October 1st serves as the nationally recognized day of Nigerian independence from British rule. Sixty one years later, Nigeria has proven to be the most popular and populous country in West Africa. Richly endowed with natural resources, large expanse of land, a constantly growing population, diverse culture, numerous agricultural produce that can rival many nations, Nigeria has come of age. Sadly, the reality starkly contrasts the expectations. The expectations both from a local standpoint and by international standards – politically, economically, legally and otherwise, fall short in policies, laws and governance.
Women are most affected by these below-par and un-progressive performance. Gender equality, inclusiveness, equal pay, women in governance: these have become resounding themes of the 21st century with the feminism movement pushing hard for women’s rights, seeking for policies and laws that protect the rights of the woman as a human. These loud campaigns and protests heard globally seem inaudible in Nigeria. The collective voice of the Nigerian women is muffled by laws, policies, practices, traditions and religions that by default relegates her value. This has only led to the rise and spread of women groups across the nation both on social media and the streets, actively engaging with policymakers and government and seeking for their basic human rights.
With no due recognition back home, Nigerian women are known and recognized in international communities for their contributions to the society and sustainable development goals. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Amina J. Mohammed, Oby Ezekwsili, Chimamanda Adiche, Folorunso Alakija are only a few examples of women in arts, politics and business who have regardless, gone on to achieve great feats.
There are plethora of issues that need to be addressed urgently; a major one is the greater involvement of women in political and decision-making processes. The underrepresentation of women in politics is considered as a huge hindrance on our development as a state. There is a dominance of men in the political atmosphere in spite of the National Gender Policy which highlights women’s right to equality in economic, social and political life, with provisions to increase women in elected and appointed positions, known as the 35% affirmative action. Women have contested for various political positions to gain access to decision making tables despite the unconducive political environment exacerbated by violence, patriarchy, campaign finance, etc. However, their efforts have not yielded much gain and the outcomes are not very encouraging.
Aside poor participation in governance, the Nigerian woman is constantly faced with challenging circumstances due to cultural, religious and societal influence which stifles or shuts down their opinions. Even their achievements are tied to them being just females or are perceived to be gotten through sexual favours. Some religious and cultural practices still subjugate women to this abominable notion that they do not deserve to be at the level at which there are because they are not up to par with men.
Contemporary issues affecting women in Nigeria include child marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual and gender-based violence, poor basic education and health care, empowerment deficiency, limited representation in governance, existence of laws and policies that are discriminatory to women, lack of domestication and enforcement of the VAPP Act and Child’s Right Act in some states, amongst others. These elements are set up to fail women.
In conclusion, there is urgent call to create an enabling environment that encourages equal representation of women in leadership as they play vital roles in the growth and development of our society. Clearly, we need to rethink the approach to women’s empowerment and gender equality, especially in the area of increasing women’s political participation. If women are not given a voice in public platforms it simply reflects a systemic attempt to muffle their voices.