In 1995 when the world converged in China for the Fourth World Conference on Women, one major landmark initiative was the creation of benchmarks for member states, with regard to women’s development. That was the Beijing Declaration.
Chief (Mrs) Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi was at that conference in 1995. In this interview, the Executive Director, Women Consortium of Nigeria; South West Coordinator, Women’s Political Empowerment Project and National Coordinator of Civil Society Organizations for Beijing+20, speaks on how Nigeria has fared regarding the declaration, women in 2015 elections and more.
What’s your rating of women’s progress since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration?
In Nigeria, we have since the last 20 years vigorously pursued those 12 areas of concern. The declaration has actually been a major strategy for development, especially for having inspired the Millennium Development Goals fifteen years ago. About six of those goals also relate to women development.
That singular act of creating benchmarks has helped our nation to at least improve on the situation of women. Another critical area that is very germane to us, especially in Africa, is the issue of the girlchild. African women actually agitated for its inclusion. At that time, the issue of violence, female genital mutilation, child trafficking, and more were rampant. But after that conference, Nigeria came up with a national law against child trafficking, the first in the entire continent.
There have been improvements in girl-child education and economy also; we now have lots of women entrepreneurs and industrialists.
You sound satisfied with the progress made…
I’m not because our level of progress is not commensurate to the enormous wealth God has bestowed on our nation, which we are not enjoying because of corrupt leaders who are extremely selfish.
In what areas precisely are we lagging?
One major challenge right now is the language of the Nigerian constitution which is yet to reflect the sexuality of women with its use of ‘he’. Changing it was one of the decisions reached at the recent national conference and as a delegate, I expected those resolutions would have been implemented by now. We also insisted on 35% affirmative action being entrenched in our constitution like in those countries where we have seen increase in the number of women in government. Apart from that reserved percentage, women in these countries are also allowed to contest for the remaining 65%. This was also recommended by the Uwais Constitutional Review but nothing has been done.
We expected that as soon as we left the national conference, within the five months before electioneering, President Goodluck Jonathan would have ensured that the colossal amount of money spent on the conference did not go in vain, by implementing its recommendations.
As the National Coordinator of CSOs for Beijing+20, what are those issues you’re taking to the discussion table at the UN?
As we go to the conference, as CSOs, we are tabling two critical issues bothering Nigerian women. The first is the issue of women in decision-making. We have too few women in elective positions. In appointive positions also, most of states do not have up to 10% women as commissioners.
The second is the emerging issue of insurgency and insecurity; how do we put our children in school and be sure of their safety? How do we ensure Boko Haram does not adopt over 200 girls and we hear nothing about them about a year after? The issue of insecurity is most exasperating because it has never been like this in our country. Since 2010, defence has had the highest of our entire budget- over 25%, but what has happened? Nothing visible!
Instead, we have more Internally Displaced Persons.
What’s your take on women’s participation in the 2015 general elections so far?
We have a higher number of women who are registered as voters. Unfortunately, we are lagging in terms of candidates to take up elective positions. In fact, women have fared worse than they’ve ever done. In 2007, we had a higher percentage; about 13%. In 2011, it cascaded to about 6%. Now, we do not stand to have up to 4% because at the primary elections in the respective political parties, women were really short-changed despite these parties having 35% as part of their policies for women.
A lot of them in the National Assembly are not returning.
It appears to me that there is a deliberate attempt to drastically reduce the number of women in elective positions so that we’ll come begging for appointments. And then, they (men) will choose women of their choice and not necessarily those who have leadership qualities.
And you do not think those parliamentarians lost out at the primaries because they are incompetent?
That’s not true. These women have played their significant roles. For instance, Hon.Abike Dabiri from my own South West, was the one who moved the bill on Freedom of Information which is a very good and useful tool today for demanding accountability from persons in public offices. Many of them have done quite a lot. Hon.Mulikat Akande-Adeola, House Leader in the House of Representatives, has personally done a lot, including in the area of encouraging women’s participation in governance. In fact, she engineered the formulation of another Women Charter in revision of the old charter, so that the demands of women will be well articulated.
If you investigate properly, you’ll find that women parliamentarians have judiciously utilized their constituency allowances more than our male folks. You can see their presence in their constituencies. But their voices have been drowned because they are few.