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Exclusive Interview:Government Needs to Do A lot More To Empower Women-Ayisha Osori, CEO,Women Fund

Ayisha Osori,is the CEO of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund simply referred to as ..Women Fund.In this interview with Danlami Nmodu, publisher/editor in chief ,Newsdiaryonline.com ,she  provides revealing insight into  the task the fund is saddled with in the quest the empower women .The Fund is working to ensure that more  women occupy public offices whether through elections  or appointments. The interaction also  opens an interesting   vista ,as you will find out shortly, into  the strategic thinking  towards  changing the fortunes of women and  the society at large. The CEO who is also a brilliant  columnist  equally asserts  that governments  at all levels should   do a lot more to empower women. Excerpts:

Q:Tell us about The Women’s Fund…

A:The fund (was) incorporated as a non –profit.. entity in March 2011.It is the brainchild of Civil Society organizations in Abuja and Lagos in collaboration with the Ministry of Women and Social Development and it’s been ten years in the making.The conceptualization of the Women’s Trust Fund has been going on for almost ten years since after the first elections that took us back to democratic rule in 1999.Some of the major challenges that women have in entering into politics and successfully participating are tied to the fact that women don’t have enough money,enough finances and enough resources. Resources cover a lot more than just money.It covers strategy ,intellectual  capacity ,campaign knowledge and other things like that, knowing how to navigate politics whether locally or regionally or within our state or within our local government

Q:Is it meant especially to empower women for political offices?

A:Specifically for women for political offices whether elected or appointed. But the main thrust for now is elected positions.

Q:And you said it’s been there for almost 10 years now?

A:No, no.It’s been in the making for 10 years

Q:Okay

A:It only came into creation last year before  the 2011 election.I was incorporated only about last year in March ,but the idea;we have been thinking about how to bring this fund into being,how best to do it, how to structure it.It’s been something  that CSOs and the Ministry of Women Affairs h have been  discussing through successive governments on what can be done to help women navigate politics,what kind or resources can be put together for women.

Q:Beyond the issue of funding  for women political aspirants,what other  challenges, what other motives informed this particular initiative?

A:I think the main thing that informed this is maybe the fact that there  is the general understanding among the donor world that not properly utilizing women in society whether it is in terms of production and manufacturing or politics and policy making stunts the development of a nation  or the  people.So looking at the trend since the returned to democracy, they noticed that there are not enough women in decision making position whether in elective or appointed position.I think it is this knowledge on how best we can fast track Nigeria’s development using women that has led us to this.For example,out of the the discussions and the campaigns and advocacy we got the 2006 National Gender Policy which recommend that 35% of women should be in decision making positions….It is that knowledge that women are are an integral part of development and that women’s views are different,they bring a different body of knowledge.They bring a different kind  of focus to government and policy that is particularly needed in a country like Nigeria right now that is severely underdeveloped in terms of most of our development indices ;for example, maternal mortality, education.The ironic  thing is that though our literacy level seems to be fair  may be between 50 (and)  60 per cent, the truth is most  people who are walking around are really  not literate.You have people who have graduated from school and they are not employable.It is one of the key issues that people keep complaining about.We are not spending enough money on education,we are not spending enough money on health. And there is that knowledge and wealth of knowledge from other developing countries like Bangladesh,India,China that when you empower  women,you basically empower their whole family because women will always have a way of managing resources to make sure that their children are well fed..

 

Q:What has been the reaction from the candidates you have or aspirants or aspirants you  have helped .It is one thing for the Fund to help them.It is also another thing to see that your efforts are being appreciated.How do they see it,is it just money for the pocket or do they  see as money theny need to use to advance their own society?

A:Well ,I think It’s a bit too soon considering that we have only had one election and in that election it was quite rushed.But I think the reaction is mixed.There is appreciation,there is a lot of excitement.It generated a lot of excitement just before the elections in terms of women knowing that they were going to get some sort of support.I think women entering into politics  is a bit lonely.Even if you have the support of your family ,there is just  that  sense of knowing that the odds are stacked against you.I mean If you look at the odds, how many women run,the ratio of how many women running to how many women winning,you ‘ll know that you are running a real race.So reaction mostly is one of appreciation.It is also mixed in the sense that there is also the desire for more ,people want more.The want the Fund to do more than it is already doing.But then again, putting it in perspective, the fund is very  young.Just started last year.It ‘s hard to assess the Fund only we have done a few different elections,successive elections..We have to find ways of increasing what we spend on women.We need to be more strategic about the women we support.So the reaction is mixed.When we have had a few more elections like in 2015,2019 then it will be fairer to give a more balanced  analysis and assessment of the fund.But generally the reaction has been good.Women are excited by the fact that will have support.How much (of) this support they can have now is a different question.We all know how elections in Nigeria are very,very expensive

Q:Given your last experience ,tell us from your encounters I trying to help them.Not just from them(women alone) also from the system as well,what challenges did you face in the process of doing what you are doing?

