Our male allies’ll influence gender-sensitive constitution alterations – Dame Pauline Tallen

The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, is the number one women and child-rights advocate in Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with ENE OSHABA speaks on the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the need to re-emphasize girl-child education among other issues.

Plans are underway for the next United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). What has been achieved from issues raised at the last meeting?

You know the world was on standstill and because of Covid-19 we couldn’t effectively participate but the meeting was done virtually. However, even this year’s will still not be full representation as it used to be but I believe there are lessons that have been learnt even from Covid-19.

International organisations, especially EU and UN funds supported Covid-19 programmes in Nigeria, it was quite helpful because it supported the vulnerable, people with HIV and those that were abused during the lockdown when we had a pandemic because the rate of Gender Based Violence (GBV) was worse and it was another pandemic itself. I tell you, GBV to a large extent is worse than the Covid-19 pandemic because that is a silent killer.

When you rape a young girl you destroy her for life and a lot of young girls were abused and killed like the instance of student in Benin, the one in Kaduna and so many other instances.

There is no day we don’t receive information on cases of GBV, girls of three months, six months are rapped and it is a terrible situation but we will not give up, the struggle continues.

I want to commend Mr. President who has shown commitment towards curbing GBV. I remember when I took a memo to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in June last year, instantly it was approved and Mr. President directed that an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the Inspector General of Police and myself takes prompt action on any reported case of GBV.

All these are proactive measures and government’s full commitment. The vice president has also lent his voice; wife of the president Aisha Mohammed; wife of the vice president Dolapo Osinbajo; and all the governor’s wives have also formed a Coalition of Concerned First Ladies Against GBV.

I had a meeting with the Governor’s Forum and at the end they declared a State of Emergency on GBV in all the 36 states.

The commitment is there and most states are now domesticating the Child Rights (CRA) Act and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act and I must commend efforts of the Sultan of Sokoto who recently summoned all the in the 19 northern states. At the end of the conference it was clear that there was full commitment and the riot act was read for all of them to go back, form committees and act showing that it was time for action.

When we get our leaders at the traditional level, all our traditional rulers to be fully engaged in addressing GBV, then we are making a huge step in addressing the surge of GBV.

What issues would the ministry present at the UNGA?

Education of the girl-child would be top on my agenda because that is the greatest weapon the girl-child has; it is a life investment that no one can take from the child. If you give a child education you give that child everything. Education for all our children with special emphasis to the girl-child is top on my priority list.

We shall also table and re-advocate against all forms of violence against women (VAW). The EU and UN have been supporting Nigeria through its spotlight initiative and we appreciate their support to Nigeria in curbing violence against women and children.

These are issues we will continue to talk about at the General Assembly until we find lasting solutions. Neglecting the girl child is not the best because when you educate the girl-child you educate the nation, her role in nation building is significant, I therefore appeal to Nigerian women to stand firm and know that struggle continues while the men should respect the women and know that they need women to make this country a better place and that’s why the UN is advocating HeforShe, where men, who respect and know that the role of women in national building is significant, speak for women.

Nigerian women will remain resilient, keep the flag flying and will not rest by continuing to pray for the peace and unity of our dear country.

How would you then describe the situation of Nigerian women?

Nigeria women are resilient amidst all the issues affecting them especially like I said earlier gender based violence. That is why the ministry of women affairs in collaboration with the ministry of education and other relevant stakeholders has set up a multi-sectoral technical working group to, among other things, develop and implement a holistic strategy for ending child marriage in Nigeria and other practices that hinder education of the girl-child in the country.

Nigeria has also done well in GBV data management with the launch of the National Violence Against Women and Girls Situation Room. This is a visual platform which uses technology to enable government, decision-makers, and programme managers, view and analyse such data with ease.

At the recent National Women’s Council in Uyo some women received awards in various categories. What is the significance of these awards?

