Covid-19: It’s time for stock-taking – Tallen

The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, in this exclusive interview with ENE OSANG, she talks about women’s political representation, effects of covid-19, and women’s expectations in the years ahead.

How would you assess 2019 fiscal year for women?

The year 2019 was a year of mixed feelings, shaped by many experiences; a couple of them were particularly profound, rewarding, boundless, some  overwhelming, but they all turned out to be an ultimate revelation of God’s  goodness. First, it was an election year, where I had hoped that more women would  have recorded successes in the political landscape of the country.

Unfortunately, the number is not commensurate, when compared with the  high number of female aspirants in the 2019 elections.  At the national level, though only seven women were fortunate to be appointed  ministers out of the 42 ministers, our succour rests in the fact that they are strategic ministries and are making a difference.

At the state level, some states have demonstrated that women deserve to  be rewarded. For instance, Kwara has nine out of 16, Lagos has 12 out of 25,  Kaduna has six out of 14 with a deputy governor. Many other states are not  doing badly with the appointment of women as special advisers.

What are the ministry’s plans towards issues concerning women this year  and what better strategies would you adopt to achieve them?

The year 2020 is a pivotal year for the accelerated realisation of gender  equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in Nigeria. This is  why I have declared it as “a Call to Action for Women and Children in  Nigeria.” You will recall that on January 16, 2020, His Excellency,  President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, commissioned a befitting ultra-modern  headquarters for the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs. This is a milestone  achievement in the years of programming for women, children and the  vulnerable populace in Nigeria. What this signifies for women in Nigeria is that, it is no more business as  usual, as we need to move from rhetoric to action; which takes into  cognisance women’s issues that are not only intrinsically national, but also  uniquely multi-sectoral at all ministerial levels, including the gender segmentation of their respective administration, programme, policies and  budgets.

Therefore, our strategy is to intensify advocacy with all critical stakeholders.

We will collaborate with all ministries, development partners, traditional and  faith-based institutions, women groups, as well as those women in  the Diaspora. We need to begin to engage more meaningfully with Nigerians  from all walks of life to effectively deliver on the multi-sectoral approaches  needed to actualise the ministry’s mandate and ensure effective co-ordination  and engagement of stakeholders.

As a result of the covid-19 pandemic, Nigeria would have joined the rest of  the world to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World  Conference on Women and the adoption of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and  Platform for Action at the 64th Session of the Commission on the Status of  Women in New York. In order to keep up our mission as a nation, it is a  time for stock-taking, assessment of the current challenges that affect the  implementation of the Platform for Action and the achievement of gender  equality, the empowerment of women and its contribution towards the full  realisation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is critical.

The year 2020 also marks a five-year milestone in the drive to achieve the  Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2030 Agenda and the 20th  Anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution  (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, amongst others. Nigeria is  expected to play a leading role in the articulation of these issues and in light  of this goal, we are determined to change the narrative.

To end the year 2019, you had a meeting with all former ministers who had  served in the ministry; can you give us a recap of that meeting and what it  was aimed to achieve? The objective of meeting with past ministers was borne out of the need to  tap from their wealth of experience, as I continue to innovate, as well as  forge closer partnerships for the advancement of Nigerian Women and  children.  You will agree with me that strategic partnerships are key ingredients in  promoting gender equality, which remains the hall mark and backbone of  any functioning democratic system. It is also a key factor in pursuing the  protection of human rights. For this reason, I needed to aggregate the voices  of my predecessors in appreciation of the ripple effect and centrality of their roles as past Ministers of this sector, which automatically qualifies them to  as women’s ambassadors.

My meeting with them was aimed at an all-engaging partnership approach  that sums up the concerns and priorities of the Nigerian female populace, especially as it relates to girl-child education, reduction of drug abuse  amongst the female populace, increasing the number of women in leadership  positions, eliminating harmful traditional practices, including female genital  mutilation, climate change and disaster risks management given its  implications on Women’s livelihoods, Children, Orphans and Vulnerable  Children (OVCs), as provided by global frameworks, such as Beijing PFA,  SDGs, CRC, African Charter on the rights and Welfare of the Child to mention  a few are systematically protected. Sharing their experiences, concerns and  priorities to enrich my agenda was very significant to me in articulating the  strategies for engagement.

