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Opinions of Monday, 8 March 2021

Columnist: Funmi Falana

IWD: Appraising the plight of the African woman

Here comes another International Women’s Day celebration. Every day is a great day to celebrate the amazing women in your life but International Women’s Day gives you an extra reason to do just that. The IWD, celebrated every year on March 8, is a global day of celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and looking to the future. Our words can change the whole world because we are all together.

The day also marks a call to action as it encourages all people to actively choose to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness about women’s equality, lobby for accelerated gender parity and fundraise for female’s focused charities like the Women Empowerment and Legal Aid which was founded in June 2009.

One way to start doing that is to remind them how awesome women are. Share your appreciation with your amazing mum, incredible sister or remarkable girlfriend as a wonderful way to celebrate.

Women had begun agitating for greater equality and less oppressive working conditions for more than 10 decades, demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. The Women’s Day is marked to re-energise their efforts and bring them all together in one virtual place.

This year’s theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. This is a clarion call on us all to think critically about our own thoughts, actions and how we can better promote gender equality and celebrate women’s achievements. There is no greater pillar of stability than a strong, free and educated woman. Likewise, there is no more inspiring role model than a man who respects and cherishes women and champions their cause. I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves.

The most important thing one woman can do for another is to expand her sense of actual possibilities.

I have noticed that well-behaved women rarely make history. So, you should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right because where there is a woman, there is magic. There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.

In spite of the odds working against them, there are numerous female success stories

We need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead. Our words in favour of the equality for girls and women will go a long way to make a difference. Our words have also been echoed all around the world.

The International Women’s Day also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the road ahead, what remains to be done in our quest for gender equality and how we may harness our collective energy, so that when we look back in five years time, we will say, “Yes 2021, I remember – that was a year of great celebration – but it was also the year we resolved to finish the unfinished business of gender equality despite the coronavirus outbreak in 2020’.

A day like this provides us a useful opportunity to reinforce the fact that everyone has a role to play in forging a more gender balanced world. Promoting gender equality and empowerment of women is of great benefit to any economy and society at large. However, in many African countries, women face stumbling blocks as a result of cultural practices, gender inequalities and gender-based discriminations. Hence, the need to raise awareness about the disadvantages of these discriminations, not only to women and girls but also to the community at large.

It is indeed sad to know that in Africa, many girls and women pass through a lot tp survive. And if the African continent must move forward, these are some of the plights faced by girls and women in Nigeria and Africa that must be interrogated.

Women and the girl children around the world, especially Africa, face great adversity, violence, child marriage, injustice, poverty, insecurity, domestic violence, structures within society and new traditions (within Africa) which are deliberately imposed to keep them down and oppressed. Stereotypes and perceptions which are meant to define them, rather than uplift them.

As we all know, women are the mainstay and backbone of rural economies across the developing world. They face handicaps in accessing credit, finding collateral, have poor and limited education, poor access to markets and a lack of opportunity and technologies and so on. If African governments realised that a large part of economic development is basically dependent on the advancement of its women, then perhaps things may change.

Many Africans refuse to think and some African countries are in a state of anarchy, where leaders are driven by greed, lust for power, deceit and the like. At the moment, many African countries behave as if they’re daft, passive and ignorant people led by corrupt leaders. Funnily enough, it is the voices of the African women that have helped me understand their plights and what still needs to be done.

According to a 2010 UN report on violence against women in Africa, the scourge of violence against women on the continent is still largely rampant but hidden beneath cultural practices and beliefs. This is because of a number of reasons, namely; the predominance of the patriarchal system across Africa means that women are still perceived and treated as subordinates to men;

violence against women is accepted as the cultural norm in many societies and is often condoned by community and sometimes state leaders;

the stigma attached to female victims of violence is underreported; and often, if women do report violence against them, they are either turned away because the authorities see violence against women as a matter to be dealt with privately or within the family or they struggle to access justice in a criminal justice system that is not informed by or sensitive to the needs of women.

We need to redouble our efforts to reduce violence against women and their children. No fewer than 1.2 million women in Nigeria over the age of 15 had experienced domestic or family violence. Most often than not, adolescent girls and women face intersecting disadvantages because of their age, gender, ethnic background, sexual identity, religious affiliation, income, disability amongst other factors. We have seen pictures, evoked images of girls/ women in different situations such as domestic violence, discrimination against them, gender inequality and abuse of their human rights.

So, this is why we are shining the light on this particular situation of women in emergencies at the Women Empowerment and Legal Aid organisation. It is also committed to the empowerment of women, provision of legal aid and protection of women’s human rights through lobbying, advocacy, training and skill development, amongst other strategies. It also offers free legal services to vulnerable children in our society.

It is often forgotten that women and girls are not only helpless victims, they are also sources of power, power to cope, power to prevent, power to reduce risk, power for resilience and transformation and to build back better after crisis. That is the power that we invoke and tap into in order to bring out the best in them.

The recent attacks on young girls in Nigeria and other African areas facing internal strife have also brought to light the security problems that girls face in their efforts to attain education. The importance of education to the girl child cannot be overemphasised.

The issue of religious violence against girls/women in Africa has also been brought to the forefront by the abduction of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls and many others by the Islamic militants Boko Haram. Boko Haram roughly translates as “Western education is forbidden”. The incident highlighted the African girl child’s plight at a time when there are concerted efforts, not only by African governments but also international organisations such as the United Nations Women, to push for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Another painful factor facing the African girl/women is the issue of sexual harassment. More than one in five women has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and we have seen an increase in complaints of sexual harassment since the recent high profile cases. But the problem is that many times, there is nowhere for women to report incidents of sexual violence or they are too frightened of the repercussions in their community if they do report.

It is important to note that women are still not paid equally for work of equal value. And this gap is compounded by the fact that most workplaces operate with a view that people who are paid more, matter more. The very existence of the pay gap further marginalises women and is an added burden. Not only are women paid less, they are also perceived to be less valuable.

It is said that girls with dreams become women with vision. It is not enough to simply talk of equality; one must believe it and work at it as well. Let us work at it together. For every woman’s success should be an inspiration to another. We’re strongest when we cheer each other on.

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