Ojobo Ode Atuluku is the head of country, ActionAid International Support Africa and member 100 Women Lobby Group. In this piece, she stresses the importance of an inclusive government where men and women enjoy equal opportunities ENE OSANG writes
Men and women are different but both complement the other and have equal rights and should be equal before the law. It is on the basis of the complementarities of both sexes that gender activists advocate for participation and representation of both male and female in governance for Nigeria to thrive.
Speaking at a public interest dialogue on inclusion of women in governance, organised by a coalition of women groups led by the 100 Women Lobby Group for the Inclusion of Women in Governance, Head of Country, ActionAid International Support Africa and member, 100 Women Lobby Group, Ojobo Ode Atuluku stated that Nigeria has missed out on the basic but very simple fact that without women joining men in public leadership, it is not possible for us to thrive as a nation.
She said 50 per cent of the possible perspectives were missing in public policy, noting that all countries that do well in the world have recognition for the contributions of their women to national development with roles in public leadership.
She noted that Nigeria has had great women who have served or are serving the nation in one way or the other, carrying out very difficult tasks including Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, started out as Minister of Environment; Special Adviser to the President on Social Protection Investment Programme, Maryam Uwais; former Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed; and a host of others.
She decried the fact that notwithstanding these women who have excelled in leadership positions there is so little the number and their impact in the bigger scheme of things.
“Nigeria is part of the international resolutions pledging to monitor and work with stakeholders to remove all barriers to women inclusion in political participation and leadership. With only men in governance, we are incomplete as a nation,” she emphasised.
Atuluku expressed disappointment over the poor attention and recognition women were being accorded in the scheme of things. Giving available data, she said on health, maternal mortality rate was 567.5 per 100,000 live birth in 2016, while child mortality rate at 54 per 1,000 live birth in 2016/17.
She stated further that the percentage of women living with HIV rose slightly from 51.7 per cent in 2013 to 53.1 per cent in 2016, but that of men decreased slightly from 48.3 per cent in 2013 to 46.9 per cent in 2016.
Similarly, on education the gender expert noted that literacy rate among young women and men between the age of 15-24 years was 59.3 per cent and 70.9 per cent in 2016 respectively.
She said the enrolment of the girl-child in primary school was less than 50 per cent, noting that in 2014, it was 48.6 per cent but decreased to 47.4 and 47.5 percent in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Also, the completion rate for girls in primary, junior secondary, and senior secondary schools for 2016 were 64.8 per cent, 38.9 per cent and 28.7 per cent respectively, while female enrolment in Nigerian Colleges of Education was 46.1, 47.3 and 46.4 per cent (2014/2015, 2015/2016, 2016/2017 academic session).
Enrolment in Nigerian universities, she said, was 43.1 and 56.9 per cent for female and male in 2017; just like the percentage of women lecturers in federal colleges of education was 33.8 per cent for 2016/2017 academic sessions, with percentage of female professors in Nigerian universities at 15.43 per cent in 2017 work.
Atukulu regretted that the percentage of men employed in the state civil service from 2014 to 2015 was higher than the percentage of women for both senior and junior positions, adding that the average percentage of women employed in the state civil service from 2010 to 2015 in each category, junior and senior, was 38.16 per cent, while it was 68.84 per cent for men.
Continuing, she said that men dominate employment in federal Ministry, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) while women on grade level 01-17 plus Special Grade Level was 34.67, 35.08 and 32.79 per cent for 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Women in leadership
Most gender experts have lamented the poor representation of women at governance and other leadership positions. Atukulu maintained that the statistics of females at the legislature has remained low with 94.2 per cent of the members of the National Assembly as males while female participation remained low at 5.8 per cent.
For the judiciary also she said the federal courts, 29.4 per cent of Judges were female while 70.6 per cent were male according to reports from the National Judicial Council.
“State Assemblies also record similar low participation rates for women at 5.2 per cent while men occupied 94.8 per cent of available positions and at the local government level 9 per cent of chairpersons were females while 91 per cent were males. Women also constituted just 5.9 per cent of councillors compared with 94.1 per cent for men,” she said.
