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.