The USA’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, has declared open the 2022 commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence (GBV), which begins every November 25 and ends on December 10, earmarked as the International Human Rights Day.
Leonard said gender equality and women’s empowerment are causes dear to her and are priorities for the U.S. government at home and around the world.
“President Biden has made gender equity and equality a cornerstone of his administration, with a first-ever national strategy to advance the rights and empowerment of women and girls. The Department of State has an office dedicated to global women’s Issues and the United States globally contributes over 200 million dollars annually towards gender equity and equality programming.
“In Nigeria, the U.S. Mission works to promote environments that support women’s economic success, address challenges that hold women back, and empower Nigerian women to do the same. Nations that have gender parity have greater economic and developmental growth, less conflict, and higher rates of literacy than those that do not. Fundamentally, we see it as our duty – and that of everyone who seeks a just and equitable society – to ensure women and girls have opportunities not just to participate but also to lead in all aspects of life.
“As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said earlier this year at our International Women’s Day gala, ‘Women for so long have been excluded and now we are slowly righting the wrongs of history’. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s five-year plan, initiated in 2020, highlights gender inclusion as a cross-cutting issue required to achieve Nigeria’s development objectives. The strategy prioritises narrowing gender gaps and equalising access to health care, agriculture, education, economic empowerment, political participation and peacebuilding.”
Leonard said the equitable treatment of women is something everyone can agree on and it is the underlying requirement for addressing gender-based violence (GBV). Last year, USAID promoted an integrated, comprehensive package of community interventions, including health and counselling services, to prevent and respond to GBV.
“To decrease social tolerance for GBV, our partner Breakthrough Action – Nigeria (BA-N) delivered integrated messaging on GBV through mass media, community structures, and religious channels. BA-N also strengthened community volunteers’ skills to identify and refer GBV survivors to USAID-supported services, such as primary health facilities.
“Simultaneously, activities such as the Integrated Health Programme supported the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs to select national GBV indicators to increase GBV reporting across sectors. USAID supported the Federal Ministry of Health to adopt World Health Organisation post-GBV clinical care guidelines. United with the Nigerian government, the private sector and civil society, we were able to simplify the most complex concepts of GBV and, thereby, shape Nigeria’s National Strategic Health Development Plan II to better address this vital issue,” Leonard said.
The ambassador called on Nigeria, as Africa’s largest democracy, to set the tone for the rest of the continent, seeing as she has done a lot to advance women’s issues, including the passage of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act and the implementation of the National Gender Policy. She, however, highlighted that there remained many structural inequalities that impede women’s access to economic resources and opportunities and hinder women’s full participation in society.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Index, she said, Nigeria ranks 78th out of 156 countries in terms of economic opportunities for women.
“Nigerian women’s full participation in public life is fundamental both to reducing their vulnerability to GBV and to sustaining Nigeria’s vibrant democracy. Yet, women and girls often face high barriers in electoral politics, governance, and peacebuilding. Nigeria’s representation of women in state and national government stands at only 4 per cent in elective office and 16 per cent in appointed positions. Women not only lack a platform but their viewpoints are also excluded from the decision-making process.”
Touching on the upcoming elections, Leonard called it “a critical opportunity to include more women in leadership positions in government” and assured that, throughout this election season, Mission Nigeria will be working with local organisations specifically to reduce violence against women in politics and during the elections. “Together,” she promised, “we will work to strengthen the capacity of women’s groups to advocate for laws and policies that provide better protection for women. In return, we hope more women will run for office, join a campaign, or serve in the next administration.”
She said her country’s government recognises the challenges women face and, as a result, continue to support Nigerian women to realise greater productivity, economic diversification and income equality. “We will continue to push for full implementation and enforcement cooperation of laws and regulations already enacted, with emphasis on criminal accountability for those complicit in violations of the law and we will continue our long-standing partnership with the Nigerian government, the private sector and civil society, to each do our part to build a more gender-inclusive society, where women and girls are not only safe from gender-based violence but can reach their full potential.”