Beijing declaration: What hope for Nigerian women 25 years after?

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Women Affairs in collaboration with the UNFPA convened a one-day strategic meeting to review the national gender policy with the aim of capturing emerging issues and chat better ways for women, especially as the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration approaches. ENE OSANG writes.

Nigeria is among the countries that have signed and ratified various international instruments, treaties and conventions such as the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It also, years later, signed the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR1325) on women peace and security, as well as cheered the creation of a specific Millennium Development Goals on gender equality without reservations.

She again joined the world to adopt the Beijing Platform for Action established in 1995, which calls for 35% Affirmative Action for women.

2020 which marks another decade comes with the task of taking stock of the journey so far – challenges, progresses and way forward especially as the Beijing law celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Many gender champions have stated that the 2030 Agenda is anticipated with  a much broader sweep of targets, aimed at improving women’s participation and empowerment beyond school enrolment and parliamentary representation.

According to the president of the United Nations General Assembly,

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcésit, during an interactive discussion hosted by the

 ministry of women affairs on “The Role of Women and Girls in the Achievement of the SDGs, sustaining peaceful societies” women’s suffrage is almost universal.

Garcésit pointed out that women still lag behind on virtually every SDGs target, and that the gap is even greater for older women, for women with disabilities, for women in rural areas, and for women from minority and indigenous communities.

She said, “Yes, it is progress that 24% of parliamentarians are women. But it is not parity. And we know that women in politics face enormous hurdles, including verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

“Yes, we have made progress on women’s economic empowerment. But just 42% of countries afford women the same rights to land ownership. Just 60% give women equal access to financial services. And at current rates, the global gender pay gap is not due to close until 2086 – with huge knock-on effects for women’s social protection and status.”

She said further, “Yes, we have made progress on women’s education, but enrolment statistics mask participation rates – and quality of outcomes. It is unacceptable that there are still more than 40 countries in the world where over 20% of women are illiterate.

“And while there is certainly more emphasis now on role of women in conflict settings, it is still the case that just 2% of mediators and 8% of negotiators are female.”

She expressed worry that even the gains made “are now at risk – as there is a growing backlash against women’s rights, most prominently in the area of sexual and reproductive health.”

According to her, “The situation is worse in Nigeria especially with the slow growth and development amidst many years of hard, painstaking advocacy some of which were carried out at great personal risk, the journey to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is still a long way off.

“So, we must all continue to make the case for the full inclusion of women and girls in efforts to achieve the SDGs. It is not a difficult case to make.”

Nigeria on 35% affirmative action

Going by the current statistics of women representatives both at elective and appointive positions, including other leadership positions in the country, several questions as to where Nigeria is on gender equality, and who to take the blame on its slow progress of women become paramount.

As a result of this,  the ministry of women affairs on Tuesday held a one-day national gender policy strategic review meeting with gender desk officers at Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and civil society organisations (CSOs) to chat the way forward for women.

The meeting with gender desk officers and CSOs was the first since the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, assumed duties in the ministry.

Tallen lamented that despite all efforts to end gender inequality, many other forms of discrimination against women have persisted. She, however, expressed hope that a review of the policy would enable better strategies to addressing these issues.

According to her, there is no way the vision of a safer, fairer and more sustainable world can be achieved without the full participation and leadership of women and girls.

“None of the 17 sustainable goals can be achieved without women being at the center. Therefore, women must step up efforts to ensuring better future for themselves and the world in general. This might seem an obvious thing to point out. But, unfortunately, we need to say it over and over again. Because clearly, we are still a long way off achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“Nigeria signed and ratified the various international instruments, treaties and conventions on women and children without reservations,” she said.

She said further said, “These instruments have always emphasised that, member nations put in place all the necessary mechanisms needed to eliminate gender discrimination, ensure equality and human dignity to all men and women. Yet, there persists discrimination in the constitution in the national and state statues including customary and religious laws.

“We all know that in Nigeria, traditions, customs, sexual stereotyping of social roles and cultural prejudice continue to militate against enjoyment of full rights and full participation of women in national development it is in recognition of this, that i requested to meet with gender desk officers of MDA’s to enable us chat a new cause for the year 2020.

“The absence of equal opportunities, laws and weak legislative structure to protect the rights of women has made development opportunities elude women.”

A call to action

Tallen, in an effort to ensure a positive change for women issue tagged 2020 as the year of call to action for Nigerian women and children, stressed that more practical and visible work towards women’s development other than organising seminars and several talks needed to be achieved.

“Enough of talking, organising of seminars we need to work harder to make life better for women and that is why desk officers were carefully selected to carry out to carry out the task.

“We need to harvest a multi-sectoral response to our mandate of gender mainstreaming, equality, policy formulation and coordination. We need to also focus attention also focus attention on data generation and collation and the replication of best practices and emerging issues across the sectors in Nigeria.

“I tag the year 2020 as a year to call for action for issues of women and children,  this is a new decade hence a period to access new policies affecting women calling on all stakeholders to support the project to achieve the desired progress in the ministry.

“2020 is a year to that is on our part dedicated to implementing the gender agenda especially as it marks the 25th anniversary of the fourth world conference on women and the adoption of the 1995 Beijing declaration platform for action in China.

“It is also, the period to mark five year milestone towards achieving the SDGs, 2030 agenda. 2020 marks another decade and is therefore a pivotal year for the accelerated realisation of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, everywhere.

“2020 is a time to take stock, access current challenges affecting the implementation and the realization of gender equality and women empowerment in Nigeria. Our goal of attaining equity, equality and development can only be effectively achieved through supportive institutional collaborations and reforms from states and non-state actors.”

Stakeholders’ assessment

At the strategic meeting to review the national gender policy, the various gender desk officers as well as CSO representatives assessed the gender struggle so far, and proffered new strategies and issues to be captured while the policy is being reviewed.

The gender desk officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Mrs. Ifeoma Anyanwu, said women farmers continued to suffer access to land use even when they cultivate majority of the food crops, and called for better strategy towards getting access to land for women farmers.

It was generally was agreed that there is a wealth of evidence on the positive impact that women’s participation in politics has on economic stability, on good governance and on investment in areas such as health, education and social protection.

Research by McKinsey has shown that women in private sector boardrooms – and leadership teams – can lead to a financial uplift of as much as 15%. And analysis by the International Peace Institute has shown that when women participate in peace processes, the resulting agreement is 35% more likely to last at least 15 years.

To this end, gender equality and women’s empowerment was described as the closest thing any nation can have to a “magic formula” for sustainable development.

Earlier this year, I hosted the first-ever high-level UN meeting on “Women in Power.” I was inspired by one of our speakers, Jennifer Uchendo, a young sustainability entrepreneur, who made a pretty convincing case that Nigerian women could lead the way in transforming not only this country but Africa as a whole.

Women have begun preparations towards having a qualitative and diverse delegation to this year’s Commission on the Status of Women to hold at the UN headquarters in New York, United States of America from the 9th to the 20th of March.

The gender desk officers at MDAs, CSOs and all stakeholders in the women struggle are being encouraged to read about the role that the various women associations can play to advance the wellbeing of women in all sectors.

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