• Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

Nigeria’s Struggle And Triumphs In The Fight For Gender Equality — Hyacinth Nwafor


In the vibrant and diverse nation of Nigeria, the pursuit of gender equality stands as a critical challenge and a compelling opportunity. Gender inequality is a pervasive issue that cuts across all aspects of Nigerian society, from education and economic participation to health and political representation. Despite the country’s rich cultural heritage and substantial economic potential, deeply entrenched patriarchal norms and practices continue to marginalize women and girls, impeding their ability to contribute fully to their communities and the nation’s development.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is a land of contrasts. It boasts a dynamic urban landscape and vast rural expanses, home to over 250 ethnic groups with unique traditions and cultural practices. However, these cultural norms often perpetuate gender discrimination, limiting the opportunities available to women and girls. Education, a powerful tool for empowerment, remains out of reach for many Nigerian girls, particularly in the northern regions where cultural norms and security challenges pose significant barriers. Economic participation is similarly restricted, with women facing substantial obstacles in accessing resources, markets, and formal employment.

Health and reproductive rights are also areas of concern, with high maternal mortality rates and limited access to reproductive health services. Gender-based violence, including early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), further undermines the rights and well-being of women and girls. Political representation remains low, despite efforts to increase women’s participation in leadership roles.

However, amidst these challenges, there are stories of resilience and progress. Grassroots movements, non-governmental organizations, and government initiatives are making strides in promoting gender equality. From the “Educating Nigerian Girls in New Enterprises” (ENGINE) program, which re-enrolls out-of-school girls, to the “Market Women’s Association” supporting women traders, there are numerous examples of efforts to empower women economically and socially. Notable Nigerian women in leadership positions, such as Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Amina Mohammed, serve as role models, demonstrating the potential of women when given the opportunity to lead.

This feature story delves into the complexities of gender inequality in Nigeria, examining the multifaceted challenges women face and the ongoing efforts to promote gender equality. Through a closer look at education, economic participation, health, political representation, and cultural norms, we explore the current landscape, the successes achieved, and the road ahead. By highlighting practical examples and success stories, we aim to shed light on the path towards a more equitable future for Nigeria, where gender equality is not just an aspiration but a reality.

THE GENDER INEQUALITY LANDSCAPE IN NIGERIA

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is a land of contrasts. It is home to vibrant cities and vast rural areas, with over 250 ethnic groups and a wide array of cultural practices. However, deeply entrenched patriarchal norms and traditions have historically marginalized women and girls, limiting their opportunities in various aspects of life.

EDUCATION

Education is a powerful tool for empowering individuals and promoting gender equality. Yet, in Nigeria, significant gender disparities persist in educational attainment. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria, with girls disproportionately affected.

In the northern regions, particularly in states like Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, the situation is exacerbated by cultural norms that prioritize early marriage over education for girls. Boko Haram insurgency has also contributed to the disruption of education, with schools being targeted and girls abducted. The infamous kidnapping of the Chibok girls in 2014 is a stark reminder of the dangers girls face in pursuing education in these areas.

Despite these challenges, there are stories of resilience and progress. In Kano State, the “Educating Nigerian Girls in New Enterprises” (ENGINE) program has made significant strides in re-enrolling out-of-school girls. By providing scholarships, mentorship, and life skills training, the program has empowered thousands of girls to return to school and pursue their dreams.

ECONOMIC PARTICIPATION

Economic empowerment is crucial for achieving gender equality. However, Nigerian women face significant barriers to economic participation. According to the World Bank, women in Nigeria are less likely to own land, have access to credit, or hold formal employment compared to men.

In rural areas, women often engage in subsistence farming and small-scale trading, with limited access to resources and markets. The “Market Women’s Association” in Lagos is an example of grassroots efforts to support women traders. By providing microloans, business training, and advocacy, the association helps women enhance their economic prospects and gain financial independence.

