INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY – I am a woman and so what?

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) once said: “A woman is like a teabag– you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

Today, society’s expectations of women are endless and, sometimes, unrealistic. More women are being criticized over their inability to do everything and be everything as this is what society interprets as empowerment and modernity.

The story of women in the struggle for equity belongs to no singular organization, feminist, NGO, charity, academic institution, or activist group in particular. However, it is the collective effort of people who care for human rights.

International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th of March, annually, to commemorate the valour of women across the world. This is a day when women from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds come together to memorialize their struggle for peace, equality, equity, justice and development. This day allows women to raise their voices for access to equal opportunities in any field she wishes to participate in.

There are too many unrealistic expectations of women: the expectation that she should be smart but keep it in check, she should be educated but not too educated as that will threaten potential suitors, she should be independent but not too independent so that the man in her life will feel needed, she should care for the children with little or no help while working and serving her husband with a smile and more.

Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” – Hillary Clinton.

In Africa, women are the victims of gross human rights violations. For example, there are six (6) countries in Africa that do not have laws protecting women against domestic violence. They include Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Lesotho, Mali and Niger. Other violations against women include early child marriage, female genital mutilation and even cultural and economic practices discriminate against women on the continent, till today.

In Nigeria, women’s rights remain largely trampled on. Despite the fact the there are laws dictating the rights of women in the county, there is a widespread lack of faith in constituted authorities to enforce these laws, especially in the cases of abuse. The judicial structure allows the presence of people other than the victims, witnesses and lawyers in court proceedings, which serves to intimidate victims of abuse, causing them to refrain from proceeding legally. Similarly, the requirements to prove rape cases in Nigeria form another hurdle against women (and men) who have been affected by this ghastly crime, and so far very little has been done to remove this obstacle.

Domestic violence and spousal rape are socially acceptable in most cases. Some people brag that domestic violence against their wives is an effective ‘disciplinary measure,’ while onlookers refuse to intervene, calling it a ‘family affair.’ Resultantly, women are encouraged to avoid taking such acts to court or making their sufferings public.

A report by UNICEF shows that 60% of the 13.2 million out-of-school children are girls. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) stated that only 45% of girls in Northern Nigeria are enrolled in school with the North accounting for 69% of the 13.2 million children out of school.

Some cultures, like the prevalent ones in the northern parts of Nigeria, still frown on sending girls to school because they believe it is a waste. Instead, they encourage parents to give out their daughters in marriage at a tender age. In the south, other customs insist on Female Genital Mutilation, which exposes girls to various health hazards and complications as she grows.

Although the law states equality, age-long traditions have placed women as inferior to men. The northern Nigeria penal code provides that an assault by a man on a woman is not an offence if they are married. The native custom, here, recognises violence against women as lawful if there is no grievous harm. However, who defines grievous harm? If grievous hurt is measured on a physical scale, what happens to the psychological trauma it leaves on the victim? As experts have proven, violence can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety. How, then, does the law protect women?

On March 16, 2016, the Nigerian Senate rejected a bill sponsored by Senator Biodun Olujimi, seeking to empower women politically and economically as well as grant them equal opportunity in diverse human endeavours. It was disappointing to see a bill that sought to tackle domestic violence and underage marriage was thrown out, but, it was not surprising. As parliamentarians continue to wash their hands off of this problem, the country’s women continue to bear the brunt of their inactivity.

In Nigeria, several public cases of violence against women have been recorded.  These include the assassination of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, the wife of the Late M.K.O Abiola, the abduction of over 276 female government school students in the town of Chibok in Borno state by Boko Haram and the abduction of the Dapchi school girls. Also, the murder of Eunice Olawale, a Christian preacher murdered by Muslim extremists, the murder of Christiana Oluwatoyin, a Christian Nigerian teacher who was lynched by Muslim pupils, the abduction, rape and forceful conversion to Islam of Ese Oruru the arrest of Maryam Awaisu, an activist speaking up against sexual abuse of northern girls and so much more.

Despite these enormous setbacks, some women in Nigeria have proven to the world that a woman can be anything and everything she wants. Women like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, breaking through in literature, Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of United Nations, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Managing Director of the World Bank, renowned for being the first black female candidate to contest for the presidency of the World Bank Group in 2012, Folorunsho Alakija, one of the richest woman in Africa and, subsequently, one of the richest black women in the world, Ainehi Edoro, the brain behind ‘Brittle paper,’ and many more.

The celebration and commemoration of International Women’s Day help more women realize their potential and inspire others to achieve their potential. On this day, the world unites to appreciate women who make tremendous improvements to their communities and to the world.

Additionally, the day allows for advocacy on the work that still needs to be done to bridge gaps that exclude women and sensitise everyone to the need for equal access.

Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding, allowing us to build better futures for all.

Happy International Women’s Day.