On August 21, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Pauline Tallen as the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development.
The ministry, founded in 2005, has as its key objective the stimulation of action to promote civic, political, social and economic participation of women, coordinating and monitoring women’s programmes; providing technical and financial support for women amongst others.
Ms Tallen was appointed at a time when challenges faced by women in the country were, and are at record high. Some of these challenges includes domestic violence, low inclusion of women in politics, child marriage, female mutilation amongst others.
On assuming office, the newly appointed minister promises to tackle these challenges and also advocate for increased girl child education.
A PREMIUM TIMES review of the minister’s first year in office shows some efforts made.
Violence against women
The spate of violence against women surged in the past one year. This covers rape, sex trafficking, molestation at public and private offices, beating and other forms of violence.
During the lockdown period, there was a steady rise in gender-based violence as over 3,600 rape cases were recorded across Nigeria within this period. It was reported that each state in country reported not less than 100 cases of rape.
One of the efforts already in place to curb the rate of gender-based violence in the country is the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) act.
Signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2015, the VAPP Act is the single law in place that transcends the criminal and penal code in ensuring justice and protecting the rights and properties of victims of sexual and gender-based violence across the country.
Unfortunately, only 15 out of the 36 states of Nigeria have domesticated this Act.
In all of these, one of the major achievements made in the last one year is the passage of the anti-sexual harassment bill to curb issues of violence in the country.
Gender inclusion in politics and governance
When Ms Tallen assumed duty, the women group expected her to deepen advocacy for the implementation of the 35 per cent affirmative action for gender inclusion in politics and governance.
One year after, this is yet to be achieved as the inclusion of women in governance both at the state and federal level is still low.
At the time Ms Tallen was appointed, only seven of 43 ministers in Mr Buhari’s cabinet were women, that is 16.2 per cent.
Available data shows that the most women-inclusive government since 1999 was that of Olusegun Obasanjo. Eight of the 27 ministers in his cabinet were women, which stands at 29.6 per cent.
In the recently concluded Ondo and Edo polls, women were poorly represented in the entire process – from the different committees to the aspirants and final candidates.
However, Ms Tallen would still need some years if she is to bridge these inequalities between men and women in the political space.
“Women are the engine of the economy and must be carried along to improve the economy. Once women are empowered, the economy changes.
“We will make(an) impact if we are able to improve on the life of the vulnerable woman. Support them with income-generating activities, there will be peace and development,” the minister said, following her appointment.
Although efforts may have been made to achieve this, there is no significant evidence of women empowerment during her one year in office.
Majority of women, especially those in rural areas, are still living in extreme poverty.
However, a major achievement is the completion of the women affair’s headquarters in Abuja.
Girl child education
Ms Tallen identified the girl child education as one of her major focuses.
“The key word I want to dwell with is the girl child education, because most of the vulnerable women are uneducated. If a girl is uneducated, there is nothing she can do. She becomes vulnerable in the hands of men,” Ms Tallen said.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.
About 10.5 million children aged 5-14 years are not in school, according to the international agency.
It will definitely take more than one year to bridge this gap by putting more children in school
The national president of the Initiative For Women’s Accelerated Development In Africa (INWOAD), Evelyn Onyilo, said Mr Tallen’s performance can be rated as good, but noted that more milestones can still be achieved.
“For anyone that has been following the women affairs activities, you will know that she is a time-tested personality in the Nigerian political space and especially in gender issues. So, when she was appointed to be the minister, some of us saw it as a welcome development.
“One major symbolic achievement is the fact that she was able to complete a two-decade project, the Headquarters of the ministry of women affairs and social development.
“Women in Nigeria now have a house that they can call their own.
“And one important issue is the fact that she has been able to mobilize Nigerian women to speak with one voice. She holds regular sessions and meetings with women groups and she’s been able to at least make women have a sense of belonging in the scheme of things.
“Though we are not at the finished line yet, we know that she is doing all she can to make sure women are included in the governance of this country,” she said.
She noted that “Pallen has been talking about ending sexual and gender-based violence and mobilising action.”