A:..We haven’t faced any challenge I that sense.The reason why is because we sort of for the last election came in at the last minute.That is the truth, we are going to be honest.we came in at the last minute in the sense that we were supporting women who had already become flagbearers in their political parties.Now the real challenge for women is becoming the flagbearers,getting the endorsement of your party to be the flagbearer for the ticket.Now that is where the real challenge actually lies.We will probably see a lot more women in politics if we could deal with the  internal party politics.I think that is one of the major challenges.How do parties elect women?There have been lots of suggestions including including the Uwais Panel …But most of them have not done that.That is a major challenge for women…Getting them to the stage where they are the flag bearers.That is where the bulk of the work has to go to.

Q:How much were you able to raise and how much were you able to dispense in this regard?

A:The Fund started with a take off grant of  N100 million which came from the office of the Special Adviser to the President on MDGs.It is that same N100m that we have been managing for  over a year till now.N60 million of that money was given directly to women about  153 women who were running on different platforms.There was one person who were running for president and there few running for senate then House of Reps and State Houses of Assembly.The amount given was staggered .Obviously the higher the position you are running for, the more expensive it is.So the more money you got.But roughly, those were the numbers.N60million last year to 153 women out of whom 10 won (their elections).Now as a start up record that is not bad to have ten women win.What we want to do now for 2015 prepare to increase our ratio of women sponsored or supported versus women winning.We want to increase this by making sure that we do some background work on women to increase their chances of winning and then give them that support that they need.

Q:And you are working towards a launch now or something?

A:Well because we don’t want to rely exclusively on MDGs ..we  have to find independent ways ofraising money.First of all we want to create an Endowment Fund so that we have our own money and we are also using investments to protect that money and grow the money outside collecting donations from different people,collecting donations from government which is a great thing.The fact that the government has supported it so far,I think is a good sign of how committed they are.And even if it seems like a mixed commitment, they are acknowledging that it is important for women to be part of it.The idea behind the launch was,they have created this book it’s called Politics, strategy and sustainability.And it tracks the journey of women in elections  for a couple of years.Sort of focusing through the narratives of  female politicians ,some of who have won,some of who haven’t what the key challenges are.You will see a common thread:What we talked about.What are the key challenges?You keep seeing money, how expensive it is,you keep seeing internal party democracy which is a common thing affecting women.So there are some things that the Fund will be advocating for: a level playing field not just for women  but for all Nigerians who want to participate.

Q:But most of the parties speak,especially the ruling party speaks  about giving women some concessions ,35% or so.Are you saying most of those things are not being observed in the real sense?

A:It is pretty clear that it’s  not.Sadly, the data is not readily available.It is something that we  are redress…First of all, you talked about the fact that we have a national gender policy that says 35 % representation in government-elective or appointive.That is the starting point.Then you have a president who made it a campaign promise  that he would adhere to 35%.But sadly that has not been the case

Q:Yes the president has spoken about that and  watched the CBN Governor (Sanusi Lamido Sanusi ) saying something about giving women opportunities

A:Yeah

Q:So these things are just..

A:No it’s not just mere rhetorics.To be fair,like the president’s cabinet right now is made up almost technically 35%.If you want to be precise,it’s 33%.But it’s a lot higher than it has ever been.So that’s progress.But then if you asked what about the state government councils,at least most of the states are run by PDP right?They are the leading party.Are their own state executive councils also 35%or even 33%?You’ll find out that is not the case.And then you also find that even in the constitution of different boards or committees that the president puts together  and we know this is a government of committees,very rarely do these committees meet this 35% and it’s not because they cannot find women who are credible and who have the technical capability to do that work.It’s just somehow, their names don’t make it to the list.So you find that as I said because of a mixed commitment, they say it..

