Mufiliat Fijabi is the chief executive officer of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund. In this interview with JOY YESUFU, she highlights consequences of always excluding women from governance in Nigeria.
What is the mandate of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund?
The Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) was set up in 2011 specifically with a mandate to contribute to closing the gender gap in governance. In closing the gender gaps in governance, it means we have to rely on the statiscal evidence that shows that women are already far behind in leadership in terms of both appointive and elective leadership positions.
The NWTF is an institution that was established as a result of collaborative efforts from civil societies, stakeholders, the private sector and the government. It is also an acknowlegement of the fact that in the governace process of Nigeria, women are excluded. So, our role upon establishment is to see that women also play leading roles when it comes to democratic process in Nigeria. The NWTF provides resources for women to enable them participate actively in governance. And the resources are mostly technical even though at inception there was some level of financial support but since after establishment, the support has been mostly technical. So, in essence, we provide our leadership and capacity building to women across board. We also provide networking platform for women, both young and older women to collaborate and participate actively in Nigeria’s governance process.
NWTF also prides itself in inter generational mentorship of young women by the older generation , specifically because we believe that governance is a process, it’s not just a one-off thing, in the sense that if you have consistent people as relevant stakeholders ,including women, then the process towards development will be assured.
What challenges is NWTF experiencing in achieving this mandate?
Currently, we have quite a number of challenges that we are experiencing, working with women to get them to be able to rise above the various barriers that limits their abilities and their spaces in terms of participation in governance.
We’ve seen that cultural factors, which are also the bedrock to patriarchal and stereotypical thinking about women as people who should not be in the forefront, are some key factors that affect the participation of women and so , we do a lot of capacity development for women including working with male gender champions who also acknowlege and belive that women also have a lot to contribute to the development process of Nigeria.
We also have other bias like violence against women, we support the process towards ensuring that women’s voices are strengthened to ensure that there’s some level of resistance to violence against women and to also ensure that women raise their voices against this major barriers which affect them.
If you look at it historically and from political perspective, one of the reasons women stay away from elective positions is due the level of violence associated with campaigning including elections and all of that. This is not very good.
So, in the last 2019 general elections, the NWTF also put in place, a gender and election watch room, to pay closer attention to how women participated in the elections and how the elections affected women, differently from men.
So, the gender and election watch room gave us a platform through which we were able to closely look at the performance of women in the elections. From the report of that gender and election watchroom, it is obvious that for women to be truly in the forefront when you talk about governance, there is need for some level of engagement to ensure that there is a deliberate will and approach to make sure that women are included in the political and electoral process.
How do you go about advocating for the inclusion of women in key leadership positions ?
We advocate for the inclusion of women in leadership positions by talking to various stakeholders and by also networking with like minded organisations and individuals because often times, when you interact with people in power, they will always say that ‘oh, we can’t find the women,’ ‘oh we dont know where the women are’, so we make efforts to compile information and statistics about women who are capable, crictical stakeholders and we advocate for their inclusion. This is because if women are not delibrately included in the governance process, it means there will be an absence of expertise that will come from such category of women. The reality of our natural self as human beings is that in developing any country, there is need to take on experiences of both men and women, where those of women are lacking, then there is a gap. If you are talking about issues of health, maternal mortality, and infants. If you look at decisions around economy and all of that, you need input of experts to be able to get reality check on what to do to reduce the occurrence of poverty.
So, its a reality that women participation in governance is not negotiable. Women’s participation in governance is a step towards the right direction in ensuring that a truly democratic process is achieved in Nigeria and the national development that we so much desire is not too far away from us.
How far has your advocacy yielded results?
Well, the advocacy is not just for the NWTF, it is on behalf of the Nigerian women. Sometimes, it is good in terms of yielding results but whatever results it has yielded in the past is not enough. Such that, in the current appointment of ministers, which had just 16 per cent of women represented, even though we all heard when the president said that he would try and meet up 35 per cent affirmative action, so it’s not enough, we are still not happy about it. And then if you look at the global standard also, Nigeria is still very far behind. The number of women in our national parliament is very low. How do you explain eight women in a 109 member senate. If you go to the HOR, it is same. I don’t think its good enough. The advocacy is on going until we get to our destination. So, in my own estimation, it’s not too good yet for Nigerian women because it still means that we are not recognised as equal citizens.
Violence against women, would you say it’s minimal in Nigeria or would you say it’s at a dangerous stage.
The advcocy is an ongoing process. There is a gradual acknowledgement of the fact that violence against women is not good. We also have the VAPP act in place, which has different punishments for people who commit violence agains not just women but men as well, so the rate of reporting has increased, which means that there is an awareness that it is not acceptable but the response to the report has not improved.
The response comes more from the government in terms of the kind of first aid the victims or the survivors get, in terms of follow up at the medical clinics by the government. The process to get the facts needed in the event of prosecution is still not out there. So, I would say that there is an increase in the rate at which cases of violence against women are reported because of advocacy by groups like ours and several other women groups in Nigeria. However, the response to the report is still not good at all. Because, sometimes, they report some of these cases to the police and they’re advised that it is still a domestic affair and the victims should go and sort it out at home. If it’s in a case that the husband is violent, it means that the woman is in trouble. We need the various stakeholders to have very strong system in place to truly protect women and girls from violence.
What advice do you give young women you mentor and women politicians?
We usually advise women politicians and young women to be consistent in their approach to governance issues especially in the areas of leadership and that when they forge ahead, they should always remember that the challenges are there but not enough to take them away from their visions or what they so desire. We also let them realise the reality that the society is patriachal. It is still male dominated and so they should be prepared and ready to give in their best and not give up in the face of stereotypes and patriachal challeneges because it’s always there. We are hoping that with their own consistency and those of several others coming, these patriachal barriers and obstacles will be dismantled.
On a final note
Nigeria needs to acknowlege that there are great women in the country. In my own opinion and that when women come out to put in their expertise, knowledge and experinece, it’s not about wanting to be like men, women are happy to be women. It’s just that they are also human beings, they have knowlege, they’ve been to schools, they have experiences that they feel should not be with them alone but should be shared with the society to make it better.
It’s also critical that when women are more involved in the development process, in peace processes, it brings about a country that is stable, a country that has an informed basis on which it can operate
But consistency in excludinding is unacceptable. Women are not supposed to be in the front, it’s a denial of a future that is stable and beautiful for generations to come, so the earlier this is recognised, the better. Women are happy to be women, they don’t want to be men but they are human beings who also have thinking faculty and also have reflections about what life should look like and about how society should be. They also have these natural endowment of being peace makers. They can contribute their values to making a particular situation better than what it is. If women are not empowered, if they are continously relegated to the background, it has impact on products that comes from such women.
You cannot compare the product of an educated, well enlightend and happy woman to one that is not.
So, the society should empower women more and stop all the traits of disempowerment including not being appointed into positions, having millions of girls out of school, raping of young girls including discrimination, violence against their persons. All of these need to stop. We need to acknowlege ourselves as human beings. We didn’t create ourselves to be women, we met ourselves, so we should be respected.
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