By Farida Adamu |
The pronouncement didn’t grab the headlines but it is a significant policy that enhances healthcare, boosts women empowerment and advances career progression of a large proportion of the citizenry. On May 29, 2019, Kaduna state approved six months of paid maternity leave for its female public servants, thereby joining the exclusive list of very few states. On that day, the state became the first northern state and the fourth in the country, to embrace this policy, following in the footsteps of Lagos, Enugu and Ekiti states that started implementing it in 2014, 2015 and 2020 respectively.
In his announcement, Governor Nasir El-Rufai argued that the decision to elongate the paid maternity leave from three to six months is to encourage the healthy development of infants, through prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Globally, governments and the private sector recognise the immense advantages that a paid and prolonged maternity leave provides for the baby, the work environment and the society at large. By El-Rufai’s historic decision, mothers in the public service no longer choose between having a career or children in Kaduna state.
Indeed, the initiative went beyond just policy pronouncement as it is backed by law. In its usual practice of inclusion, the government had mobilized relevant stakeholders such as Save the Children International, Alive and Thrive Nigeria, CS-SUNN, Kaduna State Emergency Nutrition Action Plan (KADENAP), lawmakers and women’s groups for inputs to the draft bill for subsequent passage into law.
Since coming into office in May 2015, Governor El-Rufai has mobilized funds and exerted the political will towards enacting pro-women policies, cutting across governance, financial empowerment, protection against Gender and Sexual Based Violence and reproductive health. From choosing Dr Hadiza Balarabe, a medical doctor and an astute public health expert as his running mate, who is now the first elected female Deputy Governor in Kaduna state and the entire North West geo-political zone, to appointing six female commissioners in a 14-member cabinet, the governor is a trailblazer in women empowerment. In fact, the six female commissioners run key ministries like Justice, Health, Public Works and Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development, Human Services and Social Development as well as Agriculture. Above all, the Head of Service is a woman. Besides, women hold other key agencies of government, including Kaduna Investment Promotion Agency (KADIPA), Kaduna State Development and Property Company (KSDPC), Kaduna State Transport Regulatory Authority (KADSTRA) and Kaduna State Health Supplies Management Agency and others.
Beyond political appointments, Kaduna State is prioritizing women’s welfare through programmes like the Kaduna State Women Empowerment Fund (KADSWEF). In 2018, N200million was given to over 1,000 women groups and cooperatives at a single digit loan in the first phase of the programme. So far, N30 million has been disbursed to 348 beneficiaries and 2,500 are expected to benefit in the second phase which was launched recently.
Similarly, KDSG is prioritising quality healthcare for women and children; children up to the age of five get free medical care in public hospitals. Working closely with Development Partners like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, General Electric, and DFID, 255 Primary Healthcare centres across 23 LGAs are being equipped with modern maternal and antenatal care machines.
In addition to this, KDSG has earmarked N50million for the treatment of Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) patients to cater for their health needs, provide food and vocational skills for them when they recover from the lifesaving surgery. Besides, in October 2020, a Women Transit Shelter was opened for vulnerable women with the support of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). These Shelters provide temporary accommodation and support for women escaping domestic violence. KDSG also provides medical treatment and legal services to victims of sexual assault through its four Sexual Assault Referral Centres in Kafanchan, Zaria and Kaduna.
In Kaduna state, women empowerment is not just an empty slogan that is used to canvass for votes during elections, or uttered at seminars and conferences to be in the news. In the El-Rufai administration, it is a cardinal principle of governance.
Farida is a Special Assistant on Media and Communication