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What would an equal tomorrow look like?

by Chioma Agwuegbo - 01 October 2014

Blog-Gender03Everything I wanted to do as a child, my parents encouraged and pushed me to achieve - every single thing, without question. From tumbling about with the boys, to drawing, to entertaining talks about my ambitions that ranged from being a surgeon, to being a builder (I’ve always been fascinated with the way mortar takes shape), to being a truck driver. Anything I wanted to be, I was told I could be.


As I grew older, my ambitions changed dramatically, but it was not until university that I fully grasped that there might be things I wouldn’t be able to do because I was female. Obviously, growing up I was aware of cultural divisions of roles, where women tend to the home and the men provide, where women are forbidden to eat certain parts of animals (example, gizzard in chicken) because it was reserved for men - those kinds of things.

In 300 level at university, departmental student representatives were going to be elected, and I felt I had a good chance of getting elected. That is, until I was called aside by a lecturer I really admired and told I could contest the vice-presidential slot, because the presidency was ordinarily reserved for males. They said that I would expose myself to unnecessary attention if I went for the number one spot. I was shocked, confused, and upset (in that order), and I ended up shelving the idea. Why? Because I didn’t understand why I should come off second best to a man.

Almost ten years later, following thousands of gender equality conferences, models, and books, women are still subtly (or outright) being told (or shown) they have to work almost twice as hard to maintain their number two spots, let alone going for number one. As Beyoncé said, “we need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality – it isn’t a reality yet”.

The third of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) is to promote gender equality and empower women. Why? Because equality in itself is a human right, the right to not be discriminated against on grounds of gender.

Closer home, at least 49% of the 170 million people in Nigeria is female. Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution also provides that no one shall be discriminated against. Yet, the disparity in empowerment is as stark as it is unfortunate. Violent crimes (rape, abuse); child marriage; playing second fiddle to boys concerning education; widowhood practices; and limitations on property and rights to inheritance, culture and traditions, all work hard to erode this right.

What’s the way forward?

Politically, there is the 35% women affirmative action plan, based on the 2006 National Gender Policy that dictates that 35% of government posts should be filled by women. President Goodluck Jonathan in the Midterm Report of the Transformation Agenda (May 2011 – May2013) says his government has achieved 33%. This is a good first step but it is more surface covering than addressing the real roots of this problem. Women are still largely underrepresented, considering that only 25 of the 360 members of the National Assembly are female.

Our government must take a strong stand against laws that infringe on the liberties of women, not by saying they are taking a stand, but by commissioning research into the Constitution and abolishing sections that do not protect women. For example, according to Section 282(2) of the Penal Code, “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife is not rape, if she has attained puberty”.

The government must also enforce the laws against child marriages, especially in the North where it is most prevalent; as well as consider the 2003 Child Rights Act that criminalizes marriage below the age of 18, which it has not yet adopted. Politics (and the need to remain popular) must give way to morality and the rule of law.

The Nigerian government must also harmonize efforts to empower women across the 36 states of the country. It should concentrate more on the rural areas where “54 million of Nigeria’s 80.2 million women live and work, and constitute 60-705 of the rural workforce”, according to the 2012 DFID Gender report on Nigeria.

Education as we all know gives everyone a better chance in life, and as the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon notes, educating women is the “smartest global investment”.

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan echoed that in May when he met with Girl Child Education campaigner, Malala Yousafzai. He said, “I personally believe that since about 50% of our population are female, we will be depriving ourselves of half of our available human resources if we fail to educate our girls adequately or suppress their ambitions in any way. We are therefore taking steps to curb all forms of discrimination against girls and women, and have also undertaken many affirmative actions on their behalf.”

The government must now go beyond lip service and half-measures to actually provide education of great quality to females - great education devoid of tutors who tell young girls not to dream and aspire for positions because of their gender.

 

Chioma Agwuegbo
Social Media Strategist / Journalist

Read her personal blogs www.chiomachuka.com and www.fairygodsister.wordpress.com

Read more about the author and her view on being a futurist.

 

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