Saturday, March 8, 2014, was this year's International Women's Day, the first of which was celebrated in 1911.

The celebration is a reminder of the plight of women all over the world while it marks their economic, political and social achievements.

In history, even among the most socially advanced nations of the world, the status of women was always seen as inferior to that of men.

Not only were women's roles secondary, women were, in several cases, totally excluded from participation in certain activities.

All that is now changing fast! The 1995 International Women's Conference, held in Beijing, was a significant turning point for women.

The Conference ended with what is now referred to as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, unanimously adopted by 189 countries, including the developing nations of Africa.

Nigeria was signatory to this historic agenda for women's empowerment and gender equality.

Before Beijing, social consciousness among Nigerian women could be said to be virtually nonexistent.

  We knew of women leaders/activists, like Queen Amina of Zaria, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Flora Nwapa, Margaret Ekpo and Hajiya Gambo Sawaba.

  Of course, we also knew of events such as the Aba Women's Riot of 1929, which was one of the very few struggles for the liberation of womanhood in Nigeria, if not Africa.

It is, however, wrong to give the impression that since then, Nigerian women have been politically docile or socially inactive, either collectively or individually.

There  have been other notable Nigerian women leaders and role models such as Kudirat Abiola, Grace Alele-Williams, Bolanle Awe, Hajiya Usman, to mention but a few.

Since the current democratic dispensation in 1999, the Nigerian political space has been enlarged for the participation of women who now occupy key positions in the legislative, executive and judicial arms of government.

  Again, the list is long and the careers are assorted - Justice Aloma Maryam Mukhtar, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dr.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, female Deputy Governors in a number of States, Ministers, Ambassadors, Commissioners, Permanent Secretaries and Directors in the Federal as well as State Civil Service.

It is needless to say that the nation's agriculture sector and the informal economy, especially the small and medium scale business sector, are dominated by women.

What is striking is that it is under the Jonathan administration that Nigerian women have attained the highest level of participation in the nation's social, political and economic life.

President Jonathan's Transformation Agenda contains a National Gender Policy which it mainstreams into all aspects of government planning and development.

A major component of that policy is women empowerment in politics.

Here, there has been a remarkable success in the creation of awareness on the participation of women in politics.

Not only has a Political Trust Fund been established to provide support to women aspirants willing to participate in general elections, a database of women political aspirants has also been created.

The implementation of Jonathan's Gender Policy has also resulted in an increase in women's representation in Government from 10% in 2011 to over 33% 2013, with the appointment of 13 female Ministers out of 42, representing 31% and 4 Special Advisers out of 18, representing 23%.

These appointments have set the stage for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target number three on Gender Equity and Women Empowerment.

Outside politics, two micro-credit schemes have been set up to assist women: (1) the Women Fund for Economic Empowerment (WOFEE), in collaboration with the Bank of Agriculture and the State Governments and (2) the Business Development Fund for Women (BUDFOW), in collaboration with the Bank of Industry.

The two schemes are revolving facilities with an interest rate of 10%.

  In addition to these efforts, 77 skills acquisition centres have been constructed and equipped across the country to increase income generation, through job creation, for women, especially at the grassroots level.

A recent research, conducted and published in a book, titled Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Champion for Women, shows that Nigeria was 23rd out of 188 countries studied, in terms of women mobilisation, appointment into positions, participation in governance and women empowerment.

What, precisely, accounts for President Jonathan's passionate drive to transform the lives of Nigerian women and improve their welfare and opportunities?  Part of the answer is that the President is married to a remarkable woman, Dame Patience Jonathan, who is endowed with some of the greatest human attributes and who is a natural mobilizer of women.

The President has, in his private and public life, benefitted immensely from his wife's virtues.

It is generally acknowledged, for instance, that it was Dame Jonathan's mobilisation efforts that secured Jonathan the massive votes of Nigerian women during the 2011 Presidential election.

The 2011 experience was enough for Jonathan to consolidate his faith in the qualities of Nigerian women.

He did not entertain any doubt whatsoever about their character, capacity and competence in playing any role in the land, whether political, technical or administrative.

That is the reason behind Jonathan's Policy of Gender Equality and why, as some Nigerians would say 'the President has surrounded himself with women and entrusted them with some of the most critical and sensitive positions.

' The good thing is that Jonathan's confidence in Nigerian women has not been misplaced.

Some of his administration's greatest achievements, since he came into office, have been in Ministries, Parastatals and Departments manned by women.

  For example, since the inception of the Jonathan administration, the national economy has been strong and steady.

  A recent forecast by the IMF has it that the Nigerian economy will grow by an average of 7.

3% in 2014, which is an improvement on the 6.
7% average of 2013.
  The person who has been working hard to ensure this resilience of the national economy is a woman, Dr.

Okonjo-Iweala, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance.

Another success story of the Jonathan administration is the Aviation Sector, which has been remarkably transformed all over the country.

Again, this monumental feat was achieved by yet another woman, Mrs.

Stella Oduah, former Minister of Aviation.
Nigerian women, serving in various other capacities, have not been less successful in performance.

Being a woman has nothing to do with my assessment of Jonathan's appointees.

  Without mentioning names, it is my humble opinion that the best of them are women; which is to say that Jonathan knew something about the Nigerian woman which most of us are just learning.

Or is it simply a matter of whatever a man can do, a woman can do better? Written By Jummai Calebs [email protected]


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