Affirmative Action : The Journey So Far
The Month of March in the last few years has succeeded in clothing itself in the toga of feminism. In countries like the United States,United Kingdom, Australia, amongst others, it is celebrated as Women's month. The most striking recognition given to the month is the observance of United Nation's International Women's Day every March 8. Considering decades of celebrating Women's Day, dating back to 1911, it is the celebration of the day on March 8 by the United Nation in 1975 during International Women's Year and the subsequent adoption two years later, in December 1977, by the General Assembly of a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions, that broaden the celebration across the world that gave it a true world view.
Nigeria is a signatory to numerous international and regional conventions and protocols aimed at promoting the development and well-being of women. Being a member of UN, Nigeria believes and “recognized the role of women in peace efforts and development and urged an end to discrimination and an increase of support for women's full and equal participation.” Following a demand initiated by Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) that a specific protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights to address the rights of women, be formulated, the Organization of Africa Union assembly mandate the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) to develop such a protocol at its 31st Ordinary Session in June 1995, in Addis Ababa. This effort culminated in the adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, known as Maputo Protocol. The protocol guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, to control of their reproductive health, and an end to female genital mutilation.
Over the years, the UN has developed themes to celebrate the international women's day. In the very recent, it had, Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All(2010), Equal Access to Education, Training, and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women(2011), Empower Rural Women, End Poverty and Hunger(2012), A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women(2013) and Equality for Women is Progress for All(2014). For International Women's Day 2015, the theme,"Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!” has been adopted.
This year's International Women's Day celebration is more poignant because it dovetails into the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women that would take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9th to 20th of March, 2015, with the main focus of considering current challenges that affect the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 20years after its adoption at the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. It is also coming on the heels of an impending end to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the enactment of a new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) later in the year. The historic Beijing roadmap focuses on 12 critical areas ranging from women and the environment to women in power and decision-making, girl child, women and the economy, women and poverty. It also features violence against women, human rights of women, education and training of women, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, women and health, women and the media, and lastly women and armed conflict.
In line with the foregoing and with roots traceable to the UN First World Conference on Women, held in Mexico city in 1975, African heads of state established the African Women's Decade (2010-2020) in Nairobi, Kenya, in October 2010. The bold initiative was aimed at putting women at the centre of development on the continent, to determine the conditions under which the participation of all African women in the continent's socio-economic development can be guaranteed.
The Women's Decade was established on the basis of ten thematic areas that would be treated at the local, national, regional and continental levels. The ten thematic areas are: fighting poverty and promoting economic empowerment of women and entrepreneurship; agricultural and food security; health, maternal mortality and HIV and AIDS; education, science and technology; environment, climate change and sustainable development; peace, security and violence against women; governance and legal protection; finance and gender budgeting; women in decision-making positions; and the promotion of young women's movements.
However, enforcing women's rights have been an herculean task in Nigeria, majorly because of socio-cultural undertones that have sustained the denial of women's rights to education, economic and political power in comparison to their male counterparts . In the preface of a publication by Centre for Democracy and Development,” Women, Marginalization and Politics in Nigeria (2004),” it was opined that marginalisation of women in society can be traced back to humanity's history. “It is not restricted to specific cultures and peoples; variations often occur in its nature and manifestation. However, it is by no means inherent in man's nature but a social phenomenon that reveals itself through relationships and emerging cultural values and norms often affirmed through existing institutional and legal structures in the society.” Thus, one need to emphasize that Socio-cultural biases, high cost of contesting for public office, political violence and undemocratic party processes are modern trends that can been blamed for the failure by Nigerian women to win public office positions. A good way to start is to review the Nigerian legal frame work to explore appropriate strategies that would ensure gender balance in political and social life constitutionally.
Despite the world's campaign for an affirmative action on gender related issues to bring about equality, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill lies in Nigeria's National Assembly awaiting legislation and while girl child education in Nigeria is yet to meet global demand. According to the 2013 National Health and Demographic Survey 35.1 % of Igbo women and 34.3% of Hausa-Fulani women have been physically and sexually abused before and in all, 25% of every married woman aged between 15-49 years admits experiencing emotional, physical, or sexual violence from their spouses. These statistics are worrisome and shows violence against women is not in any way abating.
