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Home Opinion Editorial As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2012

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2012

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Nigeria yesterday joined the rest of the world in the celebration of the International Women’s Day (IWD). Inaugurated in 1911 by people who campaigned for women to get the suffrage (the right to vote), March 8 has been consistently observed globally in celebration of the “economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future”. Some countries including China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria have even upgraded this day to a national holiday.

The global theme of this year’s IWD is “Connecting girls, inspiring futures” while the United Nations’ theme is “Empower rural women: End hunger and poverty”.  The two themes are only different in the areas they have chosen to put an emphasis on. They both mirror the problems confronting women mostly in the developing world.

Politically, women generally have seen their place in decision-making grow over the years. From just getting the right to vote, they now can stand as candidates in their own right in elections. Today there are women presidents in Argentina and Brazil, both in Latin America.  In Africa, women form a quarter of Rwanda’s parliamentarians. And this is a country that only recently emerged from dark years of genocide.  In Nigeria, we have women in state and federal legislatures as well as in executive positions. For instance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former managing director of the World Bank, holds the positions of Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy which make her a de facto prime minister.

On the economic front, women have taken giant strides too to the very top. In Nigeria in particular, there are women that are captains of industry. There are success stories of women achievers all over Africa. However, the achievements of women in both the political and economic spheres pale in significance compared to their numbers. In Africa, women make up more than two-thirds of the countries that form the continent. The factors that work against them are economic, political and cultural.

In reverse order, there are cultural practices in some African countries that are manifestly against the opposite sex such as that which insists that boys be sent to school before girls. This initial setback is likely to dog the girl child all through her adult life. This is the disturbing picture we see in most rural settings on the continent.  This is why we find both themes of this year’s celebrations very apposite to the occasion, but particularly so is the UN’s “Empower women: Ending hunger and poverty”.

In Nigeria, the problems of the rural woman are compounded by conflict situations and other security challenges like the Boko Haram insurgency. Often it is women that bear the brunt. If they are not themselves killed, over night they are turned into breadwinners of their families as a result of the death of their husbands.  They are also victims of land-grabs by our very powerful political elites. Sometimes, government’s agricultural policies over-expose rural women, who are mainly subsistence farmers, to the vagaries of the weather and distortions in the international economic system such as a blip in the pricing of agricultural commodities.

To be sure, there is no shortage of government programmes to empower not only the rural poor but also the down-trodden in the cities. However, the problem is that such programmes are too many and corruption eats up all the resources put at their disposal. This suggests a strong need to rationalize them and make their operations transparent.

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