As the 2019 election draws nearer Nigerian women are re-grouping to ensure they have a better outing than they had in 2015. In this report ENE OSANG examines the significance of the recent One Million Women March in Abuja by the Women4Women (W4W) and He4She movement on the theme: Pressing for Progress.
The quest for women economic empowerment and increased participation of women in elective and appointive positions in Nigeria remains work in progress as internationally set targets are yet to be achieved.
This is more so as some mile stones attained in the last political dispensation appear to have been lost making it imperative for the women to regroup, correct their mistakes and work towards achieving better results in the forthcoming elections.
Women for Women and He4She is a project committed to mobilise Nigerian women into a movement/pressure group to get them to speak up on issues of women and girls.
It comprises men and women from different political and non-political interest, who want to see more women participate in changing the circumstances of the country by voting and being voted for as well as raising their voices on issues that affect them.
It came into being following the realisation that the status of women and girls in Nigeria is not where it should be and want to make Nigeria leaders do something about it especially as the 2019 electioneering gathers momentum
One million women march
The pan Nigeria women’s political rally and assembly otherwise knowns as One Million Women Rally held in Abuja earlier this month is said to have been inspired by the need to rise the number of women representation in governance as well as every other sector.
Like in the old days of Hauwa Shawaba, Margaret Ekpo, and the Aba women riot, the rally drew women from across the country, under one umbrella, to make demands on government on various issues affecting women.
It was designed to launch the message of the Women4Women, He4She movement, which was thrown up and generated at the grassroots.
For Convener of the rally, Hon. Nkoyo Toyo, a former member of House of Representatives’, representing Calabar/Odukpani Federal Constituency of Cross River state, said the march was influenced by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) to transform the world.
She decried that women and girls have continued to be discriminated upon and marginalised even in areas where they have proven their capability and called for genuine support on inclusive government where both men and women will have equal opportunities.
“In Nigeria, as compared to men, women have command over fewer resources both in terms of political and economic power as a critical resource since in most cases women spend significant proportion of their time on activities that are largely not coated in fiscal terms. This, results in gender inequality,” she maintained.
Nkoyo, who is also former Nigerian ambassador to Ethopia, noted that towards addressing the problem of gender inequality there are a number of legal provisions that guarantee the rights of women, however these provisions have barely been met as women continue to struggle to grow.
“Today, we demand the removal of all barriers to economic resources and power; an end to all forms of discrimination, and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. We call for an end to illiteracy among women and girls and we want an effective, affordable and accessible health services for women and girls at all levels,” she stressed.
“We also demand that political under-representation and exclusion of women and girls be addressed, as well as poverty hunger, insecurity and sustainable environment for women and girls,” she added.
Similarly, Former Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Iyom Josephine Anenih, said, “the rally consisted women from all works of life; politicians, academia, market women, royal highnesses, housewives, etc coming together to express our passion for empowerment and upliftment.”
She tied underdevelopment of many nations to them leaving their women behind in decision making, stating: “women have been relegated to the background for too long. We are tired of sitting in the background, we are coming out to help our nation to move forward.
“We want to sit on the table, we will create our seats if necessary on the table. We want to work for equal opportunity for everybody. We want to remove impediments on the paths of women to be part of nation building.”
A new order?
For former Majority Leader, House of Representatives, Hon. Mulikat Akande, the rally is quite different from other rallies in the past as it brought all women under one body.
“It is good that Nigerian women has put heads together to make demands in one charter unlike before that women go in different groups to make demands,” she said.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) Mufuliat Fijabi, described the rally as a match to showcase the fact that women are important in any governance and development process.
Fijabi maintained that the rally was organised to portray to the generality of the world that women are important and should be recognized as such.
“Without women no complete development can be achieved,” she said.
Iyom Anenih, on her part said the rally was a grand movement of women to present concerns and make their voices heard as well as speak for millions of voiceless women in the country.
Bilkisu Magoro, a politician and humanitarian said the rally is a pressure group of women all over Nigeria irrespective of ethnicity, political party, religious affiliation or political party coming together with one voice, make our demands to both the National Assembly and government as it is.
“Rallies in the past have been held in different groups but this one is an amalgamation of all women groups under one umbrella, demanding our rights in every sector including health, education, governance amongst others.
Also, the National Coordinator, 100 Women Lobby Group and President of Change Managers International (CMI) Mrs. Felicia Onibon, said “history was made” as it was long over-due for women to have one voice.
“Other African countries like Kenya, Cote de voir, etc have strong women movements which has made impact on how their government see them as women.
“However, all over Africa people are asking for Nigeria women’s movement because they know that a women movement from Nigeria will tell the story harder and stronger than other parts of Africa.”
