Nigeria’s new Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Ohaneye, faces the challenge of putting women’s issues at the top of the agenda of the Bola Tinubu administration, addressing the multiple challenges women face and building on the limited successes of her predecessor.
The revised version of the gender policy which was unveiled in December 2022 seeks to promote gender equality, women empowerment and social inclusion in all sectors.
Like his predecessors, President Tinubu ignored the affirmative action call for women to constitute at least 35 per cent of his ministers. Instead, he gave them only eight of the 45 slots (18 per cent).
Apart from increasing the tempo of the agitation for the affirmative action, Ms Ohaneye also has a responsibility to advocate women’s economic development, and spearhead campaigns against child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and an increasing number of out-of-school girls.
Women’s Economic Empowerment
While there have been interventions like the launch of the N1.6 billion special intervention fund for women empowerment in 2016, Nigeria still ranks poorly in women’s economic participation.
Nigeria ranked 50th in economic participation and opportunity and 134th in educational attainment in the 2022 World Gender Gap report.
According to the report, gender gaps in wealth accumulation can be attributed to the underlying gender gap in the labour force.
Globally, women account for 38 per cent of human capital wealth, but in low and middle-income countries, women account for one-third or lower of the wealth.
The report reveals that women in Nigeria have near equal rights in accessing financial services, near equal access to land assets, but uneven rights to access non-land assets.
However, in February, a few months before the end of his administration, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated a 56-member National Advisory Committee On Women’s Economic Empowerment, High-Level Advisory Council (HLAC) to support Nigerian women and girls in economic development.
Also in May, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) policy, which according to Mrs Tallen, will bring about optimal development in the country.
In addition to the investment in promoting the livelihoods of women in Nigeria, the World Bank recently approved $500 million for the Nigeria for Women Programme Scale Up (NFWP-SU).
Nigeria’s ranking on gender equality index
Various reports on the gender equality index have consistently ranked Nigeria extremely low both globally and in Africa.
A 2022 report by the Gender Strategy Advancement International (GSAI), a non-governmental organisation, revealed that women’s political participation in Nigeria falls below the world and African continental standards.
The data showed that Nigeria ranked 181 of 193 countries on the Gender Equality Index, for countries with low women representation in governance.
The 2022 World Gender Gap report also revealed that Nigeria ranks 123rd out of a total of 146 countries.
The ranking on gender gap parity, uses parameters like economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, political appointment and financial exclusion/wealth accumulation of the female gender in the world.
Although Nigeria moved 16 places up in the ranking of the global gender gap index compared to 2021, it still has a gender gap of 63.9 per cent.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda, Namibia and South Africa lead the pack, ranking 6th, 8th and 20th globally while Nigeria ranks 27th out of 36 countries in the region.
Stalled gender equality bills
As the Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs Ohaneye is expected to review stalled gender bills which sought to promote opportunities for women in politics, governance and society at large.
On 2 March 2022, scores of Nigerian women gathered at the National Assembly to protest the rejection of bills seeking gender equality in the country. The bills failed to get enough support for passage under the process for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
The five rejected gender bills are special seats for women at the National Assembly; affirmative action for women in political party administration; granting citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women; at least 10 per cent affirmative action to ministerial appointment positions; and indigeneship rights to women to avoid the discrimination and violence women suffer in a bid to participate effectively in the society.
The issue of maternal mortality is also a major concern, as a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranked Nigeria as having the second-highest number of maternal, neonatal and child deaths in the world.
Nigeria follows India as the two leading nations where mothers and their babies are most likely to die.
Titled: “Improving Maternal and Newborn Health and Survival and Reducing Stillbirth: Progress Report 2023”, the report shows that in India, 788 women and children died ‘per thousands’ in 2020, while Nigeria trailed with 540.
According to the report, more women died in Nigeria from pregnancy-related issues than in India and any other country that year. Nigeria lost 82 women ‘per thousand.
The Buhari administration made concrete efforts to reduce maternal deaths with the establishment of some facilities including the launch of the Nigeria Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent and Elderly Health Plus Nutrition (RMNCAEH+N) platform in 2020.
Mrs Ohaneye is expected to work with the health minister to see how pregnant women and nursing mothers are prevented from avoidable deaths.
