In celebration of International Women’s Day, 2022, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa in collaboration with Africa Women Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (AWWASHNet) convened a one-day sensitisation programme, titled, Breaking the Bias for a Sustainable Future. The event brought together forty-three participants drawn from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation Civil Service Technical and Recreational Service Employees (AUPCTRE), civil society, media, informal communities, Lagos State Ministry of Education, and public schools such as Omole Senior Grammar School, Babs Fafunwa Millenium Senior Grammar School, Oregun Senior High school, Agidingbi Senior Grammar School and Government Technical College.[spacer height=”25px”]
The event provided a safe space and opportunity for women, especially young female students present to exchange perspectives and experiences around gender bias, including put heads together to define solutions and policies that counteract gender stereotypes in governance, workplace, academic environment, and society at large.
In her welcome address, Ms. Vickie Urenma Onyekuru, Chairperson, AWWASHNet hailed the resilience of women and girls in Nigeria despite the myriad of gender stereotypes and socioeconomic challenges they encounter daily. Even though the important role of women in society cannot be overemphasized, they are often underrepresented at the tables of decision and policymaking. Thus, the theme for this year’s celebration ‘‘gender equality for a sustainable future’’ is a timely call for all stakeholders to accelerate inclusive policies and interventions that empower women in Nigeria to realise their greatest capacities and fully participate in governance processes.
Betty Abah, Executive Director, CEE-Hope delivered the goodwill message for the day. The goodwill message emphasized the need to eradicate ‘‘period poverty’’ among young girls in Nigeria, especially those living in rural and informal communities. Period poverty occurs when women and girls lack access to proper menstrual and hygiene products including tampons and sanitary pads. This lack of access often drives women and girls to engage in unhygienic practices like using rags or newspapers when observing menstrual flow.[spacer height=”25px”]
Delivering a second goodwill message, Comrade Ngozi Edet, Chairperson, AUPCTRE women’s wing, focused on the politics of water governance and the important role of women in water decision-making. Water is a public good that should be available and accessible to everyone in society, especially for women and girls who oftentimes shoulder the primary responsibility of household management, sanitation, hygiene, and cooking. Despite the cognition of the important role women in Nigeria play in water management, access to water supply remains a huge challenge. This challenge is more exacerbated when water policies and programmes are developed without careful thoughts to address the linkages between gender equity and access to water. For instance, the National Water Resources Bill, 2020, is one such water policy in the country that has been faulted for containing provisions likely to influence increased water poverty because they confer ownership, control, and management of surface and underground waters in Nigeria on the federal government against the ideal practice of democratic water governance.[spacer height=”25px”]
A panel discussion, moderated by Zikora Ibeh, CAPPA’s Research and Policy Analyst steered conversations among panelists who took turns to discuss outlined themes for the day. Aderonke Ige, CAPPA’s Associate Director dwelt on ‘‘the place of women in public sector effectiveness’’. Women’s inclusion in structures of governance or the public sector has been proven to lead to better development outcomes yet despite evidence showing the immense benefits of having women represented in decision-making bodies, reality portrays a grim picture of women’s participation in politics and governance in Nigeria. Challenges such as cultural stereotypes of gender, lack of access to resources, and ingrained patriarchy continue to hinder the social, economic, and political empowerment of women.
The rejection of five gender equality bills –
- Bill to provide for special seats for women in the National and State Assembly
- Bill to provide for affirmative action for women in political party administration
- Bill to expand the scope of citizenship by registration
- Bill to provide criteria for qualification to become an indigene of a state in Nigeria
- Bill to “give women a quota in the federal and state executive councils or ministerial and commissionership seats” that sought to enhance gender inclusivity in Nigeria’s Constitution by the National Assembly on March 1, 2022, also reinforces the need for all stakeholders to continue to challenge all biases that enable the discrimination of women and exclusion in leadership positions.[spacer height=”25px”]
Comrade Funmi Sessi, Lagos Chairperson, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) spoke on Democracy and Good Governance – The Role of Labour in Propagating Women Inclusion. Prejudice and cultural stereotypes are some barriers that affect women’s chances in the labour market. Many women are most likely to quit work or face mobility difficulties when pregnant or managing household obligations. Certain skills like cooking, tailoring, nursing, etc. are often considered women’s duties. As such, they are often awarded poor remuneration values regardless of the depth of expertise exhibited by workers who are majorly women in that category. The Nigeria Labour Union by virtue of its mobilisation power and significance as an umbrella for all workers and citizens plays a key role in advancing the rights and empowerment of women. Some of the NLC’s contributions to the advancement of women’s rights in Nigeria include sustained campaign violence against women, advocacy for the implementation of a 35% Affirmative Action (AA) in governance processes as espoused by the National Gender Policy (NGP) alongside offering support and advisory services to women interested in vying for elective positions.[spacer height=”25px”]
Media practitioners, Wemimo Adewunmi of Nigeria Info Radio FM, and Blessing Oladujuoye of BoNews also spoke on the role of the media in driving gender equality. The media plays an important role in amplifying the campaigns on women’s empowerment and development. Media outfits like Nigeria Info FM, and BoNews work to support the voices of women and gender practitioners by creating gender-sensitive content and programmes that challenge traditional social and cultural stereotypes that restrict women from playing critical roles in society. Women are also encouraged to utilise these gender-inclusive media platforms to speak up against negative gender stereotypes.[spacer height=”25px”]
Veronica Nwanya, Coordinator, AWWASHNet, also reiterated the importance of the deliberate inclusion of women in decision-making, leadership, and other vital channels and institutions of governance.[spacer height=”25px”]
The highly interactive programme came to an end with an experience-sharing session where all stakeholders and participants agreed there is a need for more targeted workshops on gender sensitisations. Pupils from various Lagos State public secondary schools also took turns sharing experiences of gender biases such as the socialisation of gender roles in their homes. Other experiences and recommendations proffered at the meeting to eliminate gender bias and stereotypes include the unbundling of school cultures that reinforce gender stereotypes and inequities and the provision of gender-inclusive services and infrastructure for people living with disabilities.