By Gloria Oni/Lawrence Omorodion/Jennifer Owobu
THERE are many definitions of women empowerment. To some persons it is the process of strengthening the existing capacities and capabilities of disadvantaged groups in society so as to enable them perform towards improving themselves, their families and the society as a whole. It involves the provision of enabling environment for their productive and intellectual abilities to be realized.
In some societies where some groups have suffered discrimination for a long time, ways have been found to address this problem. Laws have been made to protect these groups against future discrimination with the goal of providing equal opportunities for all.
When Empowerment is viewed as a process of enabling women to develop the capacity to actualize their potentials…That women should be looked at as individuals but possess some hidden potentials for greatness and so should be encouraged to develop such to the fullest.
Women are the fundamental human reservoir of every society. In the traditional societies of Africa and Asia; woman represent the most essential ingredient in the formation of that all important bio-social group known as the family.
Women in most societies, whether developed or developing, are regarded as currency with which political and economic alliances are cemented. This in social anthropology. The transfer of women between lineages and clans is regarded as a medium of communication more potent and clearest than language itself.
As agents of procreation and child rearing, women are the recognized agency for the extention and coutinuation of the human specie through the generations.
The industrial revolution in England and other parts of the western world in the 18th century drastically altered the primary role of women in the society. Women henceforth could be seen playing roles hitherto regarded as the exclusive reserves of men in the economic, political and social lives of the society. In the African setting, women have played the role of bread winners and decision – makers in many families in the event of the demise of the father of the house or inadequate male presence. This absence which could be brought about by death, sickness, old age or other forms of physical and mental incapacitation have thrust women in the centre stage for the performance of functions far removed from the traditional responsibility of house keeping.
In Nigeria today, the women folk have come a long way, in business, politics, education, sports and the professions. Women have made an indelible mark in their effort to conq uer the limitations of the past which have sought to place them permanently in the kitchen and bedroom.
Be the above as it may, it is not all through a bed of roses for women and their empowerment. The above illustration is just about the infinitesimal few number of women who have been able to excel in their endeavours through their own dinct of hard work. The majority of women in Africa, Asia, and even Europe and America have not been fully mobilized and empowered to contribute to national development. If it had been so, we would not have been talking about health for women, educational, economic, social cultural and political empowerment for women.
And in all its ramifications, women would not have been segregated and discriminated against so much so that they are sexually tortured and harassed in their seeking for employment, contrasts, political positions and in other endeavours.
In as much as this article will present a review on the dehumanizing and traumatizing conditions of women, it will go further to take a detailed and critical look at the major indices of woman participation in national development, vis-à-vis political, economic and educational considerations. How far has the Nigerian woman achieved self actualization in the above areas? What are the major handicaps and challenges of women, and what more could be done to secure a better leverage of Nigerian women if they are to participate effectively, fully and more meaningful in the development of the Nigerian nation.
In this 21st century?
Women: Nature and conditions
Women, described as the feminine gender are created by God for procreation and continuity. Unfortunately, they have been dehumanized and traumatized in so many ways. Of the 1.3 billion people who lived in abject poverty around the globe, 70 percent are women. For these women, poverty doesn’t just mean scarcity and want. It means rights denied, opportunities curtailed and voices silenced. According to Abraham (2006) poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is lack not being to go to school and know how to read and write. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living for just one day at a time. Poverty is loosing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom.
All these are majority encountered and faced by women. Women work two – third of the world’s working hours, according to the United Nation Millennium Campaign (Abraham 2006) to have world poverty by he year 2015. The overwhelming majority of the labour that sustain life growing food, cooking, raising children, carrying for the early, maintaining house, hauling water is by women, and universally this work is accorded low status and no pay. The ceaseless cycle of labour rarely shows up in economic analysis of a society’s production and value.
Women earn only 10 percent of the world’s income. Where women work for money. They may be limited to a set of jobs deemed suitable for women – invariably low pay, low status positions.
Women own less than 1 percents of the world’s property. Where laws and customs prevent women from owning land or other production assets, from getting loans or credit or from having the right to inheritance or to own their home, they have no assets leverage for economic stability and cannot invest in their own or their children’s future.
Women make up two-thirds of the estimated 876 million adults world wide who cannot read or write, and girls make up 60 percent of the 77 million children not attending primary school. Education is among the most important drivers of human development. Women who are educated have fewer children than those who are denied schooling. They delay their first pregnancies, have healthier children. Each additional year of schooling a woman has is associated with a 5-10 percent decline in child deaths, according to the United Nations population fund (2010), and are far more likely to send their own children to school.
Yet where women do not have the discretionary income to invest in their own or their children’s education, where girl’s education is considered frivolous, and where girl’s are relied on to contribute labour to the household, they miss this unparallel opportunity to develop their minds and spirits. Their country suffer too. Compared to similar countries where the girls child has greater access to quality basic education.
