociology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State.
Presently, she is on sabbatical at the Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, where she is helping to establish a Centre for Gender and Development Studies. She is hence serving as Director of the centre which is being designed to enhance capacity building and technical expertise in the area of gender and development.
Olabisi who has gathered over 40 years of experience in her field was one of the personalities that represented Ekiti State at the national conference. In this interview, she says most of the Federal Government’s policies for women are pleasant only on paper.
Was it by fluke or ambition that you specialised in gender and development?
I think I was just lucky because my first and second degree programmes fell within the First Decade (1975-1985) of the women’s movement. The issue of gender began then and being that my academic mentor was also interested in that area, I soon found myself loving it. Since then, it has been my passion.
You’ve specialised in this field for decades; what would you say are the key issues hindering the advancement of women in Nigeria?
There are so many factors. It’s now a truism that women don’t have it that good, compared with their male counterparts, in many facets of life. Nigeria as a nation has signed so many agreements towards improving the place of the woman in our society. We have three primary instruments amongst many others: the Beijing Platform for Action, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and then the Millennium Development Goals. There has been some level of responses into adapting these international instruments, which has led to a lot of policy actions like the National Gender Policy of 2006, though. However, the effects of these policies have only been like a drop of water in a mighty ocean.
The strong point is that as long as the position of the woman is not equitable to that of the man, we will always see disparity in development in the society.
Talking about the National Gender Policy, how has it fared in view of the 35% slot pledged to women?
Our government has generally not been able to meet up with its social contract with women. As a matter of fact, most of its policies are only on paper and not in practice. For example, when you look at the politics of 35% affirmative action, you begin to ask yourself how far we’ve gone with it. In terms of elective position, we are nowhere.
It’s so terrible that we find people turning women down even in our local communities.
Funny enough, most of us know how competent most women can be when put in positions.
I however think the problem is that we are still fighting with patriarchal culture. That’s why you see even local communities preferring male leadership to female, irrespective of who is more competent. It is quite unfortunate that the local community has to be the first stage of conquest for any political aspirant.
What’s your assessment of the Federal Government’s numerous policies for women so far?
On paper, I think they okay. But it’s just that when you look at the reality, there is a huge gap between theory and practice. How many states are opening up to the National Gender Policy for example? That’s where it should start! Since 2006 that this policy came into being, only one state has domesticated it and that’s Ekiti State. So, where do we move from here when states cannot even open up to such a vital policy? Even where we have laws on widowhood practices and so on, how many people have been convicted? The 1999 Constitution for example says there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex, ethnic group and religion, but we know what actually obtains in our society. So, I’ve reached a stage where I believe one can no longer appraise Nigeria by its policies and laws.
So where do we go from here, looking at the 2015 general elections and its possible aftermath?
The truth is that everybody is afraid we might lose the gains of some ten years ago unless something is done. Looking at all the primaries, I don’t even know what else to say about women representation in governance. Very few women succeeded at the primaries and that means we are again dependent on the goodwill of a president to then “appoint” us- that’s if he will appoint.
As a sociologist, do you suspect the girls kidnapped from Chibok to be responsible for the series of suicide bomb attacks we’ve had in recent times?
I can’t be too sure but I will tell you that is what conflict does to the mental state of anybody; a traumatised human can do anything. These girls have been kidnapped for months now and you cannot tell what they have been indoctrinated with and given. They can be put on drugs and might even be ignorant of their acts. A normal person will not go about unleashing explosive devices on fellow human beings. Above all, these girls have been living in a strange land where they’ve been eating strange foods and drinking strange water, so, they can do anything.