By Tobi Soniyi, This Day Newspaper
The Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF) has asked the Cross River State Governor, Sen. Ben Ayade to sack his Special Adviser on Education, Mr. Castro Ezama for allegedly disparaging schoolgirls in the State.
NFF, in a statement quoted Ezama as saying on a radio show that “about 60% of girls in secondary schools in Cross River State are not virgins”.
Reacting to the remarks, NFF said: “We, at the NFF consider this claim to be deeply misogynistic, irresponsible, and a gross abuse of our fundamental human rights as women and girls, to spend time speculating on the veracity of the virginity of young women and girls.
“Once again, we are reminded of how individuals in their official capacity as government officials, are more concerned with policing the bodily integrity of young women and girls; how they dress, how they sit, where they are sitting and with whom they are sitting with.”
The NFF therefore asked Ayade to immediately disengage Ezama even as it called for “an immediate retraction from Ezama and the Cross River State Government under whose mandate he committed the gross human rights abuse and flagrant abuse of his position of power.”
It stated that Ezama’s statement is capable of causing and placing undue embarrassment and reputational damage to all young women and girls in the educational institutions in Cross River State.
It contended that the students Ezama referred to are minors who are under the Child Rights Act.
“We all have a duty of care to minors in our care and custody, to be able to speak for those without a voice, the vulnerable, disabled and minorities, whilst designing public policies that seek to solve problems and not create stigma and additional problems”, the statement added.
Why questioning how Ezama arrived at his conclusion, NFF asked “Did Cross River state subject all the minors in educational institutions to virginity testing, and if they did, is that not illegal without consent of their parents or legal guardians?”
It stated that Ezama’s comment failed to acknowledge the undue sexual and gender-based violence young women and girls face in educational institutions in the State, perpetrated by boys and men.
NFF called all persons working with State Governments in their various roles to recognize that a state of emergency on sexual and gender-based violence had been declared by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, acknowledged by the Federal Government and a coalition of partners.
Meanwhile, NFF has called for legal and structural reforms aimed at reflecting and enforcing improved women participation in Nigerian politics and their representation in decision-making offices.
NFF Focal Person, Chinonso Okechukwu, made the call at its zonal conference in Lagos themed: “Legal Reform and Women’s Participation in Political Leadership in Nigeria”.
Okechukwu said the reform was also aimed at achieving the mandated 30 per cent affirmation as enshrined in the Beijing 1995 declaration for women’s political empowerment or even the 35 per cent National Gender Policy (NGP).
The declaration requires Governments, international organizations and civil society groups to take a range of actions to enhance women’s political emancipation.
Okechukwu stated that women in spite of the major role played in population, were still underrepresented as voters, as well as in leading positions, whether in elected office, the civil service, the private sector or academia.
According to her, available statistics reveal that only about 51 per cent of women are involved in voting during elections, with 7 per cent overall political representation.
She attributed the development to structural barriers through discriminatory laws and institutions, patriarchy, stigmatization, low level of education, unfavorable meeting schedules, lack of financing, political violence, religious and cultural barriers.
“Globally, women constitute over half of the world’s population and contribute in vital ways to societal development generally, assuming some key roles as mothers, producers, home-managers, community organizers, socio-cultural and political activists.
“Under international standards, both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities to everything worldwide, most especially to participate fully in all aspects and at all levels of political processes.
“In spite of the major roles we play with our population, women roles in the society are yet to be given recognition due to some cultural stereotypes, abuse of religion, traditional practices and patriarchal societal structures.
“This occurs despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change, and their right to participate equally in democratic governance.
“In spite of these, women are still under represented in both elective and appointive positions with Nigeria recording low participation of women in both elective and appointive positions and this is a growing concern to many of us, especially younger women.
“The under representation of women in political participation gained root due to the patriarchal practice inherent in our society, much of which was obvious from pre-colonial era till date.
“The re-introduction of democratic governance has witnessed once again an increase in women political participation both in elective and appointive offices in Nigeria.
“In spite of all efforts put in place, we are yet to meet the 30 percent and 35 per cent affirmation as contained in Beijing platform for action and National Gender Policy respectively,” she said.
Okechukwu recommended that political parties create a support network for prospective aspirants by pairing them with established women politicians to play key roles as mentors and provide capacity building for young or aspiring female politicians.
She also urged for the creation of an enabling environment that allows women to engage meaningfully in the decision making process in a sustainable and effective way free from violence and harassments of any kind.
“We must build a mass Coalition of women support and advocacy group using Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) and grassroot women associations to coordinate support and advocacy for fellow women aspirants.
“There should also be the establishment of legal funds to assist women politicians to challenge electoral malpractices of any form at all levels of political processes.
“Government must also introduce a quota system at all levels of government and identify and engage relevant stakeholders such as the Independent National Electoral Commission and political parties to ensure strict adherence to it,” she said.
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