Gov. Seriake Dickson: Empowering Women & Building Families

By BioCatherine Oguara
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In Nigeria, women constitute about 50% of the population, 51% of the voting population and provide more than 70% of services for the sustenance of the household. The role of women in nation-building cannot be over-emphasized. Women are very important in the sustenance of the family through subsistence agriculture, fishing and petty trading.

The contributions of women to nation building is so enormous that several national and international conferences have been held to underscore the need to factor-in women in development planning, especially in politics.

The United Nations organized the fourth world conferences on women. These took place in Mexico City in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995. The Beijing Conference was followed by a five-year review of all previous conferences. The Beijing conference marked a significant turning point for the global agenda for gender equality. The Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action, adopted unanimously by 189 countries, is an agenda for women’s empowerment and considered the key global policy document on gender equality. It sets strategic objectives and actions for the advancement of women and the achievement of gender equality in 12 critical. These areas include:

Women and poverty
Education and training of women
Women and health
Violence against women
Women and armed conflict
Women and the economy
Women in power and decision-making
Institutional mechanism for the advancement of women

Human rights of women
Women and the media
Women and the environment
The girl-child
More than 90% of these areas were built into the 48 targets and 8 goals of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs (now SDG’s). In spite of the several conferences and affirmative actions, are still being relegated to the background on issues of development, especially in developing countries, such as Nigeria.Today, Nigeria prides herself Mrs Margaret Ekpo, Mrs Janet Mokelu, Folanke Solanke – the first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, though not a full-fledged politician, was a very strong force to reckon with in the politics of the Western Region. Hajia GamboSawaba waged a fierce battle for the political and cultural emancipation of women in the North. Recently, we have had women who distinguished themselves in their chosen carrers. ChiomaAjunwa won the first Olympic medal for Nigeria. Dr. NgoziOkonjo-Iweala, Dr, ObyEzekwesili, Late Prof. Dora Akunyili and many other technocrats have contributed immensely to the economy of the State. While it may be safe to assert that Nigeria is yet to grapple with gender parity, there are some States within the Nigerian nation that are gender-sensitive.

In Bayelsa State, the Ministry of women affairs and social development was created in 1999 in line with response to the United Nations agreement to establish a mechanism for the advancement of women and matters affecting women.The Ministry was to create awareness that the women should be given equal opportunity as their male counterparts irrespective of their gender differences. The Ministry provided a platform for enabling women to articulate their needs and intentions known to the Government.

In February 2012 when Governor Seriake Dickson became Governor, things took a dramatic turn for better for the women folks. The administration christened Restoration believes that gone are the days when women’s position was in the kitchen. At his inaugural address, Governor Seriake Dickson declared free education bearing in mind that the girl child was disadvantaged in basic education. Then government appointed high profile women in government to take up issues of girl child education. The issues of harmful, crude and unethical practices against women was tackled. The First Lady Dr. (Mrs) Rachael Dickson also realized the prime place of women in education. In one of her addresses to the women folk, she said educating the woman means educating the nation.

A bill was introduced to eliminate harmful cultural practices that discriminates against the women and the girl child in Bayelsa State. The bill was passed into Law to provide the necessary legal backing to the rights of the girl child. Government also swung into action and created awareness by making policies for the protection and participatory rights of women and children in various endeavor. Prominent among these laws was the protection of safe motherhood and other legal instruments verging on maternal health and the rights of women.

The Bayelsa Ministry of Women affairs has a vision “to help build a Nigerian society that guarantees equal access to social, economic and wealth creation opportunities to all irrespective of gender, places premium on protection of the child, the aged and persons with disabilities; focuses retention of key operators in bother private and public sectors on mainstreaming the concerns of these groups of people in national development process.’’

The Bayelsa Ministry of Women affairs collaborated with Shell Petroleum Development Company, and empowered some physically challenged in the state in which about thirty young disabled Bayelsans benefited from it. The lucky beneficiaries were, 10 blinds, 10 deaf and dumb and several other physically challenged persons were trained in various skills and were provided with Capital to start up their own businesses.

During his thank you tour, Governor Seriake Dickson generously gave loans to women to ply their trade, engage in agriculture, fishing and other income generating activities. Empowerment of Women Distributed skills Acquisition of Equipment to Rehabilitation Centre’s in: These include Irrigation pumping machines, grinding Machines,, Sewing Machine, Commercial Phone Booth Accessories, clothing and other materials necessary for training and commercial activities.

Other initiatives on empowerment of women NGOs to establish various economic ventures, and in turn employed many women at the grassroots; some vulnerable women, including women in distress, women with disabilities, Widows, victims of HIV/Aids were grant-aided and provided with empowerment equipment such as grinding Machines. Coolers, Hair Dryers, Tailoring and Embroidery Machines to make them self-reliant; Skills on Agricultural skills among others.

Government has also played a proactive role in attending to the needs of the people in orphanages. A school for Special Children has been built at Opolo and more than 60% of the students are girls. To reinforce the need for women empowerment at the local level, a woman of substance has been appointed Managing Director of the Izon-Ibe Micro-finance Bank. The Bank was established to provide loans to Bayelsans especially women to promote entrepreneurship. Already, the Microfinance bank has started giving soft loans to potential entrepreneurs in the area of agricultural development, aquaculture, petty trading, and handicraft technology.

The 40 students given scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania were done of 50: 50 male –female bases. There is an aphorism that behind any successful man, there is a woman. The First Lady walks beside her Governor Seriake Dickson to give moral support to the Restoration Administration and created a conducive and enabling environment for good governance to thrive. The First Lady, Dr (Mrs.) Rachael Dickson has made it mandatory for every girl of school of school age in the State to be educated. The gospel of girl child education has reached all corners of the State and there is robust response to the sensitization mounted by the office of the First Lady.

Other prominent women include Dr. (Mrs) Agatha Goma, who is Commissioner for Local Government, The Director General Tourism Development Board, Mrs. Irene Ajuwa, the Director General Bayelsa Investment Promotion Agency, Mrs. Freda Bruce, and other staunch women in the Bayelsa Development Investment Cooperation. In fact Bayelsa women have never had it so good like they have under the Restoration Administration.

Before and during the governorship election, women played the role of mobilization and sensitization in all the Local Government Areas. The women from various communities in Bayelsa State rose against all forms of election violence and intimidation and exercised their franchise at the election, which saw the will of the people prevail. So many Permanent Secretaries and those occupying strategic position in Government are women.

There is no doubt that the pro-women administration of Governor Seriake Dickson will more women participation in Government and intensify the process of empowering women to give them a sense of belonging. As the only State in Nigeria that has fulfilled the 35% Beijing affirmative action, Bayelsa women are sure that the best is yet to come. Since the creation of Bayelsa State, the Restoration Administration is the most gender-friendly and pro-women empowerment administration we have had, and the credit can only redound to the key players in this administration.

Bio Catherine Oguara
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