(A LEADERSHIP Newspaper Editorial)
Today, Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark the International Women’s Day. It is a day set aside by the international community to serve as a focal point in the movement for women’s right.
As the nation celebrates, it is also pertinent that we use the opportunity to call to mind the plight of women in Nigeria and the urgency on the part of the government, at all levels, to address some nagging issues that hinder the actualisation of the potentials of the female gender. It may seem a coincidence that this event is coming just after the unacceptable rejection by the National Assembly (NASS) of the five bills that would have addressed, in a meaningful way, the welfare of women in the country. However, it is our view that the occasion provides a strategic pedestal from which to revisit that unfortunate decision by the lawmakers.
We recall that the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEOB) was rejected and later withdrawn entirely. Also, NASS rejected four other bills which include a bill seeking citizenship for foreign- born husbands of Nigerian women, a bill pushing for the reservation of 35 per cent of political appointments for women, a bill that seeks to establish special seats for women in National and State Assemblies among others.
The theme for this year’s event is, “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, which also seeks to recognise the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response so as to build a more sustainable future for all. If women are to play their role in this regard effectively, then it is imperative that all factors that make adequate representation of women in decision-making must be eliminated.
Presently, according to UN Women, a global champion for women and girls, ‘women’s representation at the national parliament is 3.6 percent; ministerial appointment is about 16 percent and 9.8 percent of local government elected seats as of 2021. This is a reflection of women’s representation in decision-making and participation in climate change interventions.’
It is on record, according to the United Nations that women are more vulnerable to climate change effects because they make up most part of the world’s poor. Asides this, women are also more reliant on natural/local resources which are threatened by climate change. Statistically, ‘70 per cent of the 1.3 billion people living in conditions of poverty are women. In urban areas, 40 per cent of the poorest households are headed by women,’ the organisation also pointed out. Furthermore, it stated that women ‘predominate in the world’s food production (50-80 per cent), but they own less than 10 per cent of the land.’ Also, 80 per cent of those displaced by climate change- connected disasters and changes across the globe are women and girls.
The UN Women’s Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms Comfort Lamptey, said during a breakfast meeting on International Women’s Day, that ‘the climate crisis is not a “gender neutral” global crisis, women and girls experience the greatest impacts of climate change.’ She added that women’s health and wellbeing is being affected by climate change conditions, with research disclosing women’s survival rates lower in disasters and also in event of climate change crises. During these times, women lack sufficient access to relief.
In 2019, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) announced that approximately 1.9 million Nigerians, primarily women and children, were displaced by floods. Furthermore, women and girls have been disproportionately and negatively affected by the economic as well as social fallout occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic, weakening them in withstanding climate change and environment issues. UN also stated that in the Northern part of Nigeria, women farmers lack adequate access to land as a result of desertification which has worsened gender equality as far as land ownership is concerned. Just 15 per cent of people in Nigeria have access to what UN calls ‘clean cooking’, as most women depend on cook stoves that cause pollution and are inefficient.
The UN further noted that in Africa, female illiteracy rates were more than 55 per cent in 2000, compared to 41 per cent for men. And when women cannot easily access resources and decision-making processes, ‘limited mobility places women where they are disproportionately affected by climate change,’ it reported.
A more disturbing disclosure by this organisation is that climate change may result in increased gender-based violence, as well as increase in child marriages, and worsening sexual and reproductive health.
Therefore, this newspaper is persuaded by the argument of the world body to appeal to NASS to reconsider their position on the bills already rejected as one of the ways to support women’s progress. Instead of outright rejection, we urge the Assembly to provide avenues for negotiations with interest groups and make adjustments as may be needed. NNL.