The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) joins the world to mark today’s International women’s day. Today, the 8th day of March 2020 is a special day because it calls us to fight for a world where women are valued as humans and are able to reach their full potential. It is a collective fight as meaningful development can only be possible in a society where people irrespective of their gender can equally contribute their quota.
Twenty-five years after the Beijing Platform for action was convened for the advancement and wellbeing of women generally, there have been some achievements made in some of the 12 critical areas of concerns reached at the conference by both state and non-state actors in Africa and in Nigeria. In the area of Education for instance, far more women and girls are getting educated owing to the Universal Basic Education programme that is aimed at making education accessible for members of the society. The gender parity in this regard seems to be reducing especially in primary school enrolment.
However, women, over the years, have been excluded from politics and governance. Generally, they are undervalued and unappreciated due to an artificial cultural and social construction called gender. This year’s theme: “I am a Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Right for a Better Future” aims at rejuvenating women’s efforts all over the world in their little efforts in seeking for equity and equality. A lot of peculiar and important women issues have been completely left out or may probably have been relegated by mostly state actors. There have not been any deliberate programme by the government to address issues of girls who will likely be out of school as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. Such programme as to assist them go back to school after their entanglement. There is no doubt the benefit and impacts of education on woman generally will eventually translate to an organized society.
It is obvious that women, especially in Africa, Nigeria and the Niger Delta are more vulnerable to poverty, violence and diseases. They suffer more abuses and violations physically, psychologically and emotionally. They are hardly able to address issues of discrimination as a result of where their gender has placed them and the harsh economic situation which they suffer the most.
Nigeria is bereft of programmes specifically tailored to the needs of women and girls. In the Niger Delta in the event of conflict between militia groups and security agencies women and girls suffer more. In the North East, when Boko Haram and other insurgents violently hit the women also suffer both in the hands of the insurgents and the Nigerian military who are deployed to curtail the menace of insurgency. It is often said that when two elephants’ fights, it’s the grass that suffers. Women and girls become easy prey for both militia groups and security agencies in the course of their actions. The issues of rape and other violence against women are becoming prevalent by the day. The amnesty programme in the Niger Delta did not address issues of women in armed conflict. Neither has the government addressed the issues raised by the vulnerable women at the IDP camps in the North East.
A recent research by CEHRD has revealed that women bear the heaviest brunt of environmental pollution. Expert health opinion has proven that the impact of environmental pollution affects women medically than men, hence the rising cases of maternal health and other terminal diseases among women in the Niger Delta.
CEHRD is concerned about the fact that women are not yet involved even decisions that impact on them. Unjust constructed gender roles have taking them off the domain of politics and governance. Patriarchy has made it the exclusive preserve of the men. It has also thrown them into poverty and reduced them to less humans.
The harsh tag “Each for equal” calls us to champion the fight for equality by opening up the space for discussion on equality. It also calls for engagement on societal bias which constrains women into things rather than humans thereby limiting their horizons and potentials. “Each for equal” also enjoins us to celebrate great women achievers who are paving the way for women to understand that gender roles are constructed and women can be anything they set their mind to become. We therefore celebrate her Excellency Ipalibo Banigo, the Deputy governor of Rivers State, Vice Chairmen in the 23 LGAs of Rivers State as well as in Bayelsa State and Nigeria; women politicians and political actors, Permanent Secretaries, Commissioner, Ministers and Heads of Services. As we celebrate you, we hope you will provide the ladder for other women to be celebrated. To do this, we must broaden our perceptions, through a willingness to act.
We therefore seek to breach the gaps in women’s development by giving them a voice and platforms to realize their potentials. We call for gender justice in all its ramifications. First, women should be empowered. Second, women must be part of decision making and thirdly, the society must end violence against women. If women are empowered, if they are part of decision making, naturally violence against women will reduce. We will live in a better society when there is gender equity and gender equality.