A lot more needs to be done to empower the girls and women
On a recent visit to Nigeria, the United Nations Under Secretary-General and Executive Director, Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and former President of Chile, Madame Michelle Bachelet spoke strongly in favour of gender equality and women empowerment. It is a message that still resonates given recent reports about rising cases of domestic violence against women and the denial of rights to the girl child in our country.
While the current administration has touted as achievement its appointment of more women into cabinet positions, the lot of the ordinary woman in our country has hardly improved. Our women and girls still face daunting challenges while in the last couple of years, many have fallen victim to such bestialities like gang-rape, incest and all manner of domestic abuses and violence. While women remain the pillars of the family institution, they are victims of the most telling abuses of socio-economic, cultural and political exploitations in our society. Such is the dire situation that trafficking in women and children has become so commonplace that we wonder if any nobody is seriously tackling it.
All these happen because law enforcement in relation to crimes against women and girls appears weak and ineffective. That has engendered a situation in which most of those violated would rather just keep mute about their plight as reporting to the authorities might expose them to further indignities and humiliation. Furthermore, crimes, communal conflicts, wanton destruction of life and property (in which women and children are at the receiving end) have gradually become so endemic in our society, to the extent that many of the despicable violations are considered commonplace.
Perhaps more tellingly, the women in most Nigerian villages are highly impoverished. They lack access to basic medical facilities. They lack access to drinkable water. They still trek long hours to the farm to work for multiple hours just to eke out a living. They die from preventable illnesses. So bad is the situation that majority of the pregnant women in many villages still give birth in huts without any medical aid. Therefore beyond rhetoric, the empowerment of women is crucial for strengthening the families and communities, improving food security and bringing about sustainable development.
Beyond lamenting Nigeria’s increasing maternal and infant deaths, government should improve the poor primary healthcare and emergency obstetrical services associated with child birth. Cultural and financial barriers to health need to be analysed with a view to overcoming them.
State governments should place the girl-child education as priority while child marriage should be discouraged. We also advocate access to vocational education to enable our rural women engage in productive activities. Nigerian girls and women should have increased access to farmlands and agricultural loans. In the area of law enforcement, considering the gravity of rape, we urge the police and other security agencies to always ensure that suspects are swiftly prosecuted. We also urge our courts to be stringent in applying appropriate sanctions to convicts in order to serve as a deterrent to other would-be offenders.
The National Assembly should expedite the enactment of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill without further delay. Safe houses, toll-free numbers, free counselling and financial support need to be provided for survivors of violence to enable them overcome their trauma as swiftly as possible. Finally, we call for increased sensitisation of men and women to the peculiar challenges that women confront on a daily basis, as well as the participation of Nigerian women at all levels of governance and in all spheres of human endeavour.