In many societies around the world, women never belong wholly to themselves, they are the property of others through out their life. Their physical well-being-health, security and bodily integrity, is often beyond heir own control. Where women have no control over money, they cannot choose to get health care for themselves or their children. Where child bearing may be the only market of value available to women frequent pregnancy and labour can be deadly.
World Health Organization (2008) data indicate that in Afganistan and Siera Leone women’s lifetime chance of dying in child birth is one in seven, while in the United States it is one in 3,418 and in Norway and Switzerland, one in 7,300.
In any given year, 15 percent of all pregnant women will face a life threatening complication, and more than 500,000.99 percent of them in the developing world will die some 130 million girls and women, mostly in sub-Sahara Africa have been subjected to genital cutting or mutilation at the behest of their parents, and 2 million more face the blade every year, according to the United Nation Population Fund (2010).
Around the globe, home and community are not safe havens for a billion girls and women. At least one in three females on earth has been physically assaulted or sexually abused, often repeatedly and often by a relative or acquaintance.
POLITICAL AWARENESS AND PARTICIPATION
Though it has been observed that Nigerian women have made some appreciate impact in their contribution to their contributions to the development of the development of the Nigerian nation. It is indeed necessary to have presented how these women have been dehumanized and traumatized. This is imperative because this writer does not want to create any impression that it has been a bed of roses for Nigerian women and indeed other women in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
The active participation of a large number of women in the political for a is strangely a new phenomenon. Although in the past, Nigeria has seen amazons like Margaret Ekpo, Fumilayo Ramsome Kuti, Madam Tinubu of Lagos and a handful of other activist, women have often been relegated to the background in national politics. This situation however seem to be changing as women are now making serious and appreciable impact in the political life of the country, especially since the 2005 Berjin conference and women affirmative position (Aweh, 2006).
The lateness of Nigerian women into Nigerian political arena has been blamed on the deliberate colonial policy of undermining the political zeal of Nigerian women. (Coleman 2007), argued that the effort of women were violently disrupted by the colonial experience. Women seemed to be the most hard hit, for with their Western pre-conception of female inferiority the colonial administrators tended to relegate women to the background of irrelevance in the scheme of governance.
It is instructive to note at this point that in the last forty to fifty years, Nigerian women have created a noticeable impact in the political life of the nation. In the traditional African Society, several factors combined to relegated women to the second fiddle role and participation in national affairs. Such factors include cultural placements, religious belief systems and traditional prejudies. Despite these serious handicaps or impediments which are actively exploited by the men folk, Nigerian women have been seen to break even, such that today have become a force to reckon with in the development process of the nation.
During the second Republic (1979-83) Nigeria had her first female senator in the person of Mrs. Franca Afegbua. In the fourth Republic (1999-2004) three women were elected into the senate while fifteen got elected into the House of Representatives. The fourth Republic has been a period of re-awakening for Nigerian women both in terms of elected offices and political appointments.
During the civilian government of Obasanjo, women were accommodated and placed in areas of intense visibility as they held important and prominent positions. The ministries of Aviation and Transport were headed by women. The Minister of State for Science and Technology and the sensitive Ministry of Defence were also women. These women were able to prove that they possess the quality, talents and character traits required not only for the growth of the nation but for the enhancement of the progress and well-being of the human society in general. Today, many women occupy elective and appointive positions. Women are indeed making their mark in the political affairs of the Nigerian nation.
BUSINESS AND ECONOMY
Perhaps, the most eloquent statement for the pivotal role women have played and are still playing in the 50 years of Nigeria’s independence is the appointment of Ndii Okereke Onyuike as managing Director of the Nigeria Stock Exchange. Not only she is the first Nigerian women to tower above thousands of well qualified men to clinch this most powerful positions in Nigeria’s economic and financial establishment; she is an embodiment of the traditional doggedness and fierce determination of the Nigerian woman not to be swept aside most especially in the affairs of the nation.
The above statement, though flamboyant and glamorous is an eloquent testimony to the pivotal role the feminine gender is now playing in the development of the Nigerian economy. It is indeed a remarkable feat for a woman to preside “ at the second largest and most dynamic stock exchange in Africa.”
Njoke (2006) strongly felt that Nigeria today can boast of “a rich history of women achievers.”
This write-opposites that right from the pre-colonial times, Nigerian women have battled their way to recognition in Nigeria. They have been able to work a very tight rope in a society that is still very traditional and create a balance between the traditional role of woman in an African society and gaining empowerment wield influence rather than sub ordinate to the role of their male counterparts. Women have made significant contributions in terms of manpower resources and general economic returns at various levels to the economic development of the nation. In fact, Nigerian women have shown remarkable zeal and strewdness in the economic development of the nation.
EDUCATION AND PREFESSIONS
Women have since independence attained Olympian heights in the administrative hierarchy and academic institutions of the country. Grace Alele Williams (Prof) blazed the trail as the first Nigerian women to occupy the office of Vice Chancellor in a Nigerian University (University of Benin). Jade Sola Akande and Laraba Abdulahi also attained in the same status in university administration.