NIGERIA- The World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender gap index unveils the huge gender gap that still exists in Nigeria. Nigeria ranked 118 out of 142 countries with a score of 0.639. When compared to 2013’s position of 106 out of 136 countries, one may be tempted to think that considerable steps have been taken to address the missing links. The stark and sad reality, however, is that Nigerian women are still struggling to either stem or live above the misconceptions about gender equality.
Although Nigeria is a party to the Convention of Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which significantly seeks to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, not much has been done in the area of getting it domesticated. Little wonder that at a stakeholders consultative and pre-data collection testing workshop on the development of 7th and 8th CEDAW periodic report, held in Abuja in 2013, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajia Zainab Maina, expressed worries over the failure of the National Assembly to domesticate the United Nations (UN) report on the Convention of Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women CEDAW).
Of course, same fate greets the locally developed and sponsored Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill.
Two weeks ago, I had a transaction to make at a bank on behalf of my organization- Women Initiative for Sustainable Environment (WISE). Once inside the banking hall, I approached the appropriate counter. With all sense of courtesy, I greeted one of the banking officers who was seated behind the counter, and requested for a banking transaction slip. By this time, another bank customer- a male had walked towards where I was standing. As ought to be, he stood by in wait for his turn. Having completed the slip, I handed it back and watched on as the bank official reviewed the details I had filled in. By the time the officer raised his head, he had a wide grin on his face as he says to me, “We men are also going to form Men’s Initiative for Sustainable Environment”. I understood exactly what he meant and told him that there would be no need for that, as men were all too welcome to join the cause of WISE.
Joining in the conversation, the male customer who had all along been silent adds, “Women are just doing their thing and they won’t allow us to be a part of it; because they are trying to be equal with us”. Over the years, I have found myself in similar situations and have become all too used to such stereotyped way of reasoning.
I did my best to make the most out of the opportunity by explaining to the two men that gender equality is not in any way a contest with men but a call to partnership between men and women.
While it was obvious that the bank staff bought into my explanation, I knew that it would take more hours of lecture to win the other man over. Well, it is no longer news that many women and men are yet to come to terms with the place of women in the society; particularly as it concerns women’s rights roles and responsibilities in the society.
The idea of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Nigerian society remains misunderstood within many cycles. Gender inequalities is still manifested and reinforced by the very systems that ought to challenge the entrenched problems. It is worth mentioning that tradition, culture and religion constitute the greatest barriers that women face, today in making any meaningful progress. As a matter of fact, the situation is no different when one considers the very institutions, mechanisms and processes that shape the society.
Nigerian women can no longer pretend that all is well when it comes to having equal access to decision making, leadership, as well as capacity building opportunities. However, truth remains that the gap which exists cannot be bridged in isolation.
Women need one another as well as the support of men to change discriminatory societal practices which continues to relegate them to the background. "If gender to be everybody's issue, then we need to find constructive ways of working with men as well as with women to build the confidence to do things differently" states Andrea Cornwall (1997).
Women and men must work together towards addressing the issue of gender inequality at all levels. Very importantly, women themselves must wake up to the reality that the bulk of work that needs to be done to help men welcome, accept, understand, and appreciate the why and how of gender equality and women’s empowerment rests on the shoulders of women. Change will happen when women take it upon themselves to make it happen.