Q:Meaning that a lot still has to be done to raise  the profile of women in public offices

A:It is not to raise the profile,to hold the government accountable.To hold the government accountable to the National Gender Policy,why are they not following it.But its not to raise the profile .There are many high profile women.We have Ifueko Omoigui Okauru who just finished  8resounding years in FIRS.Nobody is going to say that she didn’t do a good work .There are other women women like her.She is gone back to the private sector.Meanwhile ,the public sector as we know is in a lot more worse shape than  the private sector ,we need more women like that there.We have many MDs… CEOs of banks,why are they not been considered  for positions.So it is not really to raise the profile of women.I think the women are there ,if people just do their hard work,there are lots of good women within the civil service,within academia,who are excelling,making a difference in their professions.But somehow when lists are being put together,their names are not on the list.So it is to hold the government,whether it is the ruling party,the president, the governors accountable.We have a situation where we have local governments which are not really running.W e have caretaker committees in almost more than half of the states in the country.

Q:That is government needs to do more to empower women?

A:Exactly…Yeah, put them there and we are saying we have the names.Don’t usethat excuse  that you don’t know who they are.Ask us:Whether it’s Abia state or Zamfara state we ‘ll give you the name.Ask for the name, you will get them.

Q:Perhaps some of these challenges occur because some of them say they don’t know who to appoint ,or something like that?

A:Sometimes

Q:So you are trying to not just support women who wanto go into public office but you also want to interface  between government and the people to let them know who is where and how to raise them up.

A:Yeah because.. we need to increase the quality of women.For me,I feel like if you want to..(like )when our children are getting ready for whether it is  WAEC or JAMB  we train them,they go to school,try and make sure they are ready.Now we have had a situation in Nigeria where sometime people who are going into government especially in political appointment positions ,they are not actually ready, in the sense that we are not  putting square pegs into square holes..They are just picking randomly.It is always a political thing.You know once you take way that political, they could make it more objective.If you are putting together a commission on the national population commission,who are the type of people?What type of skills should they have to be there and you look for the men and women that can fit that bill.Not that it is a reward for being loyal party member.Because they are not loyal part members in the sense that we are not at the 2AM meetings that they are having,we are not there when they are bring out lists.We are not in the conversations and so  we always keep get dropped out.

Q:And if you keep getting dropped out ,how do we arrive at the target
A:35% and beyond?..It is to advocate.It is the kind  of work that the CSOs have been doing before the incorporation of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund…Gender-friendly, gender equality  focused NGOs and they are not limited to women.There are many men  who are also part of these CSOs and these organizations have done a lot of work.There is no constitutional review process, there is no bill that has not been put forward in front of the national assembly to try and get some equality for women politically but it’s almost impossible.Even this current constitutional review,many women friendly, gender-focused  .. advocates put forward  memos to the senate and to the House of Reps.Lo and behold, when it was time to go through (them) suddenly all the women’s memos were missing.They couldn’t find anything.People were now running around,helter-skelter saying where are the women’s memos.But the memos were submitted.So..what happened to the memos.So it is a problem, it is not because  we have not been trying..

Q:From your own perspective,what  is  happening?

A:At the Constitutional Review?

Q:Yeah

A:When we got the alert that supposedly,they couldn’tfind the memos from the women.We went and reintroduced them.We said ,ok, they are on people’s systems,we just print the out and you submit them.But where it is going now we cannot see.Most of the concentration seems to be on..state police,on creation of more states, we are no seeing the focus on actual genuine social issues that should be what the constitutional review committees are looking at.So what is taking most people’s time and what is taking the media space  is not that we need equality..

Q:Let me ask you one  very honest question:the government, this government ,from what you have seen so far, is it genuinely  committed to empowering women?

A:Hmnnn,it’s hard to answer that question as yes or no.As I said ,it’s mixed commitment mixed in the sense that on one hand they give on the other hand they take.So at the end of the day you might find out you are in the same position.So is that genuine?Let the readers  decide.It is true because you find there are things like they have just launched YOUWIN for women only, (it)seems like a really great initiative.But as I said does it mirror the fact that when you have these committees..(like) thepresident just set up this committee on powere.I haven’t looked at the list.How many of them are women in there?If you said    that on all levels of government, all boards, parastatals we should have 35 %  women.When you make these committees,why doesn’t that occur to you that we should have women on that committee,on those boards.So as I said it’s hard to say it is genuine because they give and they take.So at the end of  the day,may be at the end of  an administration,it will be easier to now say okay ,maybe what is the gender score card of an administration

Q;Before the administration goes,you are calling specifically on President Jonathan to do more to empower women?

