Aishatu Salisu Gambo is a Deputy Director at the Federal Character Commissions. She also heads the commission’s gender and people with disabilities unit. In this interview with ENE OSANG she speaks on gender inclusion, equity, fairness among other issues.
Tell us more about yourself and what was growing up like?
I am a lawyer, the second born in a family of five children all girls. I am from Wase Local Government Area in Plateau state but my mother is an Igbo woman from Umuleri in Anambra state. So, that is why I can speak Hausa and Ibo, and other languages as well.
Growing up I faced challenges, especially with going to school as a northern girl-child. I got scholarship to school in Russia but my Uncle refused. My father, however, stood his ground that I will go and my mother supported him. Today, everyone is celebrating me. The issue of girl child education in the North has not changed much. There is still work to be done in this regard.
What does the gender unit of the commission what do you do basically?
The gender and people with disabilities unit is actually a new unit carved out of one of the extant regulations on the procedure for recruitment into the federal public service. There is a particular clause, specifically paragraph 3, sub “F” which states, “In allotting the vacancies adequate consideration should be given to gender and people with disabilities. So, basically that is the law the commission hinges its operation on hence the establishment of the unit. It was also born out of a workshop that I attended, an inter-sectoral meeting with the Ministry of Women Affairs on the National Gender Policy (NGP).
We are trying to come up with the second national action plan on the implementation of gender, specifically with regards to the representation of women on boards, management levels and in ministries departments and agencies (MDAs) because the representation of women is very poor. We are trying to see how to get approval because it’s still a policy and not an act yet.
What my unit does basically is to ensure full and equal representation of women at all levels of decision making in the commission and we are mandated to monitoring programmes on gender equity in the country.
We also liaise with MDAs and other development partners on gender issues. You know the mandate of the commission is to ensure equality in the distribution of positions in the federal civil service and the armed forces and para-military.
Would you say the gender desk in the commission has done enough?
We have done so many things even though we are relatively new. We came on board in May 2018 and we are basically on the paragraph of the law I mentioned earlier. Gender and PWD Unit is an extant law just a small circular but we still try to see what we can do with that here.
In January this year I attended a meeting where the national gender policy was reviewed and one of the recommendations brought forth was that the policy should be passed into law because a policy can be mere written document which can be difficult to implement but once passed into law it will be much easier. So, we just pray that before the year ends we will get some support and sponsor at the national level.
Gender inclusiveness is very vital to national growth and that is why we are committed to ensuring gender quota where necessary like in admission to higher institutions of learning and so on.
We sensitizing people so they can understand what gender really means because when you say gender it is about male and female. Some have even said that there are more female staff than men at the Ministry of Justice but in the health sector most of the health facilities are headed by men.
My unit has done a letter to the Federal Ministry of Health on the poor representation of women because you can’t say there are no competent women to head medical facilities. Out of the 67 medical centres in the country only 1% is headed by women and this is very poor, however, 75% of those who visit health facility are women and children and I think a woman’s pain will be better understood by a fellow woman. We have very poor representation of women on boards, parastatals, MDAs.
Here at the commission we are collaborating with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation because we have done a statistical analysis of most boards and we came to the conclusion that there is poor representation of women.
At the military and para-military they have ample examples of the medical corps where you find women but right now there are female combatants. We have done a letter to the Secretary of the Government of the Federation about the poor representation of women and advised President Muhammadu Buhari that in making appointments adequate considerations should be given to women.
Women are relegated to the background representation is very poor. We have just one female Senator in the North; women are not at par with the men. For instance, we have only one woman head in 67 medical centres in the country and so we need more sponsors.
What is your take on the celebration of International Women’s Day in Nigeria?
International Women’s Day is worth celebrating. We have a lot to celebrate because women are more vocal now unlike before. We now talk about our rights and demand it and days such as this is when we do more advocacies and sensitisation.
This year my unit is organising a Solidarity Road Walk and we are using the platform to campaign for the passage of the National Gender Policy because this can enable more change in all the sectors.
Education for instance, if the policy is passed into law, the quota for girls to enrol into school will improve especially in the north and even in other parts of the country.
There would also be access to loans for women in agriculture because we have more women farmers today.
It is worth celebrating because women are in places where they never were in the past, women in the North were never heard but today they are in solidarity campaign with other women in the world so there is a lot to celebrate.
What rights are you talking about?
When we say rights we mean equal opportunities with the men for instance right to education, rights to own property and so on. It is not fair that when you go to a family they prioritise the education of boys and have the girls stay behind while the boys go to school forgetting the fact that when you educate a girl child you educate a nation. These rights have been captured only in papers but not implemented particularly the rights to education.
Women should also be in government and other leadership positions because there is poor representation due to stereotypes on them but the major problem is the lack of sponsorship.
We don’t have people to stand in for us, and lobby so we are few but women are working hard to help each other today so as to change the narrative.
Affirmative action is not met and like I mentioned the headship of medical centres have only one woman out of 67 centres but we have taken this matter up and have written to the National Assembly to address this.
Here at the commission we have budgetary constraint to organise programmes and carry out sensitization and these issues persists.
So, do you think gender equality can be achieved in Nigeria?
It is achievable but it will take a long time. Policies are on ground but not implemented due to socio-cultural and religious factors. Women are relegated to the background and I would rather advocate equity instead of equality but we must be proactive as women.
Restiveness in the society has been tied to women neglecting their roles as mothers. Do you agree?
No, that notion is not true because women are good at multi-tasking and can take care of the home front while chasing their careers as well.
I will rather blame the social media for societal ills, especially the violence in the society, because people are now exposed to a lot of things because of what they see online.
It is the responsibility of all to restore sanity to the society. We must censor the media because it is doing a lot of harm.
Religious bodies should have more God-friendly programmes to capture the minds of the young ones in particular.
At the home front, parents should make out time and ensure they are good role models for their kids. I don’t think there is any reason a primary school child should have a smart phone, they should rather be encouraged to read. Do chores around the house and all children should be mentored on the basic things of life.
As mothers, bring your children close especially your daughters. Educate and mentor them, check on them regularly, and always ask questions and communicate with them so you can know them well.
The truth is it is worrisome how some children have turned out but this boils down to the kind of upbringing they got. These days there is lack of love and once they miss out of this aspect it could lead them to drugs and other vices.
There is a vacuum and parents must ensure they close it by being responsible and seek help when necessary but both parents must know they have the responsibility of raising a good child.
It was reported that over 4000 cases of divorce had been recorded in Abuja between January and February this year. What is your take on this report?
This is worrisome. The figure is high, alarming and quite disturbing. People should not rush into marriage and perfect things do not exist in any relationship rather you have to make things work.
We have our values like respect to husband and reciprocal respect to the wife. People have strayed from the Godly values and copied the western world that is why things have gone wrong.
How many couples complement each other today? We have strayed and we must reduce social media influence and not let imaginary things overwhelm us.
The high rate of divorce is because copt others and this is a foul cry from the truth but we must work to achieve the legacies we want to see.
What is your message to Nigerians especially women?
I will urge all women to keep up the struggle, though there is much violence but they shouldn’t give up. Parents should educate their girl child for a better future for all and I also advise women to double up efforts and be more proactive if they want to find their pride of place in the society.
Also, the older generation of women should mentor the younger ones, assist them and support each other so the society can be a better place.
I wish us all a happy International Women’s Day celebration.