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Women Empowerment, Practical Implementation and the Way Forward:
In the past decades, global attention has been focused on the role of women in development. The declaration of 1975 to 1985 as the United Nations Decade for Women-ended with the UN’s Nairobi conference on women which produced the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (FLS) for the upliftment of women’s status. Then followed when governments and non-governmental organisation (NGOs) implemented the Forward Looking Strategies and periodically monitored its implementation. This effort was updated with the United Nation Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) held in Beijing China in 1995. The outcome of that historic conference is the Beijing Platform for Action (PFA). The document outlined the path to development which would also ensure gender equity and the full involvement of women in development and as decision makers, implementing partners, participants and beneficiaries.
Through this, they achieve more self-respect and confidence by their contributions to their communities.
What is Gender?
An understanding of gender is broadened by the definition of the term sex as the two are often used interchangeably. Yet the two are different. Sex is a term describing whether a person is male or female. Sex is God given and biologically determined while the foetus is still in its mother’s womb and does not change. Gender refers to the roles and duties assigned to male or females within a society and the-complex relationship resulting from the performance of those duties. Gender roles change from one society to another according to human wishes. Gender is socially and culturally determined with people insisting that it is part of their culture for males and females to perform certain roles. Females are often the subordinate in gender relations because culture and gender roles are often determined and largely dominated by male wishes.
Empowerment: Is the act of giving somebody the power or authority to act. Empowerment as access to and control of the use of material, economic resources, political, information and time. It is a way for others to see them as equal members of society.
It is very clear that often, women in many developing nations are restricted legally from their father's land on the sole basis of gender.
In measuring the gap between stated commitments to gender equity and the reality of women’s lives, ABANTU for Development (1998:8) notes that women are still marginalized and remain the poorer segment of society. Despite the extraordinary scientific and technological discoveries and a general upliftment of material well-being in the 20th century, African women are still submerged in extreme poverty are still victims of all kinds of abuse, discrimination and exploitation, are largely illiterate and are still victims of ill-health. The UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994 and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979 were also landmark events. In March 2000, the UN Committee on the Status of Women (CSW) commenced activities for the Beijing Plus five: Women 2000. A United Nation General Assembly special session to review the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (PFA). It held on June 5-9, 2000, marked five years of Implementation of the Beijing Platform For Action. It was designed to assess implementation of Platform for Action in all countries and to put in place concrete and meaningful measures to accelerate the implementation of Platform For Action.
With this sensitization programme going on here and there for women, I am of the opinion that about 85% women need it. Notwithstanding; the truth is that the new dimension now is that we should be gender sensitive. Women should wake up from their slumber. Women should be encouraged to participate in politics and at the decision-making body of any organisation, they might be.
The design of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO):
Considerable advances were made in the 1990s in the design of NGO-managed programmes and poverty-targeted banks to increase women’s access to small loans and savings facilities. Literature prepared for the micro-credit summit campaign presents an extremely attractive vision of increasing numbers of expanding micro-finance programmes which not only give many women access to micro-finance services, but also initiate a’ virtuous upward spiral’ of empowerment.
Donors and NGOs tend to expand their micro-finance activities interventions for women. At the same times, micro-finance is being promoted as a key poverty alleviation strategy to enable poor women and men to cope with the adverse economic and social impacts of structural adjustment policies and globalization.
In Nigeria, the so call poverty alleviation either for women or their children is rubbish. Since, government have been talking of supporting women for one thing or the other, are there any improvement? Let us cast our mind back to some past government up to present both at federal down to local governments, are there any improvement on women and their children generally? I will simply say NO. This simply means up to date there is no improvement. Look at “Better Life for Rural Women,” any improvement on rural women? Everything put together for these women were to the gain of the chairperson or so call first lady.
Let us quickly come to the present government, the practices is for some local governments or even state to purchase grinding machines for women and “Okadas” for their children all in the name of poverty alleviation. The question is, the Okada and grinding machines for women, who are the beneficiaries? Definitely, the chairmen’s relations and party faithful. Another question will be what is the percentage of the beneficiaries compare to the entire people of that community, probably up to 1% of the community. Can we then conclude that the Okada’s and grinding machine are pro-poor programme? It is left for you to decide.
As a result of this, I want to call your attention to international agreement, which Nigeria is a signatory. I am talking about CEDAW- Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women. This is purely women convention that spelt out the international laws to support women empowerment financially, socially, politically and all spheres of life.
What is Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women About?
The convention on the elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an international human rights document that establishes the universality of the principle of equality of rights between men and women throughout the world. The convention seeks to establish equality of rights for women, whatever their marital status, in all fields.
The convention was adopted by United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 1979 opened for signature on March 1, 1980, and entered into force on September 3, 1981 after 20 States have consented to be bound by its provision, either through ratification or accession.
