The appalling condition and discrimination against women in Nigeria politics is giving the minister of women affairs and social development sleepless night. RAJI ADEBAYO analysed the situation, while the Minister proffers solution to these anomalies.
FOLLOWING the recent 2012 Gender Report in Nigeria, the Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina reiterated her unflinching commitment to gender equity and the overall welfare of women in and out of government which is against the backdrop of dwindling fortunes of women viz -a- viz overall national development.
Maina is not new to issues that concern women in the country, for over four decades she has been championing women course either as a woman activist, gender advocate, community mobiliser, and politician.
Having served as the National President of the National Council of Women's Societies and the Director of Women Mobilisation of the Goodluck/Sambo Campaign Organisation during the electioneering process of this present administration which is a manifestation of her in-depth knowledge on women development and gender equity.
In a statement personally signed by her, the minister regretted that the cost of gender inequality and the general poor condition of women is huge, which is one of the major constraints to growth in the country, maintaining that investing in girls and women is an investment in future development of this country.
According to her, 'the statistics of the state of the Nigerian women and adolescent girls are appalling. Significantly, they are worrisome all over the country, North, South, East or West. Women everywhere in Nigeria have worse life chances than men.'
'Nigeria's 80.2 million women have a worse chance in life than the men. 60-79 per cent of the rural workforce is women but men are five times more likely to own land.
More than 70 per cent of girls and women between 20 and 29 in the North West cannot read or write and only 31 per cent complete secondary school.
Women occupy 21 per cent of non formal sector positions and only 17 per cent of this in senior cadre, she stated.
Maina affirmed that Nigeria is marked with huge geographical disparities as human development outcomes for girls and women are worse in the North, where poverty levels are sometimes twice as high as parts of the South.
Seventy two per cent in the North-East compared with 26 per cent in the South-East and a national average of 54 per cent.
Nearly half of all children under five are malnourished in the North-East, compared to 22 per cent in the South-East. Hausa girls, for example, are 35 per cent less likely to go to school than Yoruba boys.
'The impact of inequality on the lives of girls and women is reflected starkly in health and education outcomes, nationally and between North and South. Levels of gender violence are also high, notably in the South where inequality is greatest,' she stressed.
Obstacles for women economic independence is an essential dimension of women's empowerment, improving their access to and control over resources, increases investment in human capital, which in turn improves children's health, nutrition, education and future growth.
Business has overtaken subsistence farming and formal employment as the main source of income as women compose the majority of informal sector workers.
Though many women are involved in subsistence agriculture and off farm activities, men are five times more likely than women to own land as women own four per cent of land in the North-East, and just over ten per cent in the South-East and South-South.
Land ownership and land tenure give women security and provide a key to access other resources and opportunities.
The minister also observed that income inequality in the formal sector is another area of concern for the National Gender Machinery.
According to the findings, only one in every three employees in the privileged non-agricultural formal sector is a woman.
Regardless of their educational qualifications, women occupy fewer than 30 per cent of all posts in the public sector and only 17 per cent of senior positions.
She suggested that the public sector could highlight and address this issue by conducting a gender audit to identify where gender equity can be strengthened in recruitment, promotion and pay.
The development of girls' education was another important area of concern. Consequently for Nigeria to capitalise on the potential of its people, and ensure healthier, more educated, empowered and productive citizens, it must invest in educating the mothers of the next generation, the evidence is irrefutable.
Educated women are more likely to use health services and to have fewer and better-nourished children, and their children are more likely to survive.
Girls who are educated will also contribute to future economic growth. Education policy can influence parental decisions about the need to educate the girl-child. Some 1.5million.
According to the minister, Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world.
he figures show wide disparities between states and across communities. 70.8 per cent of young women aged 20-29 in the North-West are unable to read or write compared to 9.7 per cent in the South-East.
Several reasons explain this such as socio-cultural traits, poverty, early marriage, early childbirth, poor sanitation, and the shortage of female teachers.
Maina lamented that the nation has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world with one woman dying every ten minutes during delivery.
'That is 545 deaths per every 100,000 successful deliveries; nearly 50 per cent of all Nigerian women are mothers before they turn 20.'
She attributed this to the weak economic base of the women and their inability to access quality health care services.
'Decisions to seek treatment may be influenced by a woman's social position in the household, and her economic status, age, and education.
Mothers in the poorest quintile are 6.5 times more likely to die than those in the wealthiest quintile.
Almost nine in ten women who have higher education and two thirds of women with secondary education give birth in a health facility while one in ten uneducated women do so.'
Other reasons for high mortality were poor access to safe childbirth services, and lack of adequate and affordable emergency obstetric care.
'Only 36 per cent of women deliver in a health facility or in the presence of a qualified birth attendant in which most of the cost is borne by households.
Among girls aged 10 to 14, certain groups are both particularly vulnerable and unlikely to access services, they include girls who marry at an early age, girls who are out of school, and girls who live apart from their parents.'
The minister also noted that another area of great concern is the political representation of women where only nine per cent of those who stood for election in Nigeria in April 2011 National Assembly elections were women and out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives, only 25 are women representing 6 per cent compared to African average of 19 per cent.
The lack of women in decision-making positions may be one explanation for Nigeria's low investment in sectors that are crucial to human development outcomes, such as health and education.
Women are underrepresented in all political decision-making bodies and their representation has not increased since the inception of democratic rule.
Women are more than men who registered to vote, but women are excluded from decision-making at all levels by male dominated patronage networks, the absence of agreed quotas, and a party system that fails to nominate women candidates for electable seats.
Fear of violence and restrictions on mobility may also deter women in some instances.
Maina maintained that unless women are represented in elected bodies where major spending decisions are taken, it is likely that current patterns of expenditure will continue.
Where women are more equally represented in parliament, intrastate armed conflict is less prevalent and social spending is allocated more fairly and efficiently.
Violence against women and girls cannot be ignored.
One in three of all women and girls aged 15-24 has been a victim of violence. Women who have never married are more likely to have been attacked than married women.
These figures cry out for further analysis. It is vital to understand the underlying social dynamics and causes of violence.
Research has suggested, disturbingly, that violence is endemic in some public institutions, including the police and certain educational bodies, where an 'entrenched culture of impunity' protects perpetrators of rape and other violence.
These crimes are under-reported and very few cases are brought to court. Fear of violence hinders Nigeria's development.
It not only deters girls from going to school but impacts on almost every aspect of women's lives as productive and active citizens.
With all these working against the development of the Nigerian women, Maina strongly believes that women have the potential to transform Nigeria, stressing that achieving balanced development places a responsibility for change in all institutions of governance and social structures.
'Girls and women have the potential to transform Nigeria. Investing in girls today will improve productivity and growth and also lead to a more peaceful, healthy and skilled work force tomorrow,' she added.
She pointed out that, government, the parliament, the judiciary, civil society, development partners, institutions of faith and culture, including all men and women have a role to play in enhancing women's economic well-being and opportunity to earn income through prioritising agriculture and rural development, granting women more access to land for security and collateral.
Giving women more access to public sector positions/ incentives, improved healthcare for women and children, ensuring that more girls stay in and finish school and thus delay early marriages and early childbirth, tackling the issue of gender violence especially in schools as a strategic step as well as stepping up campaign against child and girl trafficking and the National Assembly should domesticate CEDAW and the African Union Protocol of women's rights by passing the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill as soon as possible.