It was a day to remember in Rivers State. Women from all the 23 Local Government Areas of the State gathered at Sharks’ Football Stadium (Civic Center), Moscow Road, Port Harcourt to join their counterparts the world over to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day. They came in different colourful attires, displaying their rich cultures in dance, food and fashion among others. Non Governmental Organisations, female professional groups, female commissioners, female lawmakers, political female appointees and other gender sensitive bodies were not left out of the celebration.
International Women’s Day is a global event which started over a century ago in New York, United States of America. On March 19, 1911, the event was celebrated with rallies and meetings in countries like Denmark, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Two years later, it was proposed that the date be moved to March 8 and it has been celebrated on this day since then.
Over the years, the event has become a rallying point to build support for women’s right and participation in political and economic activities. It is also seen as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, while calling for gender equality.
The theme of this year’s IWD is “Leave no woman behind #Press for progress”
Speaking at the event, Wife of the State Governor, Justice Suzzette Nyesom Wike, said IWD is a day to acknowledge all that women have done over the years, how far they have gone and how far yet they have to go. She noted that even in civilized countries like the United Kingdom, there are still complaints of inequality between men and women which is based majorly on economic empowerment.
The First Lady, therefore, advocated for economic empowerment for the women, saying that if the State and indeed the nation, gets it right with economic empowerment for the women, everything else will find its place.
She, however, stated that economic empowerment can hardly be achieved without education, urging the women to get liberated through education. She condemned gender discrimination which, according to her, is still going on in many homes.
She said “when we discriminate in our homes and make the boys feel like they are more special than the girls, we have already started defeating the will of the girl so that she doesn’t come into maturity believing that she has something to offer.”
She called on the society to do more for the girl-child in order to beef up her self-esteem as that is the only way she can see herself becoming a leader tomorrow.
Justice Wike condemned child marriage, domestic violence, early pregnancy, rape, human trafficking and other social problems that militate against the girl-child, saying that if we do not take care of our girl-child, our future will not be bright.
Rather than see an empowered woman as a threat, she said men should support and encourage women to reach their full potentials. That way she noted, we will have a next generation full of competent women.
Similarly, the Chairman, House Committee on Women Affairs, Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon (Mrs) Victoria Nyeche, said IWD should not just be an annual thing but should be a daily event to enable women press for progress and ensure gender parity in our homes. She opined that both the boy-child and the girl-child need to be treated the same way.
The lawmaker said in order to press for progress, women must believe in themselves.
“A lot of women do not believe in themselves. That is why they don’t aspire for leadership positions. They want to be assistant. They want to be deputy. No! Press for change. You need to dare. When you dare, you succeed. You need to change the status quo without being aggressive. You must be bold. A lot of women are not bold”
She noted that the State House of Assembly has passed laws outlawing discrimination against women, harmful widowhood practices and female circumcision but these laws need to be enforced. She challenged women who are in the habit of meting out inhuman treatments to their fellow women to desist.
In the same vein, a federal lawmaker, Hon (Mrs) Blessing Nsiegbe, urged women to compete favourably with their male counterparts, especially in the political arena. She encouraged more women participation in politics, especially during the forthcoming local government election in the state and the general elections next year.
In her welcome address, the Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs Ukel Oyaghiri, stressed the need for the gap between men and women to be bridged in all spheres of human endeavour. She observed that no society can develop perfectly without inclusion of women in policy making. She urged women to come together and eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and all harmful practices against women while also promoting gender equality and equal opportunity.
The commissioner, who was thankful to the state governor, Barr Nyesom Wike, for his magnanimity and love for women of the State, called on government, stakeholders and all well meaning citizens of the State to join forces together to end all forms of discrimination against women and the girl-child.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women Affairs, Mrs Atosemi Eson Teetito, appealed for the appointment of more women into positions of authority both in the State and at the federal level, saying that when that is done, the current administration will do better and that will attract more awards to the governor. She urged women to always share useful information with one another instead of being secretive, envious and jealous of one another.
However, the State Chief Judge, Justice Iyayi Lamikanra, advised women to empower and equip themselves with quality education so as to be qualified for any job instead of waiting to be appointed merely because they are women. She said women must be industrious, learn crafts and find something doing like the women of old who engaged in farming and fishing through which they were able to train their children in school.
The Chief Judge, who was represented by Justice Elsie Thompson, insisted that women cannot afford to be lazy and claim that men are marginalizing them.
“We should engage in meaningful investment. Invest in your children. Above all, we should remember that the only person we are in competition with is ourselves, not the men, not the next woman”, she maintained.
Governor Wike, represented by Secretary to the State Government, Kenneth Kobani; the Deputy Governor, Dr (Mrs) Ipalibo Harry Banigo, and chairman of the occasion, Barr Rufus Godwin, assured women of government’s continuous support and recognition.
The governor reiterated that all the promises he made to the women including economic empowerment programme would soon be fulfilled.
Speeches and promises like these have become part of International Women’s Day celebration. Some stakeholders will, however, want to see more practical measures being taken to ensure that the event impacts more on the women, especially the rural dwellers.
Mrs Joy Lale, President, University of Port Harcourt Women Association, had this to say, “To me, the event does not really make a lot of impact on the rural women. I think it will be nice to have it done first at the local government level. Organise workshop and lecture on the theme for the year, and then later, we come to the state level to celebrate the way we are doing now, that way, it will make more impact”
For Chief Charity Deemua and Madam Daughter Bor, President and Secretary of Unique Daughters of Ogoni, respectively, IWD is worth celebrating. They, nonetheless, called on various women groups to collaborate with government to educate and empower their members so that they will be liberated from poverty and illiteracy and be equipped to make meaningful contributions in their families, communities and society at large.