We claim in the abstraction that people are born free, but they are everywhere in chains. Until recently, the woman’s place in Nigeria was in the kitchen. Women were bogusly labelled homemakers – only expected to go to church and pray for the family; come home and cook the meals; and stay at home to take care of the children.
Slightly above that level – particularly in the rural areas – women were “beasts of burden”. They went to the farm to fetch food items and the firewood with which to cook them. They went to far away rivers in search of water for domestic services.
In the beginning, although we realised that education was a major driving force for development, women were denied access to education. The few women who went to school were given access to restricted areas – while their male counterparts went to engineering schools, they went for typing and secretarial studies.
Many people of goodwill have been in the vanguard, agitating for the abolition of discrimination against women. Lately, the wife of the Governor of Kwara State, Mrs. Omolewa Ahmed, has argued that women’s rights should be observed in just the same way as we observe other rights and that failing to do so would be akin to running on one leg. For the Late President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, “the two legs on which any nation should stand and walk or run are its manhood and womanhood’.
On his part, President Barack Obama of the United States of America is carrying the fight for the liberation of the African woman on his head. During his recent visit to Kenya and Ethiopia, Obama advised that Africans can no longer pay mere lip service to women’s liberation and that the time has come to do away with archaic practices that dehumanise the African woman, stressing the need for total inclusion of women in every aspect of development for greater impact. For Obama, “The single best indicator of whether a nation will succeed is how it treats its women… Nobody would put out a football team and just play half the team”.
In all this, there is no alternative to meaningful affirmative action and compensatory justice for women. It is not enough to tell women that they are now free to compete on equal footing with men. That would simply be like being engaged in a long distance race in which some of the runners are forcibly held back at the starting line until the other runners have passed the half way mark.
Affirmative action or preferential treatment enjoys full support from the fact that it is required by justice in order to atone for past wrongs. It makes sense for anyone ordering an offender to cease discriminating to also make compensatory award for previous injuries.
There is no reason why a society that has discriminated against women for so long should not be required to make what is at best a most modest compensation for past wrongs.
We have heard of political parties in Nigeria priding themselves for waiving the nomination fees for female aspirants. This is benign tokenism and it simply begs the question. We do not know of any serious aspirant to a position whose only handicap is that she cannot afford the nomination fee.
The womenfolk should not be satisfied with any Greek gift that costs society nothing. The goals of gender equality cannot be attained if we do not adopt the type of measures that have been adopted in places like the United Nations and Kenya. The Kenyan Constitution provides that no gender shall occupy more than two-thirds of the positions in any government department. At the United Nations, where a male and female candidate is equally qualified for a position, the female candidate gets automatic preference. We recommend a situation where candidates for principal positions are compelled by law to have the opposite gender as running mates. Under such an arrangement, at no time will you have the female-folk totally missing from governance.
On compensatory justice, this is one area where the entire nation has a big lesson to learn from Uhunmwode Local Government Area of Edo State. For two consecutive elections to the Edo State House of Assembly Uhunmwode has deliberately held down its most eminently qualified male candidates to give the women a chance. This is where the State must remain eternally grateful to Uhunmwode because but for its magnanimity, the House of Assembly would have been made up of only men blowing hot air on themselves. The Uhunmwode initiative is recommended to more areas throughout the country.
Certainly, this can be very painful, particularly to those men that are stepped-down. But again, beneath every preferential treatment lies some reverse discrimination. It is a price that society pays for democracy.
Political leaders must be warned that they are propping up a female candidate, not simply because she has two breasts and two legs; but she must be adequately competitive and combative; and capable of winning the election and representing the people.
Nigeria has started well but a lot more need to be done. We applaud the recent landmark ruling of the Supreme Court, upholding the enforcement of women’s right to inheritance.
No matter how we look at it, this fight is for women and they cannot stand aloof while the battle rages. They must quickly close ranks. For now, self-hatred among them is endemic, with the result that the few of them who have made it choose only to identify with men. This must change.
Above all, shouldn’t charity really begin at home? We are not easily carried away by the male chauvinist argument that there is nothing in a name. We have attended various programmes where even the women members boldly announce, “In this profession, we are all gentlemen”. Is it not yet time to shake off such colonial heritage so that at the bar and bench; in the newsroom; and in the civil service, a female member can remain the lady that she truly is?
– See more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/08/compensatory-justice-for-women/#sthash.1NbjkaCD.dpuf