The world conference of women in Beijing in 1985 did not only open new doors to understanding women roles in the society but marked a turning point of female perception of awareness of themselves, which translated into increasing calls for recognition the world over and gave birth to female fundamentalism, activism and emancipation. It is in the light of these roles played by women the world over and they are still playing that the United Nations drums up support to their plight and earmarked March 18th of every year as mother’s day worldwide.
Nigeria is so blessed and proud to have women who have redefined governance, the Dora Akunyili’s, the Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s, Ndi-Okereke Onyuike’s, the Deziani Alison-Maduekes, the Victoria Ogunjiofors, the Dr. Lami Hamalais, the Ruqayyatu Rufais, etc whose roles would have not been recognized if not for the Beijing Charter of 1985.
The Women for change Initiative (W4CI) is an offshoot of that Charter, a non-governmental, non partisan, gender focused movement structured to serve as a strong unifying voice for women in Nigeria. The desire for the womenfolk to better their lot in terms of wages, childcare, humane working conditions, pension protection, medical benefits and freedom from harassment in the work place are some of the most challenging problems confronting women in Nigeria and particularly the initiator who sees this veritable platform as an avenue to right the wrongs and injustice the women in Nigeria have gone through all these years having known what entails in other climes. Drawing her inspiration from leading women in Nigeria who started this campaign and advocacy for women empowerment way back like Mrs. Olayinka Soyinka, Funmilayo Ramsom-Kuti, Chief Mrs. Margret Ekpo and Hajia Gambo Sawaba who lived their lives for the cause in order to turn around the neglect of women in Nigeria including the famous Aba Women riot of 1929, that gave birth to what we have today. From the days of Mariam Babangida to Mariam Abacha, from Stella Obasanjo to Turai Yar’Adua’s to Titi Abubakar and the present day women for change initiative (W4CI) spearheaded by the First lady, Dr. Dame Patience Jonathan, the struggle for the emancipation and empowerment of women has not been an easy one. In spite of the initial challenges on the way of the initiator, it has succeeded so far in galvanizing and consolidating the involvement of the women in the development of the country.
A case in view is the recent elections across the country were women came out en masse to cast their votes during the elections. For the first time in the history of the country, the women felt a sense of belonging and had a sense of responsibility towards their leaders. From time immemorial, women have faced daunting challenges and have borne the heaviest burdens of the society like deep rooted traditional, cultural and religious influences as well as a patriarchal structured society which have all contributed to the vulnerability of women to exploitation, obstacles as well as not giving them a level field thereby relegating them to the background. Today, the country has a negligible number of women at federal, states and local government levels all due to the dogged fight and advocacy put up by the women for change initiative for the 35 percent affirmative action for the inclusion of women in the political space.
When the ebullient First Lady started this initiative, there were a lot of challenges put in her way like the problems of personalities at the helm of affairs, the caliber of leadership of the initiative from federal to local level, characters to drive home the message to the people and lastly, the women leaders should actually come from married homes to be able to set good examples and galvanize the women across the country. Before you know it, the first lady took all these to heart and decided to focus on the mission and vision of her passion by liberating women and empowering them to another level within a very short time and the rest is now history. As a trained psychologist, she understands what the political discrimination against women has done to the psyche of the average woman and as such, took the bull by the horns to address this apparent neglect from the society and government to redress the imbalance thereby promoting women participation in every area of human endeavour especially in the socio-economic and political sphere.
The women for change initiative has succeeded in changing the belief in some quarters that it is not business as usual where fanfare are carried out without adequate or commensurate impact on the ground. It has been able to launch its programmes in all states of the federation with other first ladies lending their support with the assistance of their husbands. Its Organogram cuts across the various strata of the Nigerian society from federal, states and local government areas with coordinators to liaise with the first lady of each state. It has also been able to change and re-orientate the women folk in the country that they can aspire to any position of leadership without fear of discrimination. Moreover, it has succeeded in drawing the attention of international organizations to the plight of the Nigerian woman where seminars, symposia and conferences are being supported and sponsored by these agencies while leaders of the NGO and other women NGO’s across the country are being trained abroad to expand their knowledge base, capacity and advocacy.
The first lady attended the 8th General Assembly of the Organization of African First Ladies Against Aids (OAFLA) where encomiums were poured on her by fellow first ladies for her unrelenting fight for the downtrodden and women empowerment even while a lot of cynics are still of the view that it is just a flash in the pan that goes with the change of baton but it must however be emphasized here that the NGO is self sustaining and it is built around women of impeccable character and its sustainability is guaranteed based on its foundation and charter of women on board whose dream has been very close to the heart of the first lady for years even before occupying Aso Rock where she was already involved in a pet project called Aruera Reachout Foundation which has trained over 5,000 women in various skills thereby making them strong enough to support their families. So far, so good, the women for change initiative is more or less an avenue to widen and increase the scope of the first lady in reaching out to the less privileged and women in the society.
As part of the major achievement of the initiative, the present administration has to its credit 13 women in ministerial positions and the first lady has succeeded in urging lawmakers to strengthen the 35 percent affirmative action with a legislation to enable women participate fully in governance in all its ramifications. It is also agreed that when this affirmative action is enshrined in the statute books, more women will be part of the decision making process in Nigeria and it will be one of the best legacies the lawmakers will be giving to Nigerians which she will be leaving behind. Considering that women may not be easily attuned to politics because our socio-cultural and religious beliefs however with inspiring role models like the first lady and others before her that is set to change for the better as states and local governments are already imbibing the culture of appointing women into positions of authority. The gender sensitive president should also be commended for being courageous enough to appoint women in spite of the challenges, into his administration. It is therefore incumbent on everybody irrespective of political affiliation, status and language, to brace up to the challenge and join hands with the first lady to launch Nigerian women into the comity of nations.
A lot of women have missed their chances and places of opportunities for high appointive and elective positions due to various reasons which can be expressed as fear by close relations for their own safety, attack on their reputation both in the work place, within political and socio-cultural associations and the inequitable work load of having to prove “what a man can do, a woman can do better” but all these will be put to rest soon as the women for change initiative, ably led by the first lady, is poised and charged to carry the gauntlet to make sure that women take their pride of place in the front burner of activities in this country. For it has come to halt the extension of women from leadership roles in all spheres of the national life. However, it is important to note that the organization has succeeded thus far through the unalloyed, dint of hard work, tirelessness and voluntary commitment of the mother of the nation, Her Excellency, Dame Patience Jonathan. With recognition given to the office of the First lady, she will be able to do more and champion this course with the support of her gender sensitive husband and other state governors who have also lend their support to their spouse to campaign and lead the advocacy for women empowerment in Nigeria. She recently hosted the 7th summit of the African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM) in Nigeria as the chairperson, a voluntary organization of African First Ladies across Africa for the development of women in the sub-region. Dame Jonathan is one Nigerian mother so obsessed with and keen to alleviate the plight of the down trodden, a woman so captivated by the zeal of empowering the women folk of the country where men and women will have equal representation and respect for one another in whatever role or elective positions they find themselves. So determined to carry on the torch and the struggle for women emancipation even beyond her days as the First Lady, Just last week the United Nations women chief, Michelle Bachelet was in the country were a lot of encomiums was poured on the first lady for her pivotal role to empower women across Africa. Nigerians should indeed join hands with her, knowing fully well that enough has been done but there are still rooms for improvement. More grease to your elbow, mother Nigeria.
Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele &Mrs Evans Bipi are of Citizens Watch Nigeria (CWN)