In the corporate sector, gender disparity is also evident. Women are underrepresented in leadership positions and face a gender pay gap. Initiatives like “Women in Management, Business, and Public Service” (WIMBIZ) are working to address these issues by promoting women’s leadership and entrepreneurship through networking, mentorship, and capacity-building programs.

HEALTH AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

Access to healthcare and reproductive rights is a critical aspect of gender equality. Nigerian women face numerous health challenges, including high maternal mortality rates, limited access to reproductive health services, and widespread gender-based violence.

Nigeria accounts for nearly 20% of global maternal deaths, with an estimated 58,000 women dying annually from pregnancy-related complications. Factors contributing to this high mortality rate include lack of access to quality healthcare, inadequate infrastructure, and cultural practices that discourage the use of maternal health services.

The “Midwives Service Scheme” (MSS) is a government initiative aimed at addressing maternal health challenges in rural areas. By deploying trained midwives to underserved communities, the program has helped reduce maternal and infant mortality rates. Additionally, organizations like “Marie Stopes Nigeria” provide reproductive health services, including family planning and safe abortion, to women across the country.

Gender-based violence remains a pervasive issue in Nigeria. The “Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act” (VAPP), passed in 2015, is a landmark legislation aimed at addressing various forms of violence against women and girls. However, implementation and enforcement remain challenges, with many victims lacking access to justice and support services.

POLITICAL REPRESENTATION

Political representation is a vital aspect of gender equality, yet Nigerian women are significantly underrepresented in political leadership. Despite constituting about half of the population, women hold only a small fraction of elected and appointed positions.

The “Not Too Young to Run” movement, which advocates for lowering the age limit for running for political office, has gained significant traction and led to legislative changes. While this movement primarily focuses on youth, it also indirectly benefits women by creating more opportunities for young female leaders to enter politics.

In 2019, Nigeria witnessed a slight increase in the number of women elected to the National Assembly, but the figures remain low. Efforts to increase women’s political participation include capacity-building programs, advocacy for gender quotas, and support for female candidates through organizations like the “Women in Politics Forum” (WIPF).

CULTURAL AND SOCIAL NORMS

Cultural and social norms play a significant role in shaping gender roles and expectations in Nigeria. Patriarchal practices and traditional beliefs often limit women’s opportunities and reinforce gender inequality.

Early Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)Early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) are two harmful practices that significantly affect girls’ rights and well-being. According to UNICEF, 43% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday, with higher prevalence rates in northern regions. Early marriage often leads to the end of girls’ education and exposes them to health risks associated with early childbirth.

FGM, a practice that involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, is prevalent in various parts of Nigeria. The practice is deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and is often justified as a rite of passage or a means to control women’s sexuality. Despite being outlawed by the VAPP Act, FGM continues to be practiced, with an estimated 20 million Nigerian women and girls having undergone the procedure.

Efforts to combat early marriage and FGM include community-based education programs, advocacy campaigns, and enforcement of existing laws. Organizations like the “Girl Child Concerns” (GCC) work to protect girls from these harmful practices by raising awareness, providing support services, and advocating for policy changes.

GENDER STEREOTYPES AND MEDIA REPRESENTATION

Gender stereotypes and media representation significantly influence societal perceptions of gender roles. In Nigeria, traditional media often perpetuates stereotypes that portray women as subservient, domestic, and limited to certain professions.

However, there is a growing movement to challenge these stereotypes and promote positive representation of women and girls. Initiatives like the “Women at Risk International Foundation” (WARIF) and the “African Women in Media” (AWIM) work to amplify women’s voices and stories in the media. By highlighting women’s achievements and addressing gender bias in reporting, these organizations aim to change societal attitudes and inspire future generations.

Social media has also become a powerful tool for advocacy and awareness. Campaigns like BringBackOurGirls, which called for the return of the abducted Chibok girls, and EndSARS, which highlighted police brutality and included discussions on gender-based violence, have mobilized national and international support for women’s rights issues.