Abuses on women
According to data received from the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and the Ministry of Justice, rape cases in Nigeria have been on the rise. The percentage of rape incidence for girls was 63.04 per cent in 2015, which increased to 72.13 per cent in 2016 but decreased to 69.33 per cent in 2017,” she said.
“We know that rape of women and of minors has seen unprecedented numbers in the last couple of years. The more women strive to contribute, the more hurdles are placed on their way,” Atuluku lamented.
She also expressed worry that there is a reluctance to correct the electoral system to make it a level playing field and, adding that there is much more women contesting for positions and less number succeeding.
“We cannot do better unless and until the executive and the legislature recognise that half the population are missing. And do something about correcting it. It is a national shame for the giant of Africa to still be talking about numbers and space rather than impact when countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia and South Africa have moved on,” she stressed.
“The problem is not that we have no qualified women. We have mass of qualified women who can do the job. Women in public leadership should not be a threat to men, it is not a rejection of our values as a people, or of our piety and faithfulness to the deity we worship.
“It is not about the woman who is being appointed, it is about what she represents, what value she adds and how she can improve the legacy of the president and the governors or local government chairmen.
“It is about a man being confident in his masculinity to realise that I am incomplete in my leadership unless and until I have a 360o perspective of the people I serve and lead,” she observed.
Women inclusion in Africa
The gender expert continued that the women struggle is about correcting the current imbalance in all sectors.
Citing how far Rwanda has gone in adopting gender balance quotas, she noted that they have 68 per cent women in the parliament; 50 per cent of cabinet members are women; 44 per cent women in Judiciary as well as 40 per cent of councillors are women.
She further noted that in Ethiopia, 10 out of 20 ministers are women just like South Africa also now has 50 per cent women in their cabinet.
“These are countries with similar African values, religions, principles and challenges as we have here in Nigeria. Countries like Senegal have gender parity laws in place, while the Nigerian Constitution does not take into cognizance that in the interpretation of laws, male is also female, plural is also singular and vice versa, female should also be male,” she pointed out.
“NGOs in Rwanda now are wondering, what should be our value addition now when government has picked up its role to improve socio-economic indices,” she added.
Atuluku explained that the Constitution provides for federal character but gender has not been taken on board as one of its diversity criteria, only ethnicity and indignity.
“Let us not only play catch-up, let us take back our place in the comity of nations. The X-factor missing so far is the missing gender. This is why great policies, legislations and activities are not producing commensurate returns in the quality and dignity of life of Nigerians, why the ills in our nation continue to deepen because the feminine is missing. Where women are not involved, development is missing out on half the population. It is a national loss without women and not a loss just to the women, she stressed.
She noted that Buhari’s legacy at the end of four years will still fall short of what it could have been. Similarly as the legislatures are working to pick their leadership, the same mistakes of excluding women in their leadership will also affect the performance levels that this current National and State Assembly can aspire to.
“So many factors kept women out of the legislative arm of government, while not all may be directly gendered factors, we have to realise that women bring something unique to play to their strengths and to add value to the nation.
“Their strength is not that women vote for women but that both men and women do get to vote for women. Look behind the gender, look behind those barriers that make you feel that a woman cannot handle the job.
“We cannot waste such rich human resource as exists in Nigeria by depriving half the population from contributing. Women have lived the experience of exclusion and lack of space in public leadership, we need to tell ourselves the hard facts,” she said.
Atuluku urged women to, during elections and politicking, be strategic and play a long game, adding that participation in politics and governance is not just at the polls, it is also about investing and contributing even when there is no opportunity yet to stand an election.
“It is using the four years out in the cold to rebuild and re-connect with the populace. It is also the time to advocate for changes in the legal framework that keeps women out,” she emphasised.
The benefits of women in leadership, she stated also include the fact that women leaders have a measurable impact on the bottom line.
What Buhari needs to do
She called on President Muhammadu Buhari to midwife the space for women in public leadership in executive governance.
According to her, “President Buhari appoints the ministers and all the host of political appointees including heads of departments, agencies, parastatals and boards. The same goes for the governors.
“The various legislative members also have powers to choose leadership that recognises that we all lose when women get excluded.”