Empowering The Nigerian Woman …High point of The Jonathan Presidency

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The women folk have been described as an integral part of
nation building. Infact, they are  an
important part necessary for sustainable development at all levels.

As in other democracies of the world, successive governments
in Nigeria have been engaged in the sustained campaign for greater and
effective women participation in politics in line with the Beijing conference
declaration which advocates for 35 percent affirmative action.

The affirmative action seeks higher representation of women
of at least, 35 per cent in appointments political and public offices.

For this to be realised, the Federal Government set up the
National Gender Policy to promote the attainment of this said target. Prior to
the present Civilian administration, previous military governments had several
programmes in place to empower women politically. For instance, the federal
government on June 13, 1985 signed and ratified the convention on the
elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

Subsequently, the government of General Ibrahim Babangida
began to initiate policies and programmes aimed at improving the lives of women
through Better Life for Rural Women programme of the late first lady, Mrs  Maryam
Babangida.

In furtherance of that project, Mrs Babangida initiated the
establishment of National Commission for Women. The succeeding administration
of General Sani Abacha later consolidated on this foundation through the Family
Support Programme (FSP) of Mrs  Mariam
Abacha.

Consequent upon the establishment of  Women Affairs, there has been continued
impetus for the increasing positive role of women in politics. With it, women
organisations are now beginning to find a rallying point for common action
politically, economically and socially.

At state levels, various governors’ wives also initiated
programmes targeted at the development and empowerment  of women and the girl-child.

In Rivers State for example, The Adolescent Project, TAP of
former First Lady, Mrs Mary Odili was succeeded by the Empowerment Support
Initiative, ESI of the present Governor’s Wife, Mrs Judith Amaechi.

In conscious effort to further realise the Gender
Affirmative Action, President Goodluck Jonathan while campaigning for election
in 2011 in Jos, Plateau State pledged to uphold the 35 percent Affirmative
Action Plan in his appointments if elected into office.

In fact, the President has gone a long way in giving
effective representation to women in political and public office appointments.

Today, there are about 13 women in Jonathan’s Federal
Executive Cabinet, representing about 32 per cent of the 42 member Cabinet,
with many others leading sensitive institutions.

This means, the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has
scored high marks on the empowerment of women.

To his credit, women now know that they can aspire to the
highest office in the country.

Only few months ago, Nigeria witnessed the emergence of the
first woman Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice  Muktar Aloma.

Other Prominent women in the Jonathan administration include
Ministers for Petroleum, Aviation, Environment, Education and  those of the Ministers of State for Defence
and Foreign Affairs among others.

However, the major force for women’s empowerment and greater
role in government in the present administration has been the First Lady, Dame
Patience Jonathan.

With her pet project, Women for Change Initiative, Dame
Patience Jonathan, widely seen as an Apostle of women empowerment, enhanced the
journey started by previous First Ladies into an era befitting of Nigerian
Woman.

She struggled relentlessly to awaken and empower the
Nigerian woman  through her various
summits, programmes, enlightenment campaigns, sensitisations including making
sure that women in politics in the country are constitutionally recognised as
stakeholders. She canvassed in several fora that women should be given more
opportunities to contribute to the development of the country.

It is also to her credit that women were effectively
mobilised for the last general election in Nigeria, and that President Goodluck
Jonathan affirmed and delivered the promise of
35 percent affirmative action for women in his administration is a step
in the right direction.  Good enough, a
journey that women have been striving to achieve in nearly two decades was
achieved by the administration in less than a year.

However, in spite of these efforts, the engagement of women
in governance  is  yet to reach the desired level in Nigeria.

This is due largely to a number of factors ranging from
economic barriers to religious impediments. Because of these limitations, women
usually constitute a smaller percentage of political party membership. And
owing to their peculiar circumstance, they are often relegated to the
background in the scheme of things. Besides, only a very few men, even among
the educated, allow their wives to come out and participate in politics.

Furthermore, family responsibilities and childbearing also
hinder women from participating effectively in partisan political activities.
For better part of their lives, most women are involved not only in child
bearing but also in child rearing. Thus, much of the time they could have
devoted to politics is taken up by their maternal challenges and obligations.

Part of this challenge again is lack of adequate education.
Women constitute a larger percentage of the illiterate population in Nigeria.

But the strides and achievements of the present
administration under President Goodluck Jonathan have not gone unnoticed.

In October last year, the Minister of Women Affairs, Hajiya
Zainab Maina, at the meeting of the 13th Regular Council on Women Affairs, said
that with the achievement of 33 per cent affirmative action, Nigeria can also
attain the 35 percent target.

According to Hon (Mrs) Johnson Dibia, the action has
attained a measure of success in Nigeria considering the African setting as
regards male and female issues.

She said ‘the typical African man so commonalised the female
gender to the extent that the places she belonged were the farms and the
kitchens while the males remained kings and Lords. But now, things have changed
both at the international, national and state levels.’

Dibia who commended the placement of women in key positions
at the federal level said however that the ratio is still lopsided in
comparison to the male counterparts.

“I think it is this 35 per cent affirmative action that has
brought the Finance, Petroleum, Education ministers among others to their
position but it is still insignificant in comparism and so I am saying that the
governments at both the federal and state levels should try more and give us
this action in the real word of it

On the role of the
First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan towards achieving the affirmative action,
she said “as our mother, she has tried so much. She actually mobilised the
women during the last pre-election campaigns and that spells out her interest
in bringing the women to limelight in the nation’s politics.

Noting the problems that the agitation for  35per cent Affirmative  Action has attracted, the former Councilor
for Environment, Works and Transport lamented the activities and behaviour of
the female gender even in their quest for the attainment of the action.

“We are the ones hindering ourselves. There is a lot of
gossip, jealousy, envy and bad behaviours among us and these will only militate
against our pursuit of this 35 per cent Affirmative Action.”

She continued “we must come together as a common people with
a common aim. It was saddening  that a
female vied for the position of
President and women did not vote for her. We must stop all forms of
negative attitudes and pursue the goal and only then will the men take us
seriously.”

Also reacting, a Human Rights Activists and Coordinator,
Women Initiative for Transparency and Social Justice (WITSOJ), Dr Jennifer
Spiff, said that the 35 per cent Affirmative Action had not been realistic.

In her words “women have not been really given the place
they fully deserve. No level  playing
ground to vie for positions electorally. There is a high fee placed on
electoral forms and huge resources in campaigns and the woman is not
economically empowered to overcoming the odds.

“We only have a handful of women at key positions both at
the states and federal  levels and that
is not enough to make us belief that we have achieved. What we have is more of
appointment handouts to the females where they dance to the tune of their
ogas  masters and that is not the true
spirit of the 35  per cent Affirmative
Action. Let’s be voted and be given the space to exercise our voting rights and
then we can say the government is trying,’ she stated.

Spiff however lauded Dame Jonathan for her giant strides in
ensuring that the voice of women were heard during the last elections saying
“she gathered the women together, mobilised them and urged them to hold their
ground in the elections even though it was only Sarah Jubril that actually
stood out.

 

Lady Usende