In a no hold- barred chat with Mrs Anetu Aliu, Director, Women and Gender Affairs, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, she warned women not to limit themselves. Rather, she argues that women must say what they can do for their community and society at large. Oluwatosin Omoniyi writes
How possible is it to achieve gender equality in typical African setting particularly, Nigeria?
I believe worldwide that every community had this traditional way of making the women feel second in place in the social setting. But with time and understanding of the potential of women, the societal dynamics have proven to show that women can do much more better than anticipated by the male who are the leaders, or culture and society see as the leaders or heads every time. But with that, the social society both globally and continentally has tried to sensitize the world being that this women are part of the world population and to reduce dependency ratio to make life more meaningful, to make life more enjoyable by all, the potentials of women can be properly harness, hence to enjoy the demographic dividends of that population. Even in Nigeria where we did not have so much war, you find out that the ratio is almost the same ratio to men and women is almost the same- approximately 50%. Understanding the fact that it is just equals space for participation.
At what level? Peace, security, living or generally?
Generally! Population ratio of men to women is about 50% by the population censors, and if you have this population, best way to get the best in the society is engaging every member of the populace to contribute. Taking advantage of that population, if you harness three people potentials for instance can be better than harnessing one person’s potential. So, if you want to enjoy the demographic dividend of women, you just have to find a way or allow the women to harness their potential in the development process, allow them to participate fully. When we talk of gender equality, it is not equality but allowing equal access, allow women equal access to participation. Do not say the women cannot operate machine, cannot be mechanics, or do carpentry works, or that they cannot fly the airplane. No! Allow them and you will see many of them can even do better than many of their counterparts.
You think a woman-governor can do better?
I am telling you that fact. Allow women governors but not on sympathy ground, rather on merit and capability. Allow them but not just say because they say we should allow women governor, or you pick a woman believed to be a ‘yes sir-yes sir’ person. Put the templates on the ground, find the qualified woman like the men counterparts, give them the opportunity, and see.
You saw what Dora Akinwunmi did with NAFDAC? Any time any day, you see the former finance woman Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala- that woman is brilliant and super. She has the mental and physical energy to do anything a man can do and even do better. If we allow those kinds of quality women to participate, there is no way we will not have good governance in those kinds of states. This is type of equality or equity we are talking about. When we say gender equality, men always feel threatened. They believe that the women want to come and take over. No! All we are saying is just understanding, where we say empathy, understanding the fact that this person can do as much as you can do.
Talking about reducing dependency level for women in a typical male chauvinistic environment, how well can they participate without having to pay a price for it?
Yes, most women do not allow that kind of price. There is one thing I understand and which I do tell women, speak to what you can do, don’t speak to the fact that I am a woman, because I am a woman, you give me chance. Speak to what you can do, the men will come, tell their community what they want to do or promise that I want to do this for you. But you will see the woman will come and say I want to do this for women. No, it is wrong. The woman is supposed to be doing for both men and women, doing it for her community. Speak to the fact that, despite being a woman, you can do as much as the man can do for your community. Prove it that you going there not because you are a woman but because you can do as much as the man can do, or even better.
There is this rising trend of violence against women and of women against men, especially as it seems women are taking the lead in violence against men?
I wouldn’t agree to that. They are not taking the lead, before ordinarily, if you actually have access to the unrecorded ones, you will have the unrecorded violence domestic violence against……
Both men and women, if we have access to the recorded ones, you will still find that violence against women is higher. The fortunate thing now is that we are happy, I’m happy with the fact that the reportage is coming out so that we can stem the trend of violence in the society violence against men or violence against women, violence is violence, it is not supposed to be condone.
Of course, there are few cases of women violence against men, but that is not enough to say women are now becoming more violence than men, it is simply the reportage. There is still high level of violence against women that are not reported.
But why are the women rising up to violence now?