In a research paper,"Raising The Global Ambition for Girls' Education," by Rebecca Winthrop and Eileen McGivney, in 2014, for the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, they wrote," In developing countries, 87 percent of girls enrol in primary school, but only 39 percent finish lower secondary." The paper noted further that giving the current enrolment rate in sub-Saharan Africa,"it will take until the year 2086 for all of the poorest girls to attend primary school, a full 65 years behind the richest boys."
Recently, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina, during an advocacy visit to states in the North East as part of a nationwide campaign to put the girl-child in school stated that 4 million girls of school age are not in school in Nigeria( I am sure the figure would be more than that). The Minister noted that, “rapid progress in girl's enrolment, retention and completion will have to double as it is now, if Nigeria is to meet the Millennium Development Goals of achieving gender parity in education by 2015 and improve their participation in the socio-economic and political development of the nation." But nothing beclouds Nigeria's drive to educate the girl child like the seemingly intractable security challenge in the Northeast that has led to the kidnap of over 200 secondary school girls, and displacement of many women and children.
Looking at international documents in support of gender equality through education, notably from the 1990 Education for All (EFA) Goals to the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and to the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), girls' education has been a priority, particularly in development conscious communities. Without education either formal or informal, it becomes tedious for women to access the required socio-economic status to gain political power and make policies that are gender friendly. Evidence abound on the pivotal role that educating a girl or a woman plays in improving health, social, and economic outcomes, not only for herself but her children, family, and community. Many scholars from empirical evidences have come to agree that educating girls and empowering women are smart economic decisions every leader must take. With more than half of Nigeria's population being female, investment in women should have rippled effect on every sector from health to agriculture, however, there has been more paper works on gender balancing than what reflects in the society as a whole.
No doubt, the current administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has created the highest leverage in appointive positions for women, but as many cynics would say, the diminutive war on insurgents that has wrecked havoc in many homes affecting women and children, has watered down any perceived achievements of the administration. Five years into the Africa Decade of Women (the decade is in two phases 2010-2015 and 2015-2015), Africa's biggest economy and most populous black nation is still struggling to achieve 35 percent appointive positions for women as part of the recommendations of the National Gender Policy of 2006. One then begin to ask what happened to the affirmative action mantra? To what extent are the federating states and local government areas conforming to this gender policy?
While Nigeria is yet to come to terms on how to deeply involve women in governance particularly through elective position, the visibility of women in public office is more pronounced in Rwanda with women making the bulk of the country's Cabinet heads, which makes President Paul Kagame's government the most female-dominated in the world. It should also be observed that what stood President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (who has just been recognised by Mo Ibrahim Foundation for good governance) out is the confidence his ruling party, South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO), repose in women. SWAPO has been applauded for making strides in gender equality, with 25 of 72 parliamentary seats filled by women.
The need for gender equality,has been encapsulated in the National Gender Policy, which sets the benchmark for women's seats in Parliament at 35% - 50% but considering the total number of candidates who survived the money induced primaries, the number of female parliamentarians post 2015 would be a little above 2%. This is low considering that there has been approximately a 2% increase in numbers of women elected into parliament in the previous elections. The only female presidential candidate does not even have a chance at victory not with President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari. And only one Female is contesting to be Governor.
It is in view of this that an affirmative action is expected to be taken by the National Assembly to address gender issues through legislation. The Affirmative Action should equalize the educational, employment, and contracting opportunities for women. Laws needs to be made within the convines of SHE Imperative; S- Security for girls and women, H- human right, gender equality, considering that women's right is human rights and E- Empowerment to have access to decision-making; political and socio-economic decisions. Civil Society Organisations need also to step up its monitoring and whistle blowing function to ensure that the 35% affirmative target is respected from Federal to Local government and within the private sector in order to evolve a holistic output.
Notable successes across Africa is the area of allowing women take the lead include Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - president of Liberia and Nobel Peace prize laureate, Joyce Banda - president of Malawi, Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma - head of the African Union Commission, Liberia's Leymah Gbowee - Nobel Peace prize laureate, and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula - South Africa's defense minister, reaffirms the saying that the girls of today are the women of tomorrow, let's join hand to empower the nation. Happy Women's Month.
Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni, a development worker, wrote from Centre for Democracy and Development. Twitter at him via @SM_S0407