For every award more is expected from the people. I celebrate women because they are mothers and I am calling on them to pray more because women are facing the crises of abduction, kidnapping, Boko Haram insurgence. You can’t expect a woman to be happy when she is abducted or her children are abducted and she doesn’t know where they are. It is worse that a child is missing because if a child is dead you see the corpse, bury and mourn the child but missing ones child is not a good experience.

I pray that God will expose all the enemies of this country because we want peace. I want more women to advocate for peace so the continuous violence in the country will stop. So we can remain one and united.

We don’t have any other country but Nigeria, we need each other because men cannot do it all by themselves neither can the women. That is why God created man and woman so the men should respect women and women respect men and together they can raise more responsible children who are leaders of tomorrow.

Lots of women have been recognised and acknowledged as role models, I urge them to keep up the good work because if you are recognised and acknowledged, millions of women are out there looking up to you as a model. So you must live up to expectations, be above board and continue to be a shining star for younger women to see and emulate.

What informed the men’s conference in Abuja?

The conference, amongst others, is to spotlight and broaden awareness on the gains of gender-sensitive alterations in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; to demonstrate the goodwill and support of eminent male leaders for the Bill to create additional special seats for women in the Federal and State Legislature towards; and to secure new commitments from high-level influencers for the passage of gender-sensitive alteration Bills.

The ministry of women affairs has remained steadfast in coordinating the efforts of Nigerian women, civil society organizations (CSOs), and eminent national and international leaders aimed at achieving gender-sensitive reform in the on-going Constitution alteration process.

One of these efforts is the Supporting Advancement of Gender Equality (SAGE) initiative, which the ministry is partnering with for this conference.

The importance of increasing the participation of women in elected office in Nigeria cannot be overstated as there are currently only eight women out of the 109 legislators in the Senate; and only 13 out of 360 legislators in the House of Representatives.

The situation is more challenging in the Houses of Assembly where there are only 40 women among the 991 legislators.

Women do not only constitute about 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population, we contribute significantly to the country’s political and socio-economic development, when given the opportunity.

President Buhari put this in better perspective during his meeting with the SAGE national and international working groups on March 19, 2021, stating: “Women are a credible force in strengthening our democracy and promoting the culture of peace and food security.

“Women have played and continue to play in great roles in our Government. Their contributions are valuable in sustaining our socio-economic fabric from the corridors of decision-making to our rural communities.

“This administration places a high premium on promoting their inclusiveness in National Development as we have demonstrated with those holding key portfolios in this administration.” I couldn’t agree more with Mr. President.

Are you confident that the Constitution would be reviewed as demanded by women?

In Nigeria, proposed amendments to the Constitution can only become law when passed by two-third majority of the Senate and the House of Represenatatives, a simple majority in at least 24 out of the country’s 36 Houses of Assembly as well as the assent of the President.

While this is cumbersome, Nigerian women take solace in the knowledge that we are not alone. Many of our male allies lead the institutions that are directly responsible for passing or influencing the gender-sensitive constitution alterations that we are promoting.

I am making particular reference to President Buhari; President of the Senate, Senator Ahmed Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon Femi Gbajabiamila; Chairman, Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), Governor Kayode Fayemi; and Chairman, Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures, Rt. Hon Abubakar Suleiman; to know that Nigerian women are counting on them.

What’s advice do you have for male gender champions?

Any man that respects and supports women’s agenda is a true and patriotic Nigerian and for that we call them the HeforShe and at the appropriate time we will celebrate them.

Recently, the HeforShe Honours Award was bestowed on DGSS Yusuf Magaji Bichi given the sterling qualities he has exhibited in gender inclusiveness in his administration of the Department of State Service (DSS).

The HeforShe Award is an international award conferred by the UNWOMEN on individuals who have demonstrable and exceptional belief in gender equality and are advocates for the rights of women and in this case, Nigerian women.

For long, women have been fighting for themselves, it’s time for men to support and speak on behalf of women.

Other HeforShes have been decorated previously, and many more who demonstrate considerable progress in gender-mainstreaming will be honoured with the title.