Dorothy Njemanze is an activist, producer, inspirational speaker and President of the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation. In this interview with the Daily Trust on Sunday, she talks about the never-ending battle for human rights, gender equality regarding the Nigerian woman.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, can you highlight some issues unique to Nigerian women?
Nigeria is a patriarchal society and the setbacks that come with it are very present in Nigeria. What are these setbacks; a woman is expected to count or think of counting only after the last man in the room is tired of counting, right? Gender is a social construct of human beings, but before that we are all human beings. Given that we are in 2022, I find it absurd that we are still trying to explain to people that the rights of women as human beings matter and that equal opportunities for women and men are the best standard . In the Stone Age these things would have passed without anyone looking up, but we are in the 21st century and things need to be done differently.
As a woman, do you think your rights are respected and recognized by society?
Well, compared to where we come from, there has been a lot of progress, but is this progress substantial enough to reflect what needs to be or are we where we need to be? The answer is absolutely no. My rights are not respected and recognized by society. In many places on paper, yes. But the problem with paper is that these are different policies that exist, progressive policies that have entered our laws, among other things. However, in practice they are not implemented. And where, for example, the national guidance agency has not invested in educating people on the various media platforms that exist about the provision of these progressive laws, how can we expect people in companies know them?
It is usually the people who work in the spaces where these laws have been formulated who seem to know about them, or perhaps law enforcement officials, for example, who are constantly reminded that they must uphold the law and/or those of the judiciary. . Even in the justice system, not everyone is aware of the various progressive laws that exist. People still live in the Stone Age. So as a woman, in relation to what can be achieved and what can be obtained, my rights are not respected and recognized by society.
What do you think of the bill on gender equality which was rejected in the National Assembly?
Although now being reconsidered, I consider the initial rejection a complete disgrace. When people are elected, it is partly the legislature. I am aware that a lot of funds are invested in orientation programs to clear their minds and prepare them to serve every Nigerian regardless of gender, political affiliation, etc. So where people have demonstrated that there are not equal rights and opportunities for women in society as there are for men, the normal approach will be to correct the anomaly. Of course, people would say, oh is anyone stopping them from running for office? Yes, people run for office after living in a place for a certain number of years. But as a woman, once you’re married, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been living in the place, the main excuse is, “oh, you’re not from here, you’re from somewhere else. . Or you can’t run for office here because you now belong somewhere else.” I strongly believe that it is up to the woman to decide exactly where she wants to run for office and how she wants to run for office. So, given that harmful traditional practices continued to get in the way, it was important to highlight those amendments that were recommended for the constitution. But where are we still with that? We have several steps back.
The Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill is something not to be joked about. It is important to point out that with the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill, a 25-year window is given and specific recommendations are made. If these are continued in the 25-year window, the magnitude of progress that should be made should close the gender gap that currently exists. So I see no reason for anyone to feel threatened by equal opportunity.
Why do we have to think about things this way?
Take for example, in the response to sexual and gender-based violence, due to the prevalence of victims and survivors being women, responses or whatever is instituted to respond to victims are usually approached through the prism of a woman. Now, what happens when men become victims? Are the processes in place sensitive to the needs of men and boys? So, you see, when you think about the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill, it’s not about women and equal opportunities, it’s about gender. The bill seeks to ensure that each gender is integrated into every decision-making process. We think about how things affect men and women differently, because there might be similarities in how things affect women or men, but there are also distinct idiosyncrasies that might prevent men or women to access everything they need at any time.
In the defense of gender equality, what is being done wrong?
What we are looking at here is a fundamental problem. Many people have been conditioned to believe that everything about women and children is not important enough. It’s mainly what I see that is badly done. Otherwise, when glaring problems are continually brought to light, there is absolutely no reason why they should not be considered as clearly defined.
Also, another thing that is badly done is that we don’t have enough political will. We have a lot of talk in the air everywhere. However, it will be good to see people follow the word. All the laws and policies that exist, what level of implementation do we have, from the executive, the judiciary and the legislature? What implementation measures have been taken when we have things that are written in the laws but we have no provision for it in the budgets? This automatically means that they are not serious enough to be treated. Resources devoted to addressing sexual and gender-based violence are insufficient. If we do this in more than one way, we will meet medical needs, economic needs, educational needs, security needs and housing needs. Imagine if this wide range of needs are met and how they will affect the stability of human beings and enhance all the contributions people can make to society.
What do you think of the slow implementation of the 35% affirmative action?
Anyone who has had the opportunity to name people and has not applied the 35% affirmative action rule does not deserve a second chance at power. It is important to capture the realities of all genders equally on every project. A typical example is the disaster that occurred when the palliatives were deployed after the COVID-19 lockdown.
Primarily, the palliatives consisted of food items which were the things considered important at the time. But before covid, we had very big crises that were specific to women. We had a menstrual hygiene crisis, and let’s not forget that movement has been restricted, resources have become scarce and confinement has been prolonged. Thus, the limited resources that people had, especially those living on a daily income, were channeled into food items for survival. Now, when palliatives came out, it would have been great to see sanitary napkins as part of the shared items as they are considered essential.
During the lockdown, as first responders, we heard stories of women who were raped simply because they refused to have unprotected sex. If different forms of contraceptives were deployed along with the palliatives, it would have helped reduce the incidence of rape and sexual violence against women.
Now bring it back to the main topic; who were the people who sat down and decided which items should be shared as palliatives? What range of people were taken into account when deploying the palliatives? Having seen this, it is imperative that there is a minimum of 35% of each gender in each nomination position.
This year’s theme for IWD is #Breakthebias, is there a particular bias you would like to see addressed?
The biggest bias I would like to address is the fact that in Nigeria we have no respect for women’s human rights and access to equal opportunities for women. If we did, we would invest in the things that ensure that the violation of women’s rights, the inhibition of access to equal opportunities does not exist. We don’t invest enough in these things because we don’t value them enough. Once it is considered a woman’s affair, it is considered trivial to invest in it. Women’s issues are human issues and everyone’s business, therefore, there should be adequate investment, whether it is maternity care, reproductive rights, sexual violence and sexist. , all count.