The primary goal of the convention is to promote "the well-being of women in agricultural, economic decision making for the total development of the capacities of women to contribute to self-reliance and sustainable development." Correspondingly, the specific objectives are to:
1. Empower rural women economically, socially, politically and thereby promote sustainable development;
2. Promote popular participation and bottom-up approach in decision making;
3. Develop skills, improve knowledge, promote culture and consultation in decisional process;
4. Give poor rural women a sense of belonging and the opportunity to benefit from and contribute to the development of a nation.
5. Give the youth a sound knowledge of the local technology, tradition and culture that are sustainable for economic development.
In practice, the implementation of the convention rests largely on the willingness of the government to incorporate the terms of the convention into their national legislation. A state party thus agrees to include these universal standards units’ national laws and to transpose them into administrative and social policies and practice in order to achieve a “de facto” eradication of discrimination.
The convention is a powerful tooling the hands of activists and legislators, judges and educators, politicians and professionals. They use the convention to influence legislative processes and government policies.
What are the ways forward?
Women empowerment can only be achieved through the following ways:
The welfare stage focuses on women’s material well-being relative to that of men. It measures gender gap, which is the disparity between males and females using indicators such as literacy levels, nutritional status, educational qualifications, ownership of land or property, maternal mortality and infant mortality rates etc. The poor welfare levels of women deny them access which is power and resource controls. Therefore there should be an improvement in the welfare of the women in relative to all these.
Lack of access to vital resources for promoting development led to the gender gaps identified at the welfare stage. Women in comparison with men have less access to education, skills, credit, land etc. The collective action to provide women’s access to these productive resources was undertaken by BLP It made available credit facilities by linking women with banks and provided them with skills. In view of this access to vital resources for promoting the development of women should be made.
At this level, women have moved from bridging gender gap only. They are now focused on beliefs, customs and norms that create inequities. The gap here is measured in terms of women who believe that men are heads of households and sole decision makers and those who believe that men and women must work together from household levels, right up to the highest level within society to achieve a balanced, stable family and society. It is the gap between women who see themselves as second class citizens, inferior partners or perpetual minors waiting for someone to plan their lives for them and those who want to be active participants, equal citizens and capable partners. When this level is achieved, women and men work together to identify obstacles that create gender gaps and eradicate them.
Because conscientization is about intellectual aspects of dissatisfaction with the status quo, it leads to analyses, identification or real problems and finally action. Mobilisation involves closing the gender gaps in decision making. It corrects the situation where the men take all the decisions and women remain passive voters and recipients of policies that do not favour them and often marginalise and discriminate against them. Participation is the answer to this, and it is manifested in gender equality in political participation. Women must be fully mobilised to represent women’s interest. It must go beyond just getting any woman into the Senate, House of Representatives, State House of Assembly and Local Government. Rather, women must mobilise around particular gender issues.
This level addresses the issue of who controls resources. The gender gap is measured in terms of whether women actually benefit from their labour. If there have no control over their income, and their productivity is not reflected in `better life’ for them and their children, then empowerment does not occur. The BLP did not address who controls and benefits from its credit schemes. If the husband collects the BLP loan from his wife and spends it on his leisure pursuits outside the home, then the process of empowerment is subverted. To increase women’s level of control, women must work collectively not individually to mobilise and take collective action to increase their level of control.
Equality of control can only happen when women and men acknowledge each other as indispensable partners in the process of development. This ensures that women can gain increased access to resources that will promote growth and development.
Importance of women empowerment:
1. A better quality of material life, within the family as well as for the overall society can be achieved through the women empowerment.
2. Women empowerments encourage or a means enabling women to grab the knowledge, skills and self- confidence necessary to participate fully in the development process.
3. A self-employed woman is capable of contributing not only to her family’s finances but also contributes towards increment of the country’s overall economy.
4. Women empowerments encourage their inherent aptitude towards the organization and well-rounded maintenance of home which make them uniquely suited for political and civil leadership roles.
5. As we all know, women are key managers of natural resources and powerful agents of change with the complete development of the society; women empowerment in its actuality is synonymous.
6. According to the contribution from Lyla Mehta and Melissa Leach. “Not just victims, women have been and can be central actors in pathways to sustainable and economic transformation.”
My experience so far since I have been attending workshops organised for women is women always say, “Women are enemies of Women.” However, if this is true, I don’t know. But, if it is true, women should be friends and shun unhealthy rivalry among themselves.
It is not easy to fight for your rights especially when there is disunity among women. If there is unity, there will be progress financially, politically, socially and one day a woman will become the president of this great country Nigeria.
© 2017 ODEWOYE FRANCIS SUNDAY