Barrister Mary Ekpere-Eta is the Director-general of the National Centre for Women Development (NCWD). In this interview with JOY YESUFU, she asserted that Nigerian woman need to be financially independent and participate in local politics to catapult them to limelight for appointments and elective positions.
NCWD has been involved in a lot of empowerment programmes under your leadership, what is your motivation?
One of the core mandates of the NCWD is to empower the woman, that is development. Being here as a woman, and this place is put in place for that purpose, it is my duty to ensure that the mandate of this organisation is carried out, that is the major reason I was appointed, to drive the mandate of the centre. So skill acquisition is part of the empowerment process and the mandate. We train women in artisan programmes like Plaster of Paris (POP), tiling, electronic installation and a lot of other jobs that hitherto were known to be for men alone. Men have taken over the salon, make-up world, sewing etc. So, it became pertinent for us to step in to ensure that women also take their rightful position in the construction industry.
The way it is going, very soon we will become endangered species. We may not have the opportunity to do our traditional make-up, headtie, gele, which has been taken over by men. We now created programmes that we will step into their own domain too (the construction industry). We have trained over 500-600 women since I came in. We intend to train, at least grab 50 percent of their job space too just like they are getting into our own industries. After completion of all courses which is usually a 40 residential programme, a certificate of participation is given to them by NCWD and trade test 3 is further conducted by the federal Ministry of Labour and Employment. We are also affiliated to the National Board for Technical Education, which regulates syllabus for our students.
How do the participants especially the rural women get to know about your programmes?
We usually advertise our programmes online, and about 65 per cent of our participants are rural women who register online and it is impressive. During our training, we advised them that when they are trained, they become trainees for other people. You are not just trained to keep the knowledge, share it with others, use your laptop to teach other women and be an ambassador of this agency, promote what we are doing, share our website to people so that they can link it and it is truly yielding positive results. People come from Kebbi, Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and other far northern states. You can see that our women are working hard to face the reality of today. If you are not proficient in ICT you are missing out.
hat feedbacks have you been getting from women that the centre has empowered?
We have a monitoring team that goes about to know those doing well, those we need help, those who need to come for further training and those who have migrated to the next level of earning income. We don’t just let them go like that, we follow them up. We have had a lot of success stories of women doing well.
What is the response from the 100 female farmers trained on Information and Communication Technology?
We have been monitoring them and most of them call us. Some may have little issues with their laptops, maybe some of their applications have issues, we streamline some online training for them on how to use those applications they have issues with. We don’t let them go like that. We try to teach them via zoom meetings and most of them are doing very well and they are responding, using their laptops judiciously.
You visited Mabuchi community to speak to young girls on menstrual hygiene and education recently, has there been any feedback?
I think it is yielding fruits. Last week, the director of monitoring and evaluation unit was there. I discovered after taking over as the head of this centre that one of the reasons some girls drop out of school is because they can’t afford sanitary towel, menstrual hygiene was one of those problems, so we launched a programme in 2018 for distribution of sanitary pads and teaching them how to use them and since then, it has gotten a lot of positive results. Most of the girls have moved from using rags to using pads. They have improved greatly in their personal hygiene. You know when you have a good hygiene culture, it will keep you away from diseases and bacteria.
After the launch of the cancer screening centre, have people being diagnosed with the ailment and is the centre doing anything to help them?
At the moment, over 200 women have been screened for cervical, mammogram, pap smear and none has been positive. It shows women are conscious of their health and are taking good care of themselves. Be that as it may, there are a lot of organisations we partnered with, which are ready to assist should anyone has the malignant. The screening is a continuous programme. The centre has always been there, we just decided to create awareness for people to know about it. It is opened 24 hours to everyone so that women can walk in at any time to be screened.
What advice will you give to the average Nigerian woman having worked with them for this period.
My advice to them is to try and ensure they are financially independent. It is key. You don’t need to stay at home to wait for anybody to pay your bills. You need to support your spouses if you want him to live long. If you burg him with so much problem of paying of bills, you may lose him because of financial stress. Even if you have a job, you need an alternative source of income. Your salary alone may not be able to keep you as much as it used to be. I encourage the average Nigerian woman to get an alternative source of income especially farming. I farm to support my family. We don’t buy a lot of things like yam beans and so on, basically 80 percent of things we eat in my house comes from my farm. That is the culture of the Nigerian woman I grew up to know where every woman has a garden to produce the vegetable the home eats. I encourage the average woman to go back to farming. Let us go back to our traditional area of trade.
What is your advice would you give to young women who want to join politics?
They should start from the grassroots. Start from being mentored. We have some successful older women in politics that they could attached themselves to and be mentored. Mentorship is good and participation is very key. Even if you are not contesting, you could participate in the process, you may likely be considered for appointment which will expose you and prepare you for a higher or elective office. I encourage them to participate at all levels from the ward, to local government, the state, then nationally.