As the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 and 2019 general elections, Muhammadu Buhari promised gender equality and equity in all areas of the economy if voted into power.
Having served as the president for eight years, data shows Nigeria is still far behind in attaining gender equality, one of the prerequisites of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Buhari’s pledge as candidate
During his campaigns, Mr Buhari said one of the priorities of his government if elected would be women’s empowerment and gender equality in all areas of the economy and national development.
At a campaign stop, he said: “APC under my administration is committed to gender equality in all areas of the economy and national development. I will ensure the implementation of gender policies, especially women empowerment, and promotion of women’s equality and equity.
“I will provide a level playing ground for our women at all levels of governance and strong political will to promote gender equity. I will also make concerted efforts to empower women in rural areas and provide legal protection for women against violence, rape and abuse.
“I will ensure women have better access to credit facilities to support their businesses. I will also ensure that women’s interests are protected and safeguarded.”
His eight-year reign as president has seen more gender-based violence cases, child marriage, a decline in women’s representation in politics and more female out-of-school children, exacerbated by insecurity.
Failure to implement gender policy
Before the presidential election in March 2015, Mr Buhari met with women groups in Lagos, south-west Nigeria and specifically promised to implement the 2006 National Gender Policy (NGP), to ensure gender equality for Nigerian women.
Mr Buhari said the policy, which stipulated 35 per cent female representation in governance, would “serve as a roadmap for the promotion of women empowerment and gender equality.”
But throughout his eight years in office, Mr Buhari reneged on his promises to Nigerian women as he appointed only six women out of the 36 cabinet ministers, representing about 16 per cent.
Again in 2019 during his reelection campaign, he promised to create more room for inclusion in government by achieving 35 per cent in female appointments, only to appoint seven women into his 43-member cabinet, another 16 per cent representation.
Mr Buhari’s administration also witnessed a decline in women’s participation in politics, from 29 females in the National Assembly in 2015 to 18 in 2019.
Poor gender equality index ranking
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
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 which sought to promote opportunities for women in politics, governance and the society at large, failed to get the required number of votes to be included in the proposed amendment to the 1999 Constitution.
The five 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.
On maternal mortality
During the electioneering campaign in 2015, Mr Buhari and his wife promised to reduce maternal mortality by more than 70 per cent within four years.
Despite signnificant progress, achieving a 70 per cent reduction is still a tall dream eight years after the APC government came into power.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that about 58,000 maternal deaths occurred in Nigeria in 2015 and that the maternal mortality rate declined from 1350 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 814 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015.
By 2022, the latest United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report titled “Situation of Women and Children in Nigeria,” states that the country recorded 576 maternal mortality per 100,000 live births.
Also, a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranked Nigeria as the country with the second-highest number of maternal, neonatal and child deaths worldwide.
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.
Mrs Buhari in 2017 handed over a maternity complex to the Katsina State Government, out of her commitment to improving the healthcare delivery system in Nigeria and the reduction of the health burden of women.
Also in 2020, as part of an effort to reduce maternal mortality in the country, the federal government launched the Nigeria Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent and Elderly Health Plus Nutrition (RMNCAEH+N) platform.
On Women’s economic development
Despite the launch of N1.6 billion special intervention fund for women’s empowerment in 2016, among other interventions, Nigeria still ranks poorly on women’s economic participation.
In the 2022 World Gender Gap report, Nigeria ranked 50th in economic participation and opportunity and 134th in educational attainment.
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, while in low and middle-income countries, women account for one-third or lower of the human capital wealth.
The report reveals that, in terms of access to finance, women in Nigeria have near equal rights in accessing financial services, near equal access to land assets and uneven rights to access non-land assets.
However, in February, a few months before the end of his administration, Mr 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.
Girl child education
As of March 2022, the Chief of the UNICEF field Office in Kano, Rahama Farah, revealed that Nigeria has a record of 18.5 million out-of-school children out of which 10 million are girls.
“Most importantly you will need to know that the majority of these out-of-school children are actually from Northern Nigeria.
“This situation heightens the gender inequity, where only 1 in 4 girls from poor, rural families complete junior secondary school education,” the official said.
The UNICEF field chief said bandits’ attacks in the North-west states have also compounded the situation.
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.
FGM, other forms of SGBV
In November 2022, the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, said 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.
Ms Tallen added that 32 states had also domesticated the Child Rights Act (CRA) 2003.
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 such as child marriage are prevalent in Nigeria, with 43 per cent of girls married before the age of 18 and 20 per cent between ages 15 and 49 have undergone FGM.
In June 2020, the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency on gender-based violence in the country following the massive protests held by women’s rights activists around the country.
In 2016, the federal government alongside the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa launched the National Strategic Plan to End Child Marriage in Nigeria 2016-2021.
But child marriage has remained a major concern, as a UNICEF report published in June 2022, 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.
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.
Gender Experts Speak
The Deputy Director at the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) and a gender inclusion advocate, Busola Ajibola, believes the current state of poor representation of women in politics is entirely not the fault of Mr Buhari, “but a reflection of a society that resists women’s leadership.”
She, however, noted that there were areas where President Buhari could have salvaged the situation but failed.
“Historically, women’s representation in public service has been poor. It did not get better under the Buhari-led administration.
“According to Mr Femi Adesina, Mr Buhari’s spokesperson, only 50 out of 1,316 heads of government agencies are women, accounting for less than 5 per cent representation.
“The situation is not any better at sub-national levels, where women hold only a small fraction of political leadership positions,” she said.
Speaking further, she said the statistics for political gender participation in the incoming 10th Assembly is worse than what was recorded in the 9th Assembly.
She said: “This gender disparity is a cause for concern because policies made without adequate representation of women are unlikely to address the socioeconomic realities of women and children in the country.
“But the incoming administration can save the situation by ensuring women’s appointment at all levels, including MDAs, to meet a minimum of 35 per cent.”
She suggested that the new president, Bola Tinubu, should revisit 2003-2007 when women’s appointments hit 41 per cent because “that is the record to beat.”
Also, the Founder of The Unbroken Foundation – a non-governmental organisation that advocates and challenges all forms of gender-related violence – Sonia Obi-Okodo, decried the number of out-of-school children.
“Female children still account for the highest out-of-school children in the country and one of the highest in the world. I mean we can go on and on about how greatly marginalised women are,” she said.
Mrs Obi-Okodo charged the incoming administration to enforce policies that safeguard women.
“We want policies and enforcement of these policies that ensure the end of child brides, education for children especially the girl child, and policies that allow for women to thrive in politics.
“We want more female representation at the helm of affairs. We want training for law enforcement agencies that are supposed to help us counteract gender-based violence in the country. We want swift prosecution for suspects of gender-based violence. We are tired of one case stalling for five years via adjournment,” she said.
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