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National dialogue: The woman agenda

WHILE Ethnic nationalities are the major driving force of the upcoming National Dialogue/Conference, the matter of gender must as a matter of course also take precedence.  While this fact was not on the front burner at the pre-conference of Ethnic Nationalities in  the nation’s capital, Abuja,last week, where diverse groups gathered led by Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor,  professor Ben Nwabueze, Chief Kuforiji Olubi and Alhaji Isa Burka, amongst countless others, women were partly represented at the historic event, with Bola Kuforiji Olubi chairing an interactive session. Renown feminist and don at the Obafemi Awolowo University professor Olabisi Aina  ensured the matter was not far from the heart of the discourse, with a paper titled: the Intersection of Gender and Ethnic Identity in Nigeria: A Development Discourse
Lone but Loud
WHILE the ethnic nationalities are fully on board  to propagate their ethnic interests, a gender agenda for the upcoming National Confab per se would have been muffled but for this lone but loud voice.
It defines intersectionality as a phenomenon based on the notion that individuals are simultaneously situated in multiple social structures, which interact in complex ways to influence their experiences, social relations and well being. Also as the interplay between individuals, identity at the micro level and the institutions with which they interact at the macro level.
Multiple identities
Further, it is defined as much about the processes through which multiple identities interact and evolve over time as it is about what these interactions imply for well being outcomes at a point in time. Intersectionality as a framework helps to understand how a variable- gender, class, ethnicity, religion- intersect in sometimes unusual ways resulting in either women’s empowerment, their discrimination and/or vulnerability in very distinctive ways.
More importantly intersectionality helps to acknowledge differences amongst women based on their structural placement in the society: class, ethnicity, religion, and even heightened by lapses in gender biased/ neutral policies and macroeconomic frameworks.
The cultural ethos which governed gender role relations and which intricately guided women status in our society have implications for the role women play in the development process and indeed on the overall national development agenda.
The Gender Agenda
Revealing research findings that  placed Osun state as the Nigerian one4 with the lowest rate of unemployment of women (at 3%) and Zamfara as the one with the highest, Aina convincingly links socio cultural view of women’s role in the society with discriminatory practices by employers of labour who prefer working with men because of perceived optimal efficiency compared to women who, in their view, have to cope with multiple roles of production and reproduction; relatively low education status which forces women to take low paying jobs and minimal participation of women in the Nigerian formal labour market.
In the federal civil service- the highest employer of labour in the country- women employees accounted for 31.28% of all employees between 2001 and 2006, while men accounted for 68.72@ according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Other statistics NBS confront with as much dismay:
Although women constitute over 60% of the agricultural labour force and contribute about 80% of the total food production, only 14% of women own the land they cultivate.
Other issues include Women’s education, where Nigerian women are still disadvantaged based mainly on socio cultural factors. National statistics shows that the proportion of girls in total primary school enrolment rose marginally from 43.9% in 2001 to 44.5% in 2006. In 2008, literacy rate was lowest in the North West (22% female; 58%, male ).
In the North 3% complete secondary school and more than 50% are married by age 16.  And while education is said to remain a veritable tool for achieving gender equity, social justice, poverty reduction and improved socio economic development of families, the education of women is tied to their ability to provide intergenerational transfers of knowledge and the substance of long term gender equality and social change.
In the healthcare sector the statistics are more gruesome, with maternal mortality rates (MMR) at 630 deaths per 100,000 live births, nearly double of the global average. A 2008 National Demographic and health survey put the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at 30% in Nigeria, with the Yoruba ethnic group having a  58% prevalence, followed by 51% among the Igbos.
And though women are breaking through the ceilings and moving into leadership positions traditionally held by men, the gender gap in public offices remains unacceptably high. In 2010, female Permanent Secretaries constituted 16.2% while male were 83.8%. NBS 2012 data presented that there are 3 female judges out of 14 judges of the Supreme Court. Also, there are 17 female judges out of a total of 65 Federal court judges.
