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Promoting Good Governance.

Nigerian Women Present Charter Of Demands To New Government

By Abiose Adelaja Adams

Ahead of the forthcoming general election, a women’s rights group has presented to the government that will emerge a charter of demands for action on gender equality and equity in Nigeria.

The conveners of the Charter, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, WARDC, and the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, presented it to the only female candidate in the March 28 presidential elections, Remi Sonaiya, in Lagos recently.

“This signals the dawn of a new beginning for Nigerian women, as an agenda of minimum demands,” said executive director of WARDC, Abiola Akiyode Afolabi, during the presentation.

According to her, women’s rights are recognized and guaranteed in all international human rights instruments, but the activists are worried that Nigerian women still suffer inequalities in all spheres of human endeavour,  a situation that has continued to hamper their development and exclude them from mainstream politics and governance.

The document titled “The Five Political ‘Demands”, wants the party that wins the election to demonstrate political will and commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The rationale for this is the fact that the Nigerian government has ratified an array of regional and international conventions and agreements, all of which provide a comprehensive framework for the elimination of gender discrimination, promotion of gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women.

These instruments, which include the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies, the Millennium Development Goals, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), the Beijing Platform for Action, are not effectively in force in Nigeria.

The women therefore want the incoming administration to: “establish a system of gender mainstreaming which incorporates 35 per cent of women in all sectors of government.”

The second demand is for the new government to “improve women’s participation in politics and decision-making.”

The charter claims that women constitute about half of the population but adds that they occupy only 33 per cent of ministerial positions and 7 per cent of legislative positions at the national level, the lowest in West Africa.

The document asks for, “a reform of electoral law to provide for affirmative action as a criteria for registration of political parties;”

It says further, “Henceforth no gender constitutes more than 65 per cent of appointees to public offices, including parastatals, diplomatic missions, cabinet, corporations and institutions.”

It would be recalled that in the history of Nigeria since independence, (both military and civilian) only President Goodluck Jonathan administration, has consciously given women more participation in politics and appointments.

For instance, throughout his eight years in office, former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed only nine women into his cabinet. His successor, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, had only seven female ministers, while the current PDP-led Jonathan administration has appointed 13 female ministers and five special advisers in six years.

The third demand of the Charter, the full document of which can be found on WARDC and Nigerian Women Trust Fund’s website, is that the government “Invest in women’s economic empowerment and livelihoods”

According to the document, the incoming government must institutionalize measures that increase women’s access to credit and capital – Micro-credit, SMEs, etc – while the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, should develop gender sensitive lending policies to enable women to benefit from loans.

The Charter advocates for the government to “commit to provide microfinance for at least 10,000 women in each state per year, as well as reducing unemployment, especially among women, by at least five per cent annually for four consecutive years.”

It also wants the National Assembly and State Assemblies to enact the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill into law and amend the criminal and penal codes to make spousal violence a criminal offense.

As its fifth demand, the Charter wants the federal government to “demonstrate principled transformational leadership.”
This is premised on the fact that accountability, transparency and commitment, which serve as the bedrock of transformational leadership, are qualities commonly possessed by women.

Thus, the women called for promotion of leaders who are gender responsive, exposed to knowledge and communication skills.

Commenting on women’s participation in politics, Adefunmilayo Tejuosho, who was elected as a lawmaker in Lagos State House of Assembly in 2003 said it is not enough to advocate for women participation, but that they must also prove to be qualified and competitive in whatever position they seek.

“Women can even be more than the 35 per cent we are demanding. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to that figure. It is all about women who are qualified and intelligent and can make a difference,” said Tejuosho, who sponsored the passage of the Domestic Violence bill into law in Lagos State.

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