Rafat Salami, Abuja

Nigeria’s chances of achieving 50-50 parity by the year 2030 may again be a mirage if it does not take advantage of the ‘Change’ opportunity currently provided by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to mainstream women’s issues.

The Commemoration of the International Women’s Day on March 8, provided yet another opportunity for Nigeria to reappraise the country’s commitment to engendering gender matters into national policies.

The Women’s Day theme references the UN’s ‘Step It Up’ initiative, which calls on governments to make national commitments to close the gender equality gap by 2030, the dateline for attaining the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Since the 1995 Beijing Conference on the rights of women, which Nigeria actively participated in, issues of gender equality and empowerment, inclusive and quality education to promote lifelong learning, have been topical matters of national discourse.

The UN MDGs, which provided yet another opportunity for gender empowerment also ended with Nigeria ranking among the bottom 10 countries as at 2015, principally because it was unable to meet the gender targets.

Among the assessment indices, maternal mortality stands out. At the end of 2014 deaths from pregnancy related causes stood at 243 per 100,000 live births, with just 3 percent annual decline. If not accelerated, Nigeria could fail to meet the 2030 global target of 70 per 100,000 live births.

In the MDGs End-Point Report 2015 however, Nigeria did achieve great gender parity in school enrolment, with a steady increase in the ratio of girls to boys in basic education recording a status of 94% in 2013. This fact notwithstanding, the ratio of girls’ finishing school remains a challenge for the country.

The 2012 Gender in Nigeria Report suggests that more than 43 per cent of girls are married off before the age of 18, while 17 per cent of the girls are forced into marriage before they turn 15.

The report highlights cycle of poverty, as healthcare-seeking attitude is dependent on a patients’ level of education. It also shows that only 25 percent of Nigerian mothers with no education received antenatal care, compared with 95 percent of those with higher education or 80 percent of those with secondary school education. The recent story of 14 year old Ese who eloped with her lover Yunusa, underscores the precarious nature of the girl child and her ability to complete school. In this regard, the Nigerian government needs to focus urgent attention on how to increase enrolment and get more girls to stay in school.

Furthermore, cultural and traditional issues also remain. Governments at all levels must urgently embark on campaigns to end discrimination against women, in tandem with Article 5 of the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as ratified by Nigeria in 1984. Article 5 “encourages nations to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct to eliminate inferiority and superiority of either sexes, or stereotype roles of men and women.”

Policies must also be instituted and enforced to increase women’s access to credit and paying jobs. In 2010, Nigeria’s end-point status of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector was 7.7%. In terms of women’s contribution to the total labour force in both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, the proportion has considerably increased to a record 37.7% in 2014 but still falls below global targets.

The 2015 general election in Nigeria saw a further reduction in the percentage of women in elective positions, with the proportion of women in the National Assembly at 5.11%, as against the expected target of 35%. Though President Buhari’s appointments are still on-going, expectations are that he strives to meet at least the 35% target.

As the voices of Nigerian women grow louder for gender equity, government must recognise the need for a strategic change in political will and commitment, to underscore gender issues as development issues, especially because a nation can only go as far as its women’s progress.