UN Deputy Secretary-General, H. E. Dr. Amina Mohammed [NB possible video address]
Executive Director, UN Women – Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka [NB possible video address]
Mme. Bineta Diop AU Special Envoy on Women, Peace & Security
Ms. Glory Ohagwu, OAP, Voice of Nigeria
Ms. Comfort Lamptey, AWLN Nigeria Steering Committee by the UN Women Country Representativ
Country Representative, African Union Mr. Edward Kallon
UN Resident Coordinator Senior Special Adviser to the President on SDGs
Honourable Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development
Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you to Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, Chairperson of the Steering Committee of AWLN Nigeria, for your presentation and for your leadership.
Thank you also to the Federal Government of Germany, the African Union, UN Women, and all partners and stakeholders who have made this historic moment possible.
As we mark the launch of the African Women Leaders’ Network Nigeria Chapter, I urge all of you to look around at the women who have joined us today. We are surrounded by women leaders: role models for women all around the country. As we navigate the way forward, which will sometimes be arduous, I know that we can look to this strong network of sisters to forge onwards together.
All of us here know, however, that leaders are not bred in a day. Over the next year, and beyond, it will be essential for us to map and demonstrate the talent that we have in this country – superbly talented women leaders – but also to communicate the challenges and barriers faced by women which must be overcome for us to stand shoulder to shoulder with men at every level, in every country, in every region around the world. That is why the national and regional consultations which will be undertaken by AWLN are so important, as part of a wider effort to identify the true demographics of Nigeria. If we can discern the population for the purposes of an election, we must also be able to establish a comprehensive civil registration and vital statistics system, which allows us to allocate resources accordingly for health, community-engagement and infrastructure.
Only with that understanding can we effectively implement the necessary investments through the life course of a girl and woman. Gender development, if done effectively and led by local communities, will breed women leaders.
Since 2006, Nigeria’s National Gender Policy has outlined women’s right to equality in economic, social and political life, and seeks to increase women in elected and appointed positions to 35%. We know that we are far from that goal – indeed, going into February’s elections 1668 men and 232 women were vying for 109 senatorial seats, whilst 4,139 men and 560 women were aiming for 360 seats in the House of Representatives.
Political aspirants must be empowered to take part in elections, and as we look to the future, we must also ensure that all citizens can stand and safely vote in elections. In Nigeria today, that is made all the more difficult by displacement and violence. The alarm was rightly sounded by the UN last year regarding the displacement of thousands of Nigerians – 80,000 people were displaced from North East Nigeria between last November and February, in addition to the two million people who had already been displaced by violence or forced across Nigeria’s borders as refugees. All of us here today know the detrimental effect that fragile humanitarian settings have on our citizens, particularly on young people and women, regarding their health, education, chances of realising their potential and ability to engage in the democratic process.
Given the detrimental effect of conflict and other structural issues on women’s participation in politics, it is no surprise that one of the EU’s seven priority recommendations following its observance of the elections this year was to introduce a legal requirement for political parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates, and for parties to be required to have policies and provide regular information on the promotion of women’s political participation within parties, as candidates, and more widely. The EU also recommended that INEC publishes a framework for the electoral participation of internally displaced persons before the start of any voter registration exercise and ensure its full and consistent implementation, and that INEC undertakes regular consultation with displaced persons and provide updates on plans for their inclusion.
We have much to be positive about, however. I recently returned from delivering a series of high-level interventions at Women Deliver 2019 in Vancouver, the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women in the 21st century, bringing together thousands of advocates to explore the solutions to achieve a more gender-equal world. I was inspired by my African sisters, from the President of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde to Rwandan Minister of Health Dr Diane Gashumba; to the young female activists from around the world, as we shared our experiences, hopes and determinations for the future. Africa is leading the way – Nigeria must step up and take its rightful place.
There are also many ways to carve that future and many ways for us to serve. I have, for example, accepted the invitation to serve on the steering committee of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 12-14 November, 2019. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ground-breaking International Conference on Population and Development, which took place in Cairo in 1994. We will bring together heads of state and ministers, parliamentarians, thought-leaders, technical experts, civil society organizations, young people and people with disabilities, business and community leaders, faith-based organizations, international financial institutions, academics and thousands of others interested in the pursuit of reproductive health and rights. Our goal is to achieve a world where no woman or girl dies from preventable complications in pregnancy or childbirth: where no woman has to give birth without the help of a midwife, nurse or doctor. We must forge a world where no one is subjected to violence because of their gender, where no girl is forced to marry, where no girl or woman is subjected to female genital mutilation or other harmful practices.
In conclusion, I will return briefly to politics. This year, despite its challenges, was in many ways unprecedented. Both main parties had very strong, women led campaigns – Her Excellency Aisha Buhari’s 700-women-strong campaign for the APC and the grassroots women for Atiku campaign were historic, and noted for their calls to end election violence. Let us build on that, remove the barriers to women’s leadership, and restore the bridges to Nigeria’s productivity. Thank you.