SUCCESS STORIES AND ONGOING EFFORTS

Despite the numerous challenges, there have been significant successes and ongoing efforts to promote gender equality in Nigeria. These initiatives, led by government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and grassroots movements, provide hope and inspiration for a more equitable future.

WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP

Nigerian women have made remarkable strides in leadership across various sectors. Notable examples include Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman and first African to serve as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and former Nigerian Minister of Environment.

These women, along with many others, serve as role models and advocates for gender equality. Their achievements demonstrate the potential of Nigerian women when given the opportunity to lead and excel.

GRASSROOTS MOVEMENTS AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Grassroots movements and community engagement are crucial for driving change at the local level. In various parts of Nigeria, women are organizing and advocating for their rights and well-being.In the Niger Delta, the “Niger Delta Women’s Movement for Peace and Development” (NDWMPD) works to empower women through peacebuilding and economic development initiatives. By addressing the specific challenges faced by women in conflict-affected areas, the organization promotes gender equality and social cohesion.

In the northern state of Borno, the “Queen Amina Foundation” focuses on education and empowerment for girls and women. The foundation provides scholarships, vocational training, and mentorship programs to support girls’ education and economic independence.

GOVERNMENT POLICIES AND LEGISLATION

The Nigerian government has made efforts to address gender inequality through policies and legislation. The National Gender Policy, adopted in 2006, aims to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment across all sectors. The policy outlines strategies for addressing issues such as education, health, economic participation, and political representation.

Additionally, the implementation of the VAPP Act, the Child Rights Act, and the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security demonstrates the government’s commitment to addressing gender-based violence and protecting women’s rights. However, effective implementation and enforcement remain critical challenges.

THE ROAD AHEAD: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Achieving gender equality in Nigeria requires a sustained and coordinated effort from all sectors of society. While significant progress has been made, numerous challenges remain. Addressing these challenges and seizing the opportunities that arise from them is crucial for creating a more equitable society. Here, we explore the key challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the journey towards gender equality in Nigeria.

CHALLENGES

CULTURAL NORMS AND TRADITIONS

Cultural norms and traditions are deeply entrenched in Nigerian society, often perpetuating gender inequality. Patriarchal practices dictate the roles and behaviors deemed appropriate for men and women, limiting women’s opportunities and reinforcing discriminatory attitudes. For instance, in many parts of Nigeria, early marriage is seen as a means to secure a girl’s future, while boys are encouraged to pursue education and careers. Changing these deep-seated cultural norms requires comprehensive education and awareness campaigns that engage all members of the community, including traditional and religious leaders who wield significant influence.

WEAK IMPLEMENTATION OF LAWS

Nigeria has made strides in enacting progressive legislation aimed at promoting gender equality and protecting women’s rights. However, the implementation and enforcement of these laws remain weak. The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP) and the Child Rights Act are examples of important legal frameworks that are not fully enforced across the country. Ensuring effective implementation requires strengthening institutions, providing adequate training for law enforcement and judicial personnel, and creating mechanisms for accountability. Without these steps, the impact of these laws will remain limited.

ECONOMIC BARRIERS

Economic empowerment is crucial for achieving gender equality, yet Nigerian women face significant economic barriers. Women have limited access to financial services, land ownership, and markets, which restricts their ability to participate fully in the economy. The informal sector, where many women are employed, offers little job security or benefits. Addressing these barriers requires targeted interventions such as providing microloans, training programs, and access to markets for women entrepreneurs. Additionally, policies that promote equal pay and opportunities in the formal sector are essential.

GENDER–BASED VIOLENCE

Gender–based violence (GBV) is a pervasive issue in Nigeria, affecting women and girls across all regions and socio-economic groups. GBV includes domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, and harmful practices such as early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). Addressing GBV requires a multi-faceted approach, including improving access to justice for survivors, enhancing support services such as shelters and counseling, and implementing comprehensive prevention programs. Community engagement and education are crucial in changing attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate violence against women.

