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The all-male leaders’ club is holding us back. Now is the time for a women’s justice agenda


The all-male leaders’ club is holding us back. Now is the time for a women’s justice agenda

On April 28, 2019, Matt Obono, convener of the TAP Initiative reported that 70 women were illegally arrested and brought to the Utako police station in Abuja. Their offense: partying at a nightclub. But it did not stop there.

Obono reported allegations of sexual abuses and molestation. “The joint task force who arrested these women also molested and sexually assaulted them,” he said.

In a bid to justify their illegal arrest and detention, the 70 women were accused of crimes they did not commit. These women were publicly shamed, humiliated and paraded by the Nigerian authorities before the media while the rest of the world watched. This is not the first time that the Nigerian government would impede and violate the rights of Nigerian women. 

Only two years ago, Dorothy Njemanze, Edu Ene Okoro, Justina Etim and Amarachi Jessyforth, won a lawsuit against the Nigerian government and were each awarded damages in the sum of Six Million Naira (about USD16,500) after they were similarly abducted, detained and assaulted – sexually, physically, verbally by officials of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), the police and the military. This occurred at different times between January 2011 and March 2013. Just like the 70 victimized women at the Utako police station, they were arrested and accused of being prostitutes simply on the grounds that they were found on the streets at night.

Nigeria has a long way to go when it comes to women’s rights and attaining gender equality. In 2016, I penned the article, “A Year in Review: What It Means to be a Woman in Nigeria,” where I tried to enunciate the many issues facing women in our country. Sadly, not much has improved since then in spite of the numerous women organizations fighting tirelessly for gender equality and women’s rights. However, these women are pushing the envelope for good and must be commended. Political nuances, religious and cultural beliefs still continue to hinder on our progress.

To date, the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill is yet to be passed and has been voted against repeatedly by Nigerian lawmakers majority of whom are men. (Women in parliament constitute just 5.6 percent). To date, there remains a lack of visible female leadership in politics, policy and governance and there continues to be an absence of women’s participation in crucial decision making circles from business to technology.

A quick look at some of these images would illustrate the argument better.

  • An appreciation dinner for Lagos State’s Incoming Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Who else is wondering, where are the women? 
  • An event by the ‘Foundation for Good Governance for Development in Nigeria’. Not represented at the event are women leaders from President Buhari’s team.

In a 2016 speech to Angela Merkel, the first female chancellor of Germany, President Buhari made it clear that women (referring to his wife, Aisha Buhari) belong only to the kitchen and to the bedroom. To date, he is yet to apologize for his comments about women. 

  • “Nigeria is desperate for women in politics and governance,” Chief Executive Officer of Alpha Reach, Japheth Omojuwa tweeted as caption for another all-male leadership photo at another recent event.

Proposals for reform

What can be done to improve and increase the visibility and participation of women leaders across all sectors? What can we continue to do as active citizens to ensure progress with gender equality and the women’s rights movement? Here are a few recommendations:

  • Pass the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill,
  • Fund and support women’s organizations and initiatives, as women’s rights organizations help to strengthen the links between leaders and the women in the communities they represent.
  • Encourage and implement women’s employment participation goals in leadership roles at the local, state and federal levels of government. 
  • Establish a sex offenders’ registry and database. Despite an overwhelming reported cases of sexual assaults, Nigeria has recorded only 18 rape convictions in its legal history in a country of 190 million people. 
  • Protect women and girls in Nigeria through new laws and policies; this will help Nigeria achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda on Women and Girls.

Indeed, Nigeria has a long way to go when it comes to women’s rights, as political, religious and cultural nuances continue to shape and can restrict the visibility, the participation and the leadership roles available to Nigerian women, however we can start by implementing some of these recommendations and ensure that the Women’s Justice Agenda is created and is a priority at the local, state and federal levels of government. 

Mary Olushoga is the founder of the AWP Network . She is Vital Voices global leadership fellow and Crans Montana 'New Leader’.

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