What should Nigerian women expect from the ministry and the government in  general as regards their economic and political growth this year?

They should expect increase in the number of women in appointive positions  t all levels at national and state government through the perfection of our  HeforShe strategy. They should also expect to see more economically  oriented programmes targeted at women, as well as scaling up of all existing  ones. Our collaboration with NDE and SMEDAN is also on-going to empower  women. We are also working towards launching the Nigeria Empowers Women  nitiative (NEW-I). It is conceived as a community development strategy  aimed at unlocking the agricultural potentials of rural communities in Nigeria,  increasing the number of skilled female workforce in the construction  industry, as well as other sectors in Nigeria rural communities. The project  is hinged on the fact that community development projects should be ready  to meet changing needs of the target population to make them truly self-reliant after the completion of the project. The NEW-I calls for an all-inclusive multi-sectoral structured approach which combines education,  training, skills development and technology with women as the driving force  at all phases of its formation and implementation.

In the first phase of its implementation, we plan to empower at least 3,000 women from each of the 36 states of the country, including the Federal Capital Territory. I am confident that this will go a long way to deliver on the promise of President Muhammadu Buhari to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next ten years, including Nigerian women.

GBV has continued to rise amidst advocacy against it. Recently, a 65-year-old woman was killed by her son in Imo state; do you think violence against women can ever be tackled in the country? What else do you think should be done?

I agree with you that GBV continues to rise. Nonetheless, I believe that these issues have been with us and have been underreported in the past. The  heightened advocacy, resulting to increase awareness through traditional  and social media space, we see new trends and patterns as they unfold  across states and rural communities in Nigeria. In this regard, the media has  been a genuine tool in reporting gender-based violence from the  perspectives of survivors and families of victims. I, therefore, call on all our  partners to collaborate with us to enhance the capacity of the Nigeria media  in reporting women’s issues and concerns; so as to drive the implementation  of all relevant guidelines and policies that would promote gender equality  moving forward.

Any progress with the launch of the Sex Offenders Register yet as cases of rape of women and girls still persist?

Absolutely, yes progress has been made with the launch of the Sex Offenders  Register. You will recall that we launched the register as part of activities mapped out for the 16 Days Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. A lot  of successes have been recorded in this regard. The Sex Offenders Register  is an online concept where pictures and details of offenders are recorded to  name and shame them for life. This means that as the cases are concluded  and offenders punished under the law, such names are transferred to the  virtual space to serve as deterrent to others. Already, Ekiti state has  launched its own register and many more states have concluded  arrangements to follow suit.

On a lighter note, you celebrated your 61st birthday in January this year, can you  tell us how that felt for you?

It felt amazing to be surrounded by family, friends and new allies. It was more rewarding to visit the less privileged in the IDPs camps and spend time  with them, take in moments of their reality in order to carve out approaches that would improve their quality of life. My joy was indescribable as I  atched the flag off of the medical outreach for the women and children at the camps which was ultimately a profound day for me personally.

How have you managed to keep fit even with the  The enormous work you do towards women’s empowerment and  emancipation?

 I take each day as it comes and spend my time appreciating the goodness of God and the beauty of his magnanimity towards us as humans. In this  regard, I wake up early in the morning to attend Mass, play golf when time  permits and then continue from where I stopped the previous day. Above  all, I am a true believer of healthy eating and I recommend all women to  actively pay attention to what they ingest as good health is central for  evelopment.

How have you evolved over the years, any peculiar lesson (s) you want  women to learn from you?

As a believer, I live by the God’s abounding grace in all of mankind which is  God given to love until it hurts and in that I live each day to my very best  to lend a hand in any little way possible. Ultimately, be good and it always  comes back; forgive and grace will always be upon you; stay strong, work  ard and your efforts will speak for you!

What do you look up to in the years ahead?

A more inclusive Nigeria, where women are given a seat at the table, a  world where women’s welfare and development is placed at the fore front.  The implementation of the Child Rights Act across all states and an end to  child marriage and abuse. These in themselves would be a milestone that marks greatness in the years to come.

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