In earlier gender studies, Professor Aina had established, while many of the Nigerian socio cultural practices are averse to female leadership roles, a link between gender responsive governance and anti corruption practices, in the belief that most women may have higher ethical behaviour than men and therefore be more concerned with the common good due to the way they have been socialized.
That particular study had concluded  that when women enjoy equal rights in governance and leadership , they become instrumental in passing gender responsive policies, laws and programs which promote the welfare of all citizens, especially women and children.
It would appear, therefore, that while the Ethnic question is no doubt of burning importance in a constitutional review, the Gender question calls for an urgent constitutional overhaul.
Women and the constitution today
Aina explores the constitution as it stands today in detail to the effect of pointing out clear contradictions in provisions and laws affecting women in Nigeria today. Defining the normative framework for the promotion and protection of gender equality and women’s rights in Nigeria are Constitutional; Legislative; Judicial; Policy and International human rights and Humanitarian Law Treaties, she purports that the combination of Federal and a tripartite system of civil, customary and religious laws makes it difficult to harmonize legislation, set standards and remove discriminatory measures. Adding that the constitution itself is “shrouded in ambivalences and contradictory messages”, she further argues that the constitution exhumes “patriarchal undertones and principles, evident in the language it utilizes”.
Examples abound.
Section 26 of the Constitution discriminates outrightly against women in the area of residency rights. For example, Nigerian men are allowed to the right to transfer citizen ship to their foreign husbands. Section (29)(4)(b) provides that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”, thereby stamping the practice of Child Marriage in its borders.
Also, although the Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right of individual to own movable and immovable property, customary laws and practices in some ethnic communities do not support this right, particularly with respect to immovable property. ; while the Sharia penal code which is operational in over 13 Northern states in Nigeria is misunderstood to mean the same as culture and tradition. An example is the Sharia provision for stoning and flogging of those who commit fornication and adultery. Furthermore, Section 55 of the Penal Code, which operates in northern Nigeria, allows a man to beat his wife
T0 Divorce, or to strengthen the marriage?
The ethnic nationalities movement, in their submission presented by Solomon Asemota SAN, drew an analogy between the Nigerian union, if it can be called that, and what he referred to as the Forced Marriage of 1914. The 10th of February 2014 is 100 years and 41 days after the event of 1914. The portrayal of the amalgamation of 1914 as metaphor was provided by Lord Harcourt, the secretary of state, when at a colonial service dinner in 1913 , the secretary of state summarized
The marriage of 1914 cannot be said to have been fruitful, or to have produced many useful results. This explains why the dissolution of the Nigerian union cannot be discussed at the National Conference for fear of its actualization.
Surely, we cannot have a nation of only males or only females. The union, in this case (i.e. along gender lines), cannot be altered by divorce. The only other alternative is to strengthen it.
Professor Aina recommends building gender equitable social  order, building bridges and partnerships with a variety of interest groups including the executives, the legislators, the judiciary ; law  enforcement  agents, policy makers, health and social workers leaders of industry, civil society organizations and the development partners.
Ingredients for success
The key ingredients for success are also identified to consist technical skill in gender analysis on gender mainstreaming, investing in gender statistics i.e. providing evidence for gender equity engagements, bridging gender gaps across sectors through appropriate macro-economic framework and plans and institutionalisation of gender responsive budgeting in key sectors to ensure that gender equity commitments are translated into realities through appropriate funding.
Others include reawakening of political will for gender equality and women empowerment mandates in the country, the first step will be to review the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from a gender perspective; instituting an enabling environment for gender equality engagements across Nigerian ethnic groups through intensive media engagements; gender equality value orientation and massive social mobilization of rural communities to imbibe gender equality standards and practices.
Recommendations to building a truly democratic Nigeria include an inclusive process of governance both in theory and practice and imbibing a national identity for Nigerians which transcends ethnic interests and divisions. At the core of this progression is giving a rightful place to gender equality and women empowerment principles to thrive.

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