A:I think there is a lot more to b done,especially on the party level.See the National Convention that PDP had earlier this year,how many women are on their National Working Committee and all their other top (posts) apart from Women’s Leader and even the women’s leader thing,is it genuinely democratic.There were some complaints by some people that that they were asked to step down in favour of a candidate.Why not allow people to vote , you say we are a democracy.And it’s not just PDP,ACN,Labour,ANPP,CPC.Jonathan,you can’t  keep  giving  PDP the only flogging. Even the   opposition parties, are  they doing what they can do?Do they not have the same structure as PDP?Women leader.How many women are inside the top echelons of the parties? Why have we not seen  a party that has a woman who is the chairman of the party?Iam quite sure that..Josephine Anenih is more than capable ,very politically savvy.She can be a national chairman,where is she.So ,it is not just PDP.It is a patriarchal system  and we have to do something..

Q:I even understand that  it was Josephine Anenih that brought this fund into fruition or something like that?
A:Yes,the fund, anybody can check the record.Last year,she was the minister of women affairs and social development.She wasvery involved and without er commitment, it’s unlikely that the government art of the partnership could have happened .So yeah,it is one of her major achievements,something lasting that she’s left behind .And that is the kind of thinking that both men and women in government should be thinking about in terms of gender.What are the policies,nlasting structures, processes that we leave in place.It is just a random fact.The Gender in Nigeria Report that was done by the DFID, Department of Finance and International Development and British Council earlier this year covering five areas of human development  indices :health, access to justice ,political participation, all on women shows that every ten minutes, a woman is dying of child birth related diseases or child birth related issues. Now why is it so hard? In fact, the MDGs, tracking the MDGs, even the government document on tracking the MDGs. Maternal mortality is one of the MDGs issues that we are doing worse.How can we be doing worse?That we are doing worse than we were before the whole MDG thing and planning of money and the putting of milestones.We are doing worse than we were doing before.So you have to ask yourself this question,if a government is really committed to gender equality and development,why is it doing so badly in certain areas  that have to do with girl child education.For example,they said only 3%  of girls,and these are facts and there were ministers who were there during the launching:Minister of Finance,(Dr.)Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was at the launching, two launchings,the World Bank launch and the British Council launch.Sanusi Lamido was part of the launch on both sides as well, both the World Bank and the British Council launch.We had Farouk Lawan who was there to represent the legislators.We had the minister of Women Affairs,FCT Minister , some key women who are female cabinet  members who were all there.So if these numbers were wrong ,they would have said something.You can assume that the numbers are right.So if you have only 3% of girls finishing secondary school in the North ,meanwhile the minister of education is a northerner…. what is the problem? Why are we not seeing  (anything)?So for me,talking about commitment to women and gender,it is not even just politics, it is to everything that will improve the lives of women and  their children .Because by connection, if you improve the life of a woman,you are improving the lives of her children and her children are no just women.Her children are boys and girls who will grow up ..In short you are improving the life of society.Why is it so hard for government to understand this. What is the major probem?What is the major problem?

Q:Let me also turn the question the other way round.We have so many gender –related CSOs.Why is it that little is still  being achieved to raise the condition of the woman?

A:..That is is a question that I can’t really answer.I moved from the private sector just in May 2012 to take this position because  it is something I believe in. As a mother  of young children,as an aunt to many nieces and nephews,hopefully,a future grand mother  of lots of boys and girls,Iam worried about the (situation) of my country.And I feel like the  best people are in the private sector and the ….So I can’t answer that question. All I will say is, I think a lot of work and effort is going into trying to creat a framework whether legally  ,socially,to improve things.Maybe one of the problems I can see as an outsider coming in is that people are just scared to do something different.So you find everybody is doing the same thing, they want to talk to the same  people, they have the same ideas.Nothing radical going on.It is always like business as usual.So may be that that is the reason why there is no change.Or maybe one of the artiles you should be thinking abou or journalists should be investigating is..Maybe it’s  Premium(Times).Somebody has done some expose on MDGs.Somebody  should check the MDGs on maternal mortality.How much has been spent so far?Why is nothing going on? And then again,the CSOs that are gender friendly and work sometimes   in partnership with MDGs what do they have to say about it?Why is there no more noise being heard.Apart from this(Holds the report)Since this Gender in Nigeria Report was launched in April/May,nothing else has   happened . So we  need more  focus on transparency and accountability. We  need people to tell us, so far on MDGs alone, and because Ministry of health has its budget.And MDGs (office) has its budget.And you will now find that.. a lot of money is being thrown at it.How much, let’s just say technically has gone into maternal mortality this ..or even let’s say previous years?Why are we not seeing (it)?I think part of the reason is,there is just no new ideas.Just people doing the same thing and expecting different results.That is one.And then two,other thing is ,they say some of the changes that are  going will take a few years .. to materialize..That could also be..

