Messages and Reactions From Nigeria

On March 8, the world celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD), a day set aside to acknowledge the contributions women make in society and highlight the challenges women continue to face. This year, the United Nation’s theme “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” urged action to promote gender equality among men and women globally. All over the world, public events were hosted to commemorate the day using the campaign message and hashtag #BeBoldForChange. In Nigeria, I had the opportunity to participate in two events: 1) a rally hosted by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and 2) a roundtable discussion on bold steps for women taken by youth-led organizations. The rally involved about 150 men and women walking in a parade and holding placards with various messages centered on issues Nigerian women face. Below are picture highlights from the day:

Youth participants at the parade send strong messages on IWD 2017

As I reflected on this year’s IWD, I wondered what Nigerians felt should be the priority focus for women in Nigeria this year. So, I asked around. Below are the responses I gathered:

“Our priority this year should be on Entrepreneurship. Let’s try to find a skill within us and build on it. Educate other women in doing same. We are in a world now where every woman wants to be independent.”

“I think the priority for Nigerian women should be self-development. Have a job, start a business, go for a development course, anything but don’t wait for the tides to change. Change them yourself. So it’s obvious that a woman has to do twice more than a man to prove her mettle, but we can do it! A woman should be skilled!”

“Educating the Girl child no matter who she is, where she [lives] or where she comes from.”

“Women are blessed with a gift, we multi-task and can do that well… there should be a balance in all. Women shouldn’t just work hard to get to the top, financially, socially, politically and forget their place at home, especially with the kids. The better parts of a person’s character, belief, and desires begin at childhood. A lot of adults are scared for life cos of things that happened to them in their childhood, most of them continue that way and it forms their belief systems… we are able to [do] a lot of things and do them well if we challenged ourselves. We are not weak, we are powerful… Great women”

“The US Women’s March has ignited a global movement for women across the world. And I was looking forward to a Women’s March to celebrate the IWD in Nigeria but I learned there are about 4 planned Marches all marching for different reasons. Marching is good, but I think this is the time for us to come together to demand 1 thing for Nigerian women and then we can align our other interests under that 1 big ask. There is great power in unity and we all have to be patient to start somewhere and gradually build up. Where are our founding women rights movement leaders? They can champion us to deploy our networks and technology to mobilize the younger generation.”

It appears that depending on who you ask, Nigerian women have diverse priorities. However, the theme of empowerment runs through each of the articulated needs –financial, academic, and social empowerment. As we have come upon another IWD, we must ensure that we don’t make the day all about hashtags. We must ask ourselves how far have we come in this movement for women and how do we address the present gaps?
At the roundtable event, a question was raised about closing the gender gap. How do we accomplish this? My response is: women and girls have a voice and rights and they deserve to be heard. It’s not about competing against men. It is about pulling together the capacities and potential that women possess to make the world a better place for all. Every human being wants to be great and achieve his/her potential. Why should women be hindered from making their contribution? It is time we take bold steps as a community by speaking out, calling out injustice, and equipping women and girls to know that they are strong enough to use and share their talents.
My one wish is that women and girls in rural and remote communities also get to hear/know about International Women’s Day and can be empowered to BE MORE. We must take intentional bold steps to engage these rural women; they’re the ones that are often left out of empowerment programs, despite their increased vulnerabilities.

Group of young men perform a dance during the IWD parade

Some of the bold steps highlighted by the youth groups during the Roundtable discussion include:
• Engaging women using technology to advance the health and rights of women
• Implementing public health projects with a women-led consulting company that ensures 60% of its workforce are women; this will help to bridge the gender gap in professional settings.
• Conducting and launching the report on “An Examination of Girls’ Education Policies in Nigeria with focus on the Northeast”
• Establishing a scholarship fund to help girls stay in school and support them to attend tertiary institutions with mentorships
• Launching of the Nigerian Languages-translated Breast Cancer Materials for Women in Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, and Pidgin
• Integrating women’s empowerment with children’s vaccination which has led to a reduction in infant mortality in target communities
• Engaging women in combating human trafficking

Youth Roundtable Discussion on “How We Took Bold Steps…”