By Tabia Princewill
MRS. AISHA Buhari, Mrs Osinbajo, Mrs Saraki and Mrs Dogara: when will change come for Nigerian women?The rights of women and girls have, traditionally and historically, been seen as a “soft” issue, particularly in the developing world.
That is, something occasionally trendy which officials in both the public and private sector (or their wives) have dabbled in. In Nigeria, it is difficult to separate feigning social consciousness from contrived publicity stunts unfortunately.
Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize winning economist, famously said “more than 100 million women are missing,” stating that women normally live longer than men but that in many parts of the world, the violence and discrimination women face means they simply “vanish”.
This euphemism, or milder, more elegant word to describe the dispiriting loss of millions of women to deaths caused by backwardness and illiteracy masquerading as culture and tradition, is a brutal yet unacknowledged truth in Nigeria. How many women and children has Nigeria lost due to the inefficiencies of our government over the past 50 years?
In the Western world, “gender discrimination” means unequal pay or sexual harassment. In Nigeria, we remain at the stage of fundamental indignities and injustices, which continue to occur on a daily basis.
For all of the luxury boutiques Nigerian women open across the country, or the amounts their husbands are able to amass, which paradoxically determines a woman’s social value and self-worth, it baffles international observers how prevalent poverty still is in our country today, or why a very small percentage of people seem to be holding the rest of the country to ransom, even sometimes without realising it. Women in Nigeria enable and reinforce their own stereotyping and disenfranchising but that is a topic for another day.
From the World Bank to the US military joint Chiefs of Staff, it is globally recognised that empowering women and girls is the quickest way to fight both poverty and extremism. Indeed, societies where women are marginalised are more likely to become extremist: male supremacy in society means that a country takes on a culture of aggression from which women, children and the society at large, are bound to suffer.
In fact, one could most probably conduct an interesting historical, comparative analysis between the cultures and economic development of the North and the South-South, which would show the link between terrorism, religious extremism/intolerance, and gender discrimination in cultures where ironically, women have played very important roles. Some scholars say Muslim countries or regions are affected by terrorism not because of Islam or its teachings but rather because of the poor levels of female education and the fact that women are not active participants in the economy or the society.
Women are the developing world’s untapped resource and the change we all desire in Nigeria must go through women in order to take root. Rather than political intrigues in the Senate, or hosting dinners involving the wives of the President, Vice-President, Senate President etc. Nigerians must demand a comprehensive agenda and strategy, from all these women to fight poverty and inequality particularly amongst women and children. Cancer initiatives, helping the homeless, these are all worthy and laudable causes but to really make a difference in the coming decade, Nigerian women of influence must come together to end the fundamental issues that put women at risk and therefore enable a host of other problems, which are all consequences of the misuse and mistreatment of women in this country.
This administration’s greatest challenge will be to integrate women, youth and children into the society. With over 10.5 million children out of school, according to UNESCO, this is both a national shame as well as an imperative. Poverty stricken women will raise children more likely to leave school, which is another generation of unemployed and unskilled youth that government must rescue.
We are not going in the right direction, if the new sexual offences bill is anything to go by. This bill imposes life imprisonment for rapists and those who have sexual intercourse with children less than 11 meaning, in essence, that it is now legal to have sex with any child so long as he or she is older than 11. Marrying that child then allows and basically legalises paedophilia. Only the utmost depravity, would make anyone consider that a human being, a person, called a “child”—precisely because both anatomically and mentally he or she cannot withstand certain pressures, which is why child labour, for example, is illegal in all developed nations—would be able to endure sexual acts without physical and emotional consequences.
Proof of this is obstetric fistula, a hole created in a girl’s body during a difficult birth (her body is too young, not developed enough for the exercise) leaving her incontinent, foul smelling and alone, as her family shuns her when this happens. In Somalia, a country Nigerians would be embarrassed to be compared to, fistulas are repaired and prevented and the procedure costs just a few hundred dollars. Are you ashamed yet, Nigerians?
Edna Adan, according to reports in the New York Times, a former first lady of Somalia used her savings to build a hospital to save women around her. In Nigeria, our first ladies, besides owning expensive properties and jewels, have little to no impact, outside of their pet projects, which are conduits for corruption and further oppression.
Rumours of past first ladies re-selling free vaccines given to them by donor agencies, is a disgusting trend. Mrs. Buhari, Mrs. Osinbajo and Mrs. Saraki in particular have been elevated, as spouses of the three most powerful men in Nigeria, beyond the wildest dreams of most Nigerians. Whether there is an office of the first lady or not is merely political grammar.
There is a reason why microfinance organisations focus on women: global poverty, it is acknowledged, is also in part (whether our patriarchal society likes to hear it or not) caused by unwise spending by men.
The world’s poorest families spend more of their income on alcohol, prostitution, sweets, sugary drinks and lavish feasts (according to reports published in the New York Times) than they do on educating children. But when women are financially enabled, this trend is reversed and girls are the biggest beneficiaries. Our first ladies should have competent people around them who can research and propose policies directed at women and children. Nigeria must make laws to ensure that when a man dies his wife inherits his property rather than his brothers, therefore plunging that widow and her children into uncertainty. Rather than legalise women’s pain, our government and its powerful ladies should help women thrive: Nigeria’s fight against poverty, our desire for peace and progress all starts with them.
The Nigerian Senate
YERIMA, Oduah, Kashamu…. what a senate! What a country. Nigeria protects those who do wrong and frustrates those who do right. A lot has already been said about Senator Saraki’s emergence as Senate president, all I’ll add is “only in Nigeria”: the indefensible always becomes the norm. Factions of the APC have already begun the battle for 2019 but who will fight for Nigerians? President Buhari remains this country’s only real hope as it becomes increasingly clear that “change” to some, was always just a slogan.
RCCG and Nigerian politicians
THE closeness between the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adeboye and members of the current administration is something not all Nigerians are comfortable with.
The Vice-President, professor Yemi Osinbajo is a member of the church and there is nothing wrong with that. But the constant ties between politicians from all parties and some prominent churches is disturbing as these pastors are known to live grand lifestyles, which in a country of mass poverty begets certain questions as to the origins of their untaxed wealth.
Recently, governor Akinwumi Ambode and his wife were seen at an RCCG assembly and one wonders if and how membership with the “super churches” has become a precondition for good governance.