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Abiodun Essiet: Canvassing gender justice

Abiodun Essiet is the  Founder,  Abiodun Essiet Initiative for Girls, co-founder of Easy Medi–Option Initiative, and Board member of Strong Enough Girls Empowerment Initiative. She is also the initiator of Young Africa Women Leaders Network, an online social media group to mentor Young Women in Africa who are interested in Leadership. In this interview with ENE OSANG, she said failure to domesticate the CEDAW is the bane of women’s growth in Nigeria.

What do you do basically and what inspired you?
I run a non-governmental organization in Osun state and Abuja, Nigeria which focuses on empowering women and the promotion of girl child education. I detest bad governance/ leadership because I believe Nigerians deserves more than what our Government is offering us . Putting a smile on faces of vulnerable women  is a great inspiration for me and it also keeps me going .

How would you assess gender equality in Nigeria, any progress?
The word gender equality have failed to communicate, or provide redress for, the ongoing gender- based injustice from which women suffers in Nigeria. What we need now is gender justice as the ending of, and the provision of redress for, inequalities between women and men that results in women’s subordination to men. Nigeria after  several decades of ratification of CEDAW, has failed to domesticate the international instrument as part of her municipal law which has seriously slowed down the pace of women emancipation in Nigeria. Women still suffers intense marginalization and relegation to the background.

Are women truly discriminated against in Nigeria?
Women are discriminated against in virtually all spheres of life in Nigeria e.g in the home front, in educational institutions, in working places and in political appointment. The worrisome aspect of this discrimination is that it has persisted for so long that it is now so deeply rooted and institutionalized in Nigeria system.

On that note how would you describe the Nigerian woman and what is their role in nation building?
Nigeria women are strictly restricted women by our culture to a stereotyped role of home keepers, child bearers, and child rearers. She is to be seen and not heard, their subordinate role is not dependent on the social, educational or economic status. Women’s role in Nation building is their equal participation in decision making processes at every level and in every sectors. Engaging in community development is our fundamental attempt to eliminate gender- based poverty.

Would you say women are well involved in the polity particularly since assumption of the current administration?
The present administration still  fall short of the international expectation of 35 percent inclusion of women in political appointment which is evidence from the numbers of women at the senate and ministerial appointments. The need for integration of women into the mainstream of decision making in government can never be over emphasized.
What are your expectations this year in terms of women development?
My expectation on women development is to see more women declaring their intentions to run for a political position come 2019. In order to challenge the unequal and ultimately unsustainable economic and social system in which we live, and to secure the essential resources we need for dignified and rewarding live, there is need to be visible  politically as women and be empowered to act in that capacity.

Why the interest in gender is it because you’re a woman?
My interest on gender issues may be related to the fact that am a woman and women are mostly the victim of gender inequality . gender applies to both man and woman, the role ascribed to each gender is the problem which as limited women so far. Nigeria patriarchal system which is embedded in our cultural system treat men as superior to woman, which is well manifested in the “ son preference syndrome” that is prevalent in Nigeria. Male children in Nigeria often enjoys preferential treatment, like exemption from house chores, they enjoy unlimited rights to education while the girls are trafficked by their parent or pushed into early marriage for economic gain in the home.
It is time to rewrite our culture, we should raise our girls with positive mentalities and values that promote their self esteem to become better leaders in our society .

What did you study at school?
I studied Nursing as my first degree from  Ladoke Akintola University, studied Public health as my second degree  at university of Ibadan. I have a certificate on community leadership by women from Coady International institute , Canada and will soon be doing my diploma in leadership at the same school.

Any challenges running an NGO?
There are challenges running a NGO just like you have challenges running any  other form of businesses. The challenges of NGO are peculiar  the type of NGO one is running, could be grassroot, community based organization , local NGO or international NGO. The major challenge I faced starting up my NGO was funding, as a grass-root Ngo it was difficult getting funds/grant from international organization because we don’t meet up with their eligibility criteria for their grant so you end up becoming sub- sub recipient for a grant. The way out for me was partnering with other organization in my community to apply for fund and also joining various  Network of NGOs to receive update on grant application.

How many girls /women have you empowered so far?
So far, 2 girls are receiving scholarship fund to higher institution ,  supported 10 student in the high school with school supplies for a term and school fees, outreach program on sexuality education for more than  2000 high school girls and  skill acquisition for 10 out-of school girls.  Looking  forward to empowering more women this year.

Where do you vision yourself in the next five years?
I see myself in the next five years holding a political position in Nigeria elected or appointed.

What would be your advice to authorities concerning gender?
My recommendations to government on gender equality; *Educational Empowerment of Women. Compulsory girl-child education is a useful strategy that should be adopted to bridge gender gaps in Nigeria. Present Nigerian laws against trafficking of young girls as domestic servants and prostitutes should be strictly enforced. Education of a girl child, in the long run, would equip her future participation in key decision making in the government and also enable her influence gender friendly policies.

More Political Appointment for Women
I call upon Nigeria government  to beef up her political appointive positions for women. The present appointments still fall short of the international expectation, that 35 per cent of all political appointment should be reserved for women. The need for integration of women into the mainstream of decision making in government can never be over-emphasized as I have said earlier.
I will also want the media to increase the portrayal of women and men in non-stereotypical roles including men as carers.
They should challenge the contradiction highlighted in the study about views held on women and leadership by demonstrating that leadership is not about being male or female but about developing and applying a set of leadership skills that can be acquired and practiced by both men and women.
Communicate to audiences and readers on the gaps between perceptions and realities of men across contexts and the importance of transforming gender-inequitable masculinity. Also, media should  promote coverage of gender equality and women’s human rights stories, including the role of men in promoting gender equality.

What would be your advice for Nigerians in general?
Nigeria is a great country and we all need to work together in developing this nation which is our Civic responsibility and duty to our Nation. As you go about your daily activities always have in mind the Nigeria National  pledge.
The change begins with you and I as well as the executives.

About Muhammed Adamu