Promoting Women’s Rights For National Dev

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Ms Michelle Bachelet, the UN
Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, during a three-day
official visit to Nigeria, canvassed for the empowerment of women.

Bachelet was in Nigeria from January 9 to January11 to gather
first-hand information on issues affecting women, children and physically
challenged persons in the country, with a view to tackling some of the
perceptible challenges.

At all the interactive sessions, Bachelet, a former President
of Chile, called for equal opportunities for women and women’s empowerment,
saying that such efforts would trigger the economic growth of the country.

She, nonetheless, bemoaned the ill-treatment of women and
children in Africa, citing recent developments in Mali, where women were
sexually harassed and abused, as examples.

Women are potential contributors to the political process in
Mali; the troops need to be trained on how to identify, prevent and respond to
threats and abuses against women and girls.

If women are empowered and adequately financed, there will be
improvement in the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) rate; the only way to become
one of the developed countries of the world is to focus on women empowerment
through education and capacity development.

“We hope that Nigeria would commit to passing the bill
seeking the prohibition of violence against women, as this would help put a
stop to violence against women,” she said.

Bachelet stressed that the active participation of women in
decision making would aid Nigeria’s efforts to achieve the objectives of Vision
20:2020 and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“Achieving gender equality is not the job of women alone; it
is the job of all of us. It requires the engagement of women and men;
determined leadership; bold policies and changes in attitudes for all of us.

“Equality is a matter of human rights and it is also good for
the economy,’’ she, added.

Nevertheless, President Goodluck Jonathan assured the UN
chief of his administration’s determination to empower women, by giving them
more access to elective positions.

“We have done very well in terms of appointments and
placement of women in positions of authority; we are still working to achieve a
greater representation of women in elective offices.

“Let me assure you that we are committed to facilitating more
successes for women in our coming elections,” he added.

Jonathan also assured Bachelet that his administration was
committed to attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

The president also re-affirmed his personal commitment to the
accelerated reduction of maternal and infant mortality rates in the country.

Besides, the First Lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan, also pledged
her commitment to ensuring effective gender mainstreaming in all socio-economic
and processes of the country through her programmes.

She underscored the importance of Bachelet’s visit, saying
that it would enable Nigeria to work hand-in-hand with the UN in exploring
areas of cooperation to further champion the cause of women.

“Let me assure you that we are committed to ensuring
effective gender mainstreaming so that in no distant future, we shall have
women who will be leaders and key players in every area of endeavour.

“In my devotion to the socio-economic wellbeing of our
people, we will continue to initiate programmes that will make women at all
levels aware of their rights and obligations as citizens of Nigeria.

“Through our modest efforts, Nigerian women now occupy 33.5
per cent appointive positions and 50 per cent in the judiciary,” she, noted.

Also speaking, Hajiya Zainab Maina, the Minister of Women
Affairs and Social Development, said that Batchelet’s visit marked a new dawn
of renewed commitment for women’s empowerment.

“Violence against women is increasingly recognised for what
it is: a threat to democracy, a barrier to lasting peace, a burden on national
economies and an appalling human rights’ violation,” she said.

Maina pledged the ministry’s commitment to championing the
crusade for the empowerment of women.

The Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, reiterated
that women empowerment was a top priority for the current federal
administration.

She said that the Federal Government was working hard to
develop the agricultural sector to ensure that women were well-equipped as
major participants in the sector.

The Governor of
Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, disclosed that the
bank had declared 2013 a year for women empowerment, as part of efforts to
promote the wellbeing of Nigerian women.

He said that the apex bank would soon launch a micro-finance
fund which would particularly promote the economic interests of women, adding
that 60 per cent of the resources of the fund would be exclusively devoted to
women’s economic interests.

The CBN governor also noted that the number of women in the
management cadre of the bank had increased.

Efforts to promote the women’s socio-economic interests have
also received a boost via the stated commitment of ECOWAS to adopt policies
that would promote women empowerment and other gender friendly issues.

President of ECOWAS
Commission, Amb. Kadre Ouedraogo,
pledged that the commission would ensure that tangible efforts were made
to address sensitive issues concerning women and children.

He said that the commission had initiated programmes that
would foster women’s participation in economic development.

The Vice-President of
ECOWAS Commission, Dr Toga McIntosh, however, called for adequate funding of
gender-sensitive and people-oriented programmes to  boost sustainable national development.

“We, therefore, have no choice, if we seek sustained
economic, social and political development, but to recognise and adequately
support the role of women in the nation-building process,’’ he said.

He also gave an assurance that ECOWAS would continue to
pursue policies and programmes that would promote gender equality in the West
African sub-region.

All the same, analysts agree that efforts to fast-track national
development will receive a boost if women are given their pride of place in the
country’s scheme of things.

Ifeanyi Nwoko, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)