It has been established that the development of any country requires the participation of both men and women. However, gender relations have made it difficult for one half of the population (women) to make significant contribution to development hence the need to understand gender and gender relations.

The victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the March 2015 elections in Nigeria means that it will form the government as from 29th May, 2015. A major determinant of the success of the party will depend on its gender agenda. Luckily, the party's manifesto has clear provisions on how it will deal with women and youth issues titled a fair deal for women and the youths. A gender agenda which will incorporate a fair deal for women is therefore imperative for the new regime. In order to understand a gender agenda, it is necessary to clarify the concepts of gender, sex and gender relations.

The concept of gender is better understood when analysed with the concept of sex, gender relations and patriarchy. All human beings are normally born male or female. Young males are called boys while adult males are called men. Young females are called girls while adult females are called women. Women all over the world are marginalized. Even in the so-called advanced democracies, women are still marginalized. For instance in the United Kingdom and the United States, women representation in parliament was 9.1 and 9.0 percent respectively as at 1994. The UNDP's 1995 Human Development Report estimated that women's unpaid work is equivalent to some $11 trillion annually. [ii] Although women constitute over 50 percent of the population of the world, they are relegated to the background in every facet of life. It is important to note that there is difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to the biological differences between male and female. For instance, the adult female has breast that can secrete milk to feed a baby but the adult male does not have. Gender is the socially and culturally constructed roles for men and women. For instance, gender roles of men as owners of property, decision makers and heads of household are socially, historically and culturally constructed and have nothing to do with biological differences. Gender roles differ from place to place and change with time. But sex roles are naturally fixed.

Gender relations are part of social relations, referring to the ways in which the social categories of men and women, male and female, relate over the whole range of social organization, not just to interactions between individual men and women in the sphere of personal relationships, or in terms of biological reproduction. In all aspects of social activity, including access to resources for production, rewards or remuneration for work, distribution of consumption, income or goods, exercise of authority and power, and participation in cultural, political and religious activity, gender is important in establishing people's behaviour and the outcome of any social interaction. As well as institutions between individual men and women, gender relations describe the social meaning of being male and female, and thus what is considered appropriate behaviour or activity for men and women. [iii]

As noted above, women have been historically marginalized in all areas including social, economic and political spheres.  Luckily, there is a growing recognition of the untapped capacity and talents of women and women's leadership. From 1999-2009, the rate of women's representation in national parliaments globally has grown from 13.1 percent at the end of 1999 to 18.6 percent at the end of 2009. [iv] Africa has particularly seen some dramatic increase in the number of women in parliament from 10.9 percent in 1999 to 17.6 percent in 2009.

The status of women across the world today is precarious. About 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty are women. [v] In developing countries, women own less that 2 percent of all land. At least 60 million girls are “missing” due to female infanticide or sex selective abortion and an estimated 5,000 women murdered each year in “honour” killings. There is unequal distribution of food and health care. 93 million children who are not enrolled in school are girls.

It has been documented that in Nigeria, women and girls suffer systematic disadvantage and discrimination that is magnified for those in the poorest states and sectors of society. [vi] Nigeria's 80.2 million women and girls have significantly worse life chances than men and also their sisters in comparable societies. In Nigeria, 60-79 percent of the rural work force is women but men are five times more likely to own land. Women with dependants pay more tax than men. Women in formal employment are paid less than men. Nearly five times as many judges and permanent secretaries are men rather than women. Only 4 percent of local government councilors are women. Up to one third of Nigerian women have been subjected to violence. [vii]

This is why it is necessary to have a gender agenda for the Buhari administration.  Meanwhile, the manifesto of APC recognizes the place of women in governance and development. The party has clear programmes for women including political empowerment programmes, economic empowerment programmes, Nigerian women's charter and free education for the girl child up to tertiary level.

