Women need to take charge, not ask for it - Ogunlayi
Munirat Ogunlayi is the deputy team leader of Voices For Change. The organization is set to release a new research next week suggesting wide gaps between perceptions and realities that point to the pressures of being a man in Nigeria. It also details impact of conflict, religion and media on women and children. In this interview, Ogunlayi says gender equity, socialization and decision making are all factors that bring to the fore huge changes in Nigeria.
Tell us about this new research on men’s attitudes and practices to family, community life and relationships, and it being crucial to improving and encouraging more equitable relationships between men and women. When will it be disseminated?
It is not a one-day affair to publicize this report. Each component is important. We need to pick each, do a further analysis and inform and educate the society as much as possible. What’s Voices for Change? It is a programme funded by the UK Department for International Development. It is designed with the goal of strengthening and enabling a better environment for girls and women to maximize their potentials, promote gender equity and justice.
We are working to achieve results in five key areas. One is to build the skills of girls and women, while focusing on attitudinal change and practices, especially when it comes to gender equality and women empowerment. We work with religious and traditional leaders with focus on three key norm areas -violence against women and girls, decision making and leadership.
There are certain things routed in our culture, which are norms - the way we think things should be, but they actually need to change.
We work with boys and men as key influencers, because they count. If it is only working with women alone, they are not the only ones in the society - boys and men are part of society. It is only when boys and men can agree with girls and women that we can have a better society, a society that benefits all.
We work to make laws and budgets work for men and women. We played a strategic role in the passing of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act by working with coalitions to have the bill passed. The next stage is to publicize it and engage with other states to pass it into law. Two-thirds of the states have to pass it before it becomes a generalized accepted law.
We are engaging to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunity bill with the legislators. And by YouWin, it is a way of making government budget work for girls and women. We played a tactical role to the line ministries to ensure this is one, and that played a very vital role.
Now with a new government in place, it is something we want to continue to engage and work on. What’s important is that the budget works for girls and women as well as for boys and men.
We are also getting new evidence to inform our policies and practices. The landmark report focusing on masculinity has generated report on being a man in Nigeria.
How do gender issues stand in Nigerian society and how are they changing?
Today is better than yesterday. I remember in those days, you open a textbook and see diagram of a man in stethoscope, engineer, and then a girl in home economics textbook as the cook. Today, that is changing. You pick a book now, you see both gender being represented, not for a particular profession. I want to believe this is as a result of curriculum review as well as strengthening our educational system.
In terms of women in leadership positions, even though we haven’t gotten there yet, there is some improvement. In past administrations, you see a lot of women in appointive positions and you also expect more from the current government.
I know there’s been a kind of regression when it comes to elective positions. During Obasanjo’s regime, I think women made up 11% of elective positions. By the time it got to Jonathan’s regime, it dropped to 9%. Now we are analyzing, it seems to have dropped to like 5%. We actually expected things to be increasing, which is another thing we need to look at.
When it comes to elective positions, people say the men are occupying space and they need to shift. I believe it is not about the men shifting, but it is actually about the women actively taking up the spaces. We need to work for it and also take up the spaces, while the men have to work to accommodate that flexibility that these positions are not meant for only men.
It is also about the political parties themselves. When you analyze most manifestoes and look at key positions, the only thing you see is “women leader”. I didn’t see in any manifestoes where we have “men leader”. Why is it so? Who says a woman can’t be the leader of the political party? There is the need, and this is where some of the decisions are being made, when it comes to who will be put forward to contest for a particular position.
When certain strategic decisions are being made, you see women heading entertainment or mobilization committee. I’m not saying women can’t dance or mobilize, but what are the men doing- thinking strategically, using their brain, women too have the brains to think strategically and move the country forward. The reality is that if the women are not there, women issues cannot be adequately presented. When women issues are not adequately presented, they cannot be aggressively and adequately addressed, and when they are not addressed, the issues and problems will continue to persist, and the better society that we are advocating for may not happen.