OPPORTUNITIES

EDUCATION AND AWARENESS

Education is a powerful tool for challenging harmful cultural practices and promoting gender equality. Investing in education for girls not only empowers them but also has a ripple effect on their families and communities. Programs like the “Educating Nigerian Girls in New Enterprises” (ENGINE) have demonstrated the impact of re-enrolling out-of-school girls and providing them with scholarships and mentorship. Expanding such initiatives can significantly increase educational attainment for girls. Additionally, awareness campaigns that educate communities about the benefits of gender equality and the rights of women and girls can help shift societal attitudes.

POLICY AND LEGISLATION

While the weak implementation of laws is a challenge, the existence of progressive legislation provides a strong foundation for advocacy and action. Strengthening the implementation and enforcement of existing policies and legislation can lead to significant improvements in gender equality. Advocacy efforts should focus on ensuring that government agencies are adequately resourced and held accountable for enforcing laws such as the VAPP Act and the Child Rights Act. Additionally, new policies and reforms that address emerging issues and gaps in the legal framework are essential.

ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

Supporting women’s economic empowerment is a key opportunity for promoting gender equality. Providing women with access to financial services, training, and resources can enhance their participation in the economy and improve their livelihoods. Initiatives like the “Market Women’s Association” in Lagos, which provides microloans and business training to women traders, are examples of how targeted support can make a difference. Scaling up such programs and creating policies that support women entrepreneurs can have a transformative impact on women’s economic participation.

GRASSROOTS MOVEMENTS

Grassroots movements and community engagement play a vital role in driving change from the bottom up. Women’s groups and local organizations are often at the forefront of advocating for gender equality and addressing issues such as GBV, early marriage, and access to education. Supporting these grassroots initiatives through funding, capacity-building, and networking opportunities can amplify their impact and create lasting change. Organizations like the “Niger Delta Women’s Movement for Peace and Development” (NDWMPD) and the “Queen Amina Foundation” demonstrate the power of community-driven efforts in promoting gender equality.

LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIAL MEDIA

In the digital age, technology and social media offer powerful tools for advocacy and awareness. Social media campaigns have played a significant role in mobilizing support for women’s rights issues in Nigeria. The BringBackOurGirls campaign, which highlighted the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, and the EndSARS movement, which included discussions on gender-based violence, are examples of how social media can amplify voices and drive change. Leveraging technology for education, awareness, and advocacy can reach wider audiences and create a platform for women and girls to share their stories and experiences.

CONCLUSION

The road to achieving gender equality in Nigeria is fraught with challenges, but it is also filled with opportunities for transformative change. Addressing cultural norms, strengthening the implementation of laws, removing economic barriers, and combating gender-based violence are critical steps in this journey. At the same time, investing in education and awareness, supporting economic empowerment, leveraging grassroots movements, and utilizing technology and social media offer promising avenues for progress.The stories of resilience and success, from grassroots movements to prominent women leaders, demonstrate that change is possible. By harnessing the collective efforts of government agencies, non-governmental organizations, community groups, and individuals, Nigeria can make significant strides towards gender equality. The path ahead requires commitment, collaboration, and a shared vision of a society where everyone, regardless of gender, can thrive and contribute to the nation’s development.

The fight for gender equality in Nigeria is far from over, but progress is being made. Through the combined efforts of government agencies, non-governmental organizations, grassroots movements, and individuals, significant strides have been achieved in promoting women’s rights and empowerment.

As Nigeria continues to navigate the challenges and opportunities of gender equality, the stories of resilience, innovation, and determination serve as a beacon of hope. By breaking down barriers and challenging the status quo, Nigeria can pave the way for a more equitable and just society where everyone, regardless of gender, can thrive.

Hyacinth Beluchukwu Nwafor

Hyacinth Beluchukwu Nwafor is a seasoned journalist and the CEO/Founder Belch Digital Communications, publishers of Hybrid News Nigeria.

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