Tuesday 13 October 2015

Role of Women in Nation Building

by: Beatrice Jedy-Agba

The place of women in any endeavour can not be over emphasised and given theirenormous contributions to socio-economic development, there can be no meaningful advancement where women are excluded.

In Africa, the vulnerable conditions of women are more critical, given lingering gender inequalities, domestic violence, lack of social protection, among other issues, that exacerbate injustice and privation. These and many more limit their ability to reach their full potential.

Nigeria is one of the countries where women have faced challenges and discrimination for reasons of their sex and wrongful perception that women belong to a lesser class than their male counterparts; a perception strengthened by traditional and cultural practices. Be that as it may, Nigeria has continued to develop and implement national strategies and plans for the advancement of women in leadership and managerial roles in the form of amending legislation, policy and institutional framework as it affects the full promotion and protection of the rights of women. 

In this year alone, the Federal Government has re-enacted several criminal laws to reflect a gender perspective and to ensure that restorative justice is incorporated for victims of crime, who are noted to be mostly women. These include the Administration of Criminal Justice Act which is applicable in all federal courts, and the Trafficking in Persons Law Enforcement and Administration Act. Another model legislation in this regard is the Violence Against Persons Act (VAPP) 2015 which creates a broader legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence, including rape, abolishes Female Genital Mutilation, unfair and discriminatory widowhood practices and other harmful traditional practices.

It further makes provision for protection, compensation and rehabilitation for victims of violence. The government of Nigeria has also approved a National Gender Policy which acknowledges the attainment of gender equality as not only as an end in itself, but as a prerequisite for the achievement of sustainable development. In addition, there exists a National Policy for Protection and Assistance to Victims of Trafficking which provide a broad framework for providing protection and assistance to trafficked persons.

Common to these legislations and policies is a review of the victimology recompense regime in our legal system, incorporating compensation and rehabilitation, counselling and supporting survivors through skills acquisition and financial empowerment. All of these are in acknowledgement of the lasting effect of trauma suffered by victims and need to restore them to some kind of acceptable social and psychological footing, maximizing their potential for full recovery. This is with the view to facilitating opportunities for victims of crime to continue to contribute their quota to critical sectors of our national life.

To ensure coordination and sustainability of all initiatives in this regard, Nigeria has Federal and State Ministries of Women Affairs with a mandate to bring about speedy and healthy development of Nigerian Women, Children, and the main-streaming of their rights and privileges in national development process. The Ministry with key development partners, including civil society organizations, has developed policies, initiatives and strategic plans to engender gender equality and ensure full and effective participation as well as equal opportunities for women in leadership at all levels. 

There has been a deliberate increase in the number of women holding leadership positions in crime prevention and criminal justice. Specifically, some critical positions held by women include the positions of Chief Justice of Nigeria and head of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judges of High Courts, Comptroller General of the Immigration Service, Commissioners of Police, Directors of Public Prosecution with significant numbers of women justices in superior courts of record. The Nigerian Army also now admits Female combatants in the Armed Forces. I should also mention the position of Director General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, which I am privileged to hold, as its second female chief executive. At a practical level, appreciable gains have been recorded in the last two decades and Criminal justice policies and institutions are continuously being strengthened to better reflect the invaluable contributions and needs of women.

All of this has been possible as a result of intense advocacy as well as growing recognition of leadership potentials and competences, irrespective of gender. The result is that women are able to claim their pride of place in this sector and make invaluable contributions that have led to the positive development of criminal justice institutions and policies in the country. It is however acknowledged that a lot still needs to be done in this regard. While appropriate legalisation and policies are in force in many parts of the country, there still appears to be a gap between the existence of these laws and policies in some areas and the reality due to cultural norms, prejudices and practices that reinforce discrimination against women, including the activities of terrorist groups.

In pursuing the goals of women’s effective involvement in crime prevention and the criminal justice sector and building the capacity to ensure their own protection; strategies could broadly be categorised in two viz: Women as role actors within crime prevention and the criminal justice system institutions and Women as subjects of protection from crime. A possible starting point is to deliberately ensure the incorporation of women in crime prevention because they are known to have more empathy and are more likely to win the confidence of victims of crime. Another point is the review of victimology recompense regimes and public education of members of society on the benefits of inclusive criminal justice practices and institutions. This will serve the dual purpose of supporting the place of women in criminal justice roles and dealing with gender attitudes, accounting for crimes committed against women.

- Mrs Beatrice Jedy-Agba is Director-General, National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP)

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