The agenda should focus on the following areas to address structural inequalities that constrain women. [viii]   First, it must focus on increasing women's access to, control over and benefit from basic assets such as land, water, forest resources and capital. At the core of this issue are power and policy: learning how to address these two factors is the key to bringing about equitable and sustainable development. Secondly, it must focus on enabling women to have more say in community affairs and at higher political levels. Opening avenues for women's representational role in decision-making bodies implies facilitating the right of association and expression, building awareness of women’s rights, questioning gender stereotypes, and facilitating women’s participation by ensuring the provision of basic services. It may also require positive action, such as reserving places for women in decision-making bodies. The gender policy provides that at least 35 percent of positions should be reserved for women. The new administration should implement this policy.  It cannot afford to come below the previous PDP government. Thirdly, it must support efforts at advocating and coordinating efforts to increase investments in basic rural infrastructure and services, particularly water, health and education – limited access to which places a special burden on poor women and girls. Finally, the party should have a programme for gaining men's support for women’s empowerment. Consciousness-raising among men has to go hand in hand with women's mobilization and group formation. The achievement of gender equality is not the sole responsibility of marginalized women: men and political leaders (both men and women) must also be engaged as champions of equality and women's empowerment. [ix] The gender agenda affects males in two fundamental ways. First is that implementation of the gender agenda depends substantially on the support of men. Men must realize that supporting gender equality and women empowerment is not favour done to women and not just a matter of good politics. Anyone interested in societal development must support women empowerment especially as all countries on top of the human development index have progressive policies that support women empowerment e.g Norway, Denmark, Sweden etc.

Secondly, there are some specific issues that affect boys and men and there is the need to address them in the gender agenda. Some of the issues include socialisation of boys and men into the patriarchal society with concepts of masculinity that makes them behave in such a way that is harmful to them and society. Examples include sexual behavior of boys and men which makes them vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and AIDs. Other specific issues include the refusal to go to school in the South East leading  to gender disparity in school enrolment and completion in basic education; the Almajiri system in the North which deprives young boys of basic education and the political economy of oil which prevents young boys in the Niger Delta from engaging in meaningful employment.

In all of these, it must be recognized that gender issues are not new in Nigeria. The country has a very good gender policy. But the gender issues have remained and worsened in some aspects because of failure in the past to do the right thing. Some of the reasons for the failure include appointment of people without passion, knowledge and competence to head government institutions that are supposed to lead key gender initiatives such as Ministry of Women Affairs and National Centre for Women Development; and lack of implementation of the National Gender Policy.

As a way forward the Buhari administration should have a clear gender agenda to address the gender issues in Nigeria with clear linkage to the male dimensions of the gender agenda.

***Dr. Otive Igbuzor is a Human Rights Activist, Policy Analyst, Development Expert and Strategist. He holds a doctorate degree in Public Administration.

It is interesting to note that in some Scandinavian countries like Norway and Sweden, the representation of Women in Parliament is as high as 38 percent(Nwankwo, N ). It is is 30 percent in South Africa(Budlender, D. and Hewitt, G. (2002), Gender Budgets Make More Cents: Country Studies and Good Practice. London, Commonwealth Secretariat

[ii] Morna, C. L. (2000), Gender Budgeting: Myths and Realities. A Paper presented at the 25 years International Womens Politics Workshop in Bonn from 13-14 October, 2000.

[iii] Pearson, R. (2000), “Rethinking Gender Matters in Development” in Allen, T. and Thomas, A. (Eds), Poverty and Development into the 21st Century. Oxford, Oxford University Press. P.18

[iv] Wollack, Kenneth (2010), Women as Agents of Change: Advancing the Role of Women in Politics and Civil Society. Statement by Kenneth Wollack, President National Democratic Institute (NDI) before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organisations, Human Rights and Oversight, June 9, 2010.

[v] Ibid
[vi] British Council (2012), Gender in Nigeria Report 2012

[vii] Ibid
[viii] IFAD (2003), Women as Agents of Change. Discussion Paper

[ix] IIbid

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