This is the report that I quoted (holds the report ) on MDGs saying  that we are doing worse .It was a 2009 Report.It is the latest report you can find.If you go to the ministry and you say you are looking for data ,they will give you that report-The Report of the Nationwide Gender Capture of July 200.If you go to the Center for  Women Development,this is the latest report they have.Other than that, this is the other. So  this one says we are doing worse on MDGs.So is there anything new coming up? This reflects the fact that it is worsening because if  we are now having data saying that every ten minutes,women are dying,how much worse can it get?

Q:Finally.. let’s look  specifically at the launch.When is it coming on and what is the target?

A:Honestly, we hope that the launch will happen this year.But we haven’t been able to…but the whole idea  for the launch is to get very important women, we are looking at high profile women like Cherie Blair,or even Hilarry Clinton or even Michelle Obama because  Michelle Obawa has just wowed everybody  with the wonderful speech she made for her husband at the  Democratic National Convention.May be  she can give such a rousing speech about why women and girls should..and I know she is very passionate about women and girls .So the whole idea is to use that launch,get high profile people,women, head of UN Women world wide Michelle Bachelet ,people like that to come and say this is why it is so important for women to be involved.And use it as a launch pad to improve Nigerian (women)

Q: Michelle Bachelet you said?

A:Yes she is the head of the UN women worldwide  and Michelle Obama is the First Lady of US.People like that, we are looking at .So create hype,get women who know what they are  talking about to come and address the issues..reiterate why it is so important for women  to be involved and then you ask Nigerians to put their money where their mouth is.How did Obama  raise money to win his first election? Again,everybody  should go and read Michelle’s speech.They are ordinary people who are doing extra ordinary things.They are not rich people who have lots of money.In Nigeria only rich people can run for politics.We want to change that.An so we are telling Nigerians all of you who are crying both men and women,we want change.We have to commit to change.Obama raises half a billion dollars.Half abillion dollars if you change that to Nara ,I don’t know how what  that is.But from ordinary Americans who were donating as much as 80 dollars.Another two months, they gave 80 dollars .If we get just ten  million.They say we are  160million.If we say ,to be fair, half of that are young,under aged  or too old.We will still have 80million.We are saying if we just have ten million Nigerians give N100 each.Ten million is not up to one state now.Kano state and Lagos state have more than that. (People in) just one state to give N100 each.To sacrifice and say we want to put our weight behind a candidate we believe in.Not a candidate that has whacked government’s money and   now wants to come back and run.A candidate who we believe has a track record, is honest and needs our support.That is what the launch is about.People who have a lot of money,we are happy to collect that… To be very fair, big business in Nigeria is involved in every government.They are in every government in power.It’s a strategy because they are wise enough to know that to sustain their business,to make sure they have the policies they need to grow,they need to be in bed with every government.And so they donate.So (while)  we will be crying the Dangotes will be laughing.But Dangote has done his home work.He contributed to their campaign,so they have  to listen to him.

Contribute to somebody’s campaign.Say Mr  X, I have  given you X,Y.And so through the  fund whatever money we raise,whatever candidates we back,those are your candidates.You can hold them accountable.Me and you, the fund and the individual who donated N100 he will hold you accountable for the whole four years that  you are in office.You must tell us what you are doing to improve our lives.Right now,it is very hard for Nigerians to do that because which elections do we fund?Who did we put there?Half of us, when they say come and vote, they won’t come.The other half when they come out, they will sell their votes because  of Maggi and Indomie.We have no legs to stand on. Our governments, our legislators ,our  executives, they don’t pay us any attention.They don’t feel as if we put them there.The godfathers put them there.

Q:So your fund is to change this kind of mentality?

A:Yes.Our fund is to change this kind of mentality,focus on women but telling men we need your support too.Vote for the good women and we want them accountable.And the truth is ,we want to see the fund, long term,we (want ) the fund to have the kind of clout that you find in some organizations in other developed countries,like they will say, The Guardian endorsed this candidate, the Women League of Voters endorsed this candidate.It is a big thing.We see Obama and (Mitt) Romney are going to be fighting for endorsements because these organizations have the trust of the people.And so, they listen to them.We want ,long term , from our work and track record of picking good candidates,supporting them, holding them accountable..two elections starting from now, we’ll say guys we are voting for X and everybody moves that way,both man or woman.Because ,if a man is doing better than a woman in terms of whatever we need,we’ll go for that candidate.We might not  be able to,under the terms , give them cash,but we can endorse a gender -friendly candidate, both man or woman,so far we know that you have track record  of doing things and we can hold you accountable.

 

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