Because the pressure in the society, the sensitization is high, women are more sensitized about their rights. Before, the cultural orientation is ‘your mother will tell you, you are a woman, your husband or father slaps you, all you will say is sorry sir.’ They are never at faults; the woman is always at fault. If she can’t get pregnant, it is her fault, but sensitisation and education have proven that it is not only women in most cases. It could be either way and more it could even be more when it comes to fertility, it could be more in the male side because the major cause of infertility in human beings is sexually transmitted diseases, which is very common in men. Because of shyness they don’ treat it, but along the line when they marry and they cannot impregnate their women, they will say start giving stories that they impregnated their girlfriends years ago. But not knowing that the infection they had and did not treat on time or treat at all has affected their reproductive organs. Then, everything
used to be the fault of women but now, women are coming to realise that it is not always their faults and they have the right to protect themselves, they have a right to sexual enjoyment, they have a reproductive right of women, they are coming to realise that they can stand as human beings. Therefore, that is why they can now challenge their male counterparts and this result to friction and that friction result to a fight or physical exchange, which can result to injury or death.
You talked about women participation in politics and policies, what are the major plans in place for adequate women participation?
Policy making, women have all the participation rights and equal opportunities, you know policy making is at the federal ministries, employment through the civil service commission does not discriminate between men and women. Yes, I went through civil service for as low as level eight, nobody wants to ask whether you are a man or woman. In employment through the civil service commission, no discrimination, right from day one. I joined the service for over 30 years ago, in fact I have never experienced that. But for political participation, the answer is yes, there are many things in participating in politics-violence, and political party characteristics of men dominating political party, they are not government structures. Political parties are not government structures, they are non-governmental, and they develop their constitutions and operate on the constitution within the political associations.
From my understanding, political violence has scared women away; violence is number one thing that scared women away both hidden and open violence. Then number two is financial, they do not have such financial means to play the game, you will hear politics is a game of finance and number.
So you will agree that politics is a field that is not fit or suitable for women?
That is a wrong word and impression to have. It is suitable and a field fit for women.
But with the violence and financial incapability, how do women measure up?
Look, will you because of an earthquake run away from Nigeria? There are Nigerian parables that said the son of the soil does not run away because the soil is boiling. What you should do as a woman, you stand and participate in the administration, and you determine to sit to be able to stem the violence in practice of politics in Nigeria.
There is this observation that women don’t support women?
There are many under lining factors that you and I cannot see in the open. So, the challenge is that if they have to participate, it is not easy though, they have to see how they can stop those challenges and mitigate those challenges. Really, it is not question of women supporting women, like I told you earlier, women should seek support of both men and women because men seek support of both men and women.
Talking about educating and enlightening women in rural areas,what are the measures put in place to see to their education?
We all know that in the rural areas, education is low, the education we are talking about, is read, write and being able to sign your name, more because you need to go to the bank and sign your name, so that somebody will not collect your money. When you are talking about empowerment, money is key, in fact, it is one of the empowerment tool you must have. Secondly and most importantly, when you are educated about your rights, you are sensitised. You educate the women in rural areas that their rights include them to go participate in politics, register and vote. As local a counselor, women leaders in the communities are doing well.
What is your advice for women out there, how can they have their voice to be ascertained and not intimidated?
Yes, they shouldn’t be intimidated by anything. Life itself is a risk, anything you do there are some risk factors. Always stick ahead of how to mitigate against those risk and how to bring your best to participate in anything you want to do. They should not let themselves be used as tools, and shouldn’t discourage their children to be used as thugs. Women should be bold enough to come and participate and be bold enough to say it the way it is.
What about support from their husbands, how should they convince them?
Conviction of the husband can be done at home. Yes, look at you a journalist you are already thinking like this if you have that failure feeling ,the negative feeling, it will destroy your confidence to work towards success. Always do not have that negative feeling. Okay, let’s say your husband is an extrovert, find a way to tell and convince him. You as the woman with ambition, try to work him out of that negative mood, then you have succeeded in that, you can discuss other things.
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