Girl child education
The growing number of out-of-school girls in Nigeria is another major issue for the attention of the Ministry of Women Affairs.
As of June 2022, data from UNICEF shows that 7.8 million girls are out of school in Nigeria: 3.9 million at the primary and 3.7 million at the junior secondary level.
According to the agency, 48 per cent of out-of-school girls were in the North-West and North-East.
The data was provided by UNICEF in April 2023, at the presentation of models for boosting child literacy and numeracy in Nigeria in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In September 2022, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in its global data reported that Nigeria now has about 20 million out-of-school children.
According to the statistics, India, Nigeria and Pakistan have the highest figures for out-of-school children globally.
Child Marriage, FGM
In June 2022, a UNICEF report revealed that Nigeria remains the country with the highest number of child brides in West and Central Africa, with the number of girls and women who were first married before the legal age reaching 23.6 million out of the 60 million in the region.
About 10.3 million of them were married before the age of 15, while 23.6 million women and girls were married before 18.
According to the report, the required reduction rate to eliminate child marriages stands at 31.4 per cent, and Nigeria’s reduction rate has stagnated at -0.5 per cent for up to 10 years.
Child marriages in Nigeria are more prevalent in Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, and Sokoto states in northwest Nigeria, including Bauchi State in the northeast.
READ ALSO: Despite having highest maternal mortality in Africa, Nigeria’s situation still underreported – Report
Child marriage contravenes the Nigerian constitution as well as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which affirm 18 as the age of majority, and guarantee a child’s right to be free from coercion and violence, and to get health care and education.
As of November 2022, former minister Mrs Tallen said 32 states had also domesticated the Child Rights Act (CRA) 2003, adding that 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had domesticated the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015, to curb incessant cases of violence across states.
She said the laws would help in reducing the menace of violence, especially Gender-Based Violence (GBV), ensure perpetrators are prosecuted, provide support to survivors and protect the rights of women, children and men.
A 2020 UN report revealed that Nigeria is facing a very serious GBV crisis with 30 per cent of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 reported having experienced sexual abuse.
Harmful traditional practices like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are also prevalent in Nigeria, with girls between the ages of 15 and 49 having undergone FGM.
However, the new minister is expected to ensure the state authorities that have adopted the law should create a strong action plan to ensure effective implementation of legislation.
The Executive Director of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), Hansatu Adegbite, urges the new minister to consider a policy around gender-responsive budgeting.
“This means that certain allocations of the federal and state government should be targeted at solving gender-related problems, including maternal health care, empowerment of female farmers, and so on,” she said.
Ms Adegbite, who doubles as the first female President of Business School Netherlands Alumni in Nigeria, added that there should also be affirmative procurement “that focuses on ensuring that in procurement policies both in the private and public sectors, a certain percentage should go to female-owned businesses.”
“Now while we know that policies are not enough to solve all problems we also know that there has to be a lot of engagement and cultural reorientation and a mind shift to solve issues around gender-based violence,” she said.
Similarly, a human resource professional, Pwana Duku, emphasised the need for a balanced policy to enable more women to take up major roles in the workforce and to bridge the pay gaps in some sectors.
She said: “When it comes to pay, I think there should not be any kind of disparity between men and women as long as they do the same kind of work. I think the minister will help also in trying to highlight professional women in some of the spaces that are not given fair treatment even in consideration for roles.
“We need to have that gender balance as a policy that women must make at least 40 per cent to 50 per cent of the workforce.”
Collaboration with other ministries
Titilope Gbadamosi, the former Special Assistant on Community Relations to the late former governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi, emphasised the need for the new minister to collaborate with other ministries.
Mrs Gbadamosi said: “The female population is affected by quite a number of issues – with political underrepresentation at its zenith, girl-child marriage, girl-child education, and women empowerment.
“The Ministry of Women Affairs plays an important role in the balance of the political ecosystem. This role encompasses deliberate efforts at solving issues faced by the female gender at every level of development.
“I expect the minister to work hand in hand with the Ministry of Education and other relevant sectors in designing an effective system of education for the girl child especially those in areas where female education is discouraged, knowing that an educated woman is an empowered woman.”
She added that the minister should work with the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, noting that a lot of women fall within the poverty category and that only collaborative efforts are necessary “for the growth and development of our women in times like this.”
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.Donate
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999