“Somehow, we keep referring to the Aba women riot, Margaret Ekpo, Funmilayo Kuti, these are women of old who took strides in this direction but where are the modern Nigerian women and what are they doing particularly in the area of clamouring for better life, more women in positions of governance?
“We need this kind of movement for things to change and that is why the 100-women lobby group supports this course and we know that when number of people come together to make demands the country reacts, government reacts.
“Women must stand up in one voice because there is increase in Violence Against Women (VAW), rape and the only way is to come together irrespective of religion, ethnicity or political party. We hope for positive results and even if not immediately, history has been made and the result of this could lead to a bigger rally,” she stressed.
Significance of the rally
The National President Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) Barrister Ebere Ifendu, said the rally is very strategic to the upcoming 2019, adding that it is an opportunity to tell Nigerians that women are ready to take up leadership positions.
Ifendu described the rally as a coalition of women groups, political parties, Civil Society Organization (CSO) and not an individual or organization demand as it used to be but together in solidarity to ensure more female representation in governance.
“We are ready to take up leadership positions in the country and we are calling for 50/50 in line with the constitution and saying it is time for us to be heard, it is time to show our capability and we are ready to work in partnership with men,” she said.
For the NWTF CEO, the rally is very significant as it provides a space for women to present the charter of demand on government.
“Women need good representation in all positions, they require adequate attention and should be taken care of and treated as part of development.
” I would advise women aspirants, by now you should be mobilizing and I encourage the general public to support the candidacy of women because they are capable and can make impact. Many women have accomplished a lot and this has to be sustained,” she argued.
Chances of women in 2019
Ifendu acknowledged that many female candidates have declared their aspirations to run for political office at various levels, assuring that it won’t be like before when they hardly get votes.
“There are many women aspirants and we have called on women to stand for each other by supporting women who are vying for positions.”
“In 2019 no political party will take women for granted, and any political party who are not ready to work with women we will also not support,” she said.
Ready to make the change?
President WIPF affirmed that that women had made mistakes in the past not supporting each other, blaming this problem on deceit and lack of visibility of female politicians in the past
She said, “Oh yes! We have learnt from our mistakes and that is why we all have agreed to coming together. Most times, people deceive us by saying we cannot work together but the truth is; we love ourselves and can work together.
“We are calling on Nigerians to support women because they are capable and can deliver on any portfolio they are given.”
However, the NWTF CEO, is of the view that women have not made mistakes by not supporting each other in the past, explaining rather that there were gaps that needed to be closed.
“I do not acknowledge that women have made mistakes in the past by virtue of orientation and we are not perfect. There is a possibility that women don’t support women but men also don’t support men so it’s not something that has to do with women alone.
“We acknowledge that there are gaps but that is not enough to deprive us of the issues we are demanding from government, ” she maintained.
Meanwhile, a member of Young Women In Politics (YWIP) Deborah Omada Apochi, believes that the older generation of women politicians have realised their mistakes, hence the mentoring of younger women.
“I believe the older female politicians have realised they cannot do this alone because what happens to one woman happens to all women everywhere; justice to one is justice to all so, joining force to make demands is laudable.
“Young women have evolved and awareness is growing with the mentorship from all quarters and women are no longer scared of politics, we now know that politics is part of our lives and the time to act is now,” she stressed.
Similarly, a female traditional ruler, Omu of Okpanan in Anioma Land, Delta state, Obi Igwe Martha Dunkwu, who added voice to the need for mentorship, said: “If we don’t bring children up well we have failed God. It is our duty not to take the place of men but you step up and do what needs to be done.”
Action Charter vs Equality bill
Though the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill is a detailed compilation of demands from women, the women believe that the 10 Action Charter is has some salient issues which can be added to what to the bill.
According to Akande, “the charter is sort of an addition to the GEO bill. It contains real challenges facing women and the fact that woman came together in one voice, we are hopeful that it will attract the necessary attention from government.
“We are demanding for gender equality; the two genders must work together for the development of this country; affirmative action has been so difficult to achieve in Nigeria and this is because of the few women representation in governance.
“We feel that for any country to develop women contributions is vital but in Nigeria where the population is high we are not considered relevant enough to be included in decision making levels.
Iyom Anenih likened the denial of women from decision making to a car without engine; ‘it cannot move,’ she said.
“Denying women from positions of decision making is tantamount to keeping a nation under developed. Women have been relegated to the background for too long and we are saying enough is enough. We want a sit at the table to contribute our quarter to national development but if Nigeria decides that they won’t give us sit at the table where decisions are taken, we shall create our own sit,” she emphasised.
“What we want? We want right to political representation, removal of all barriers, impediments and policies that adversely affect women in all sector including right to access health services, agriculture, education, these and many more as contained in the charter, she said.