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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Amplifying women, girls’ voices on World Population Day

The journey towards gender equality is not only a matter of justice and human rights, but also a fundamental prerequisite for social progress and sustainable development.

It is disheartening to witness the persistent barriers that hinder women and girls from realizing their full potential.

In Nigeria, a country teeming with diversity and resilience, the voices of women and girls echo with unwavering strength, yearning to be heard, acknowledged, and uplifted.

The World Population Day celebration resonates the need to renew collective commitment to championing the rights and empowerment of women and girls.

By uplifting their voices, addressing the root causes of gender inequality, and fostering inclusive societies, we pave the way for a future where every individual can thrive and contribute to the betterment of our world.

This year’s WPD is themed: ‘Unleashing the Power of Gender Equality, Uplifting the Voices of Women and Girls to Unlock Our World’s Infinite Possibilities’

Observed on July 11 every year, World Population Day seeks to raise awareness of global population issues. The event was established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989.

It serves to highlight the growing problems that come with a growing global population.

Overpopulation is a crucial issue, especially considering that world resources are depleting at an unsustainable rate. The increasing population also sheds light on health problems faced by women during pregnancy and childbirth, making the need for family planning, gender equality, and maternal health more important than ever.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), women and girls who make up 49.7percent of the global population, are often ignored in discussions on demographics, with their rights violated in population policies.

This pervasive injustice it says keeps women and girls out of school, the workforce and leadership positions; limits their agency and ability to make decisions about their health and sexual and reproductive lives; and heightens their vulnerability to violence, harmful practices and preventable maternal death, with a woman dying every two minutes due to pregnancy or childbirth.

UNFPA stressed the need to advance gender equality to create a more just, resilient and sustainable world.

“The creativity, ingenuity, resources and power of women and girls are fundamental to addressing demographic and other challenges that threaten our future, including climate change and conflict.

When women and girls are empowered by societies to exert autonomy over their lives and bodies, they and their families thrive, as the UNFPA 2023 State of World Population report illustrates.

UNFPA statistics reveals that:

· More than 40 percent of women around the world cannot make decisions on sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

· As few as one in four women across low- and middle income countries are realizing their desired fertility.

· A woman dies every two minutes due to pregnancy or childbirth (and in conflict settings, the number of deaths is twice as high).

· Nearly one third of women have experienced intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence or both.

· Just six countries have 50percent or more women in parliament.

· More than two-thirds of the 800million people globally who cannot read are women.

SDGs dangerously off track

The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres submits that gender-based discrimination harms everyone including women, girls, men, and boys; adding that investing in women uplifts all people, communities, and countries.

Guterres in his WPD message said, “Our human family is larger than ever, yet leaders are falling woefully behind in efforts to build a peaceful and prosperous world for all.

“Halfway to the 2030, deadline the Sustainable Development Goals are dangerously off track. Gender equality is almost 300 years away. Progress on maternal health and access to family planning has been glacial. This year’s World Population Day focuses on unleashing the power of gender equality.”

Advancing gender equality, improving maternal health, and empowering women to make their own reproductive choices according to him are both essential in themselves, and central to achieving all the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Let us stand with women and girls fighting for their rights. And let us intensify our quest to make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality for all 8billion of us.”

According to European Union, increasing girls’ education is key for the future of population growth in Africa and the world. It says, if trends continue as they are now, the world population will reach 9.6billion people in 2060.

It added that improvements in reproductive health and female education can work together to lower the desired family size and make it easier to get access to efficient contraception, leading to lower fertility.

Nigeria

Gender equality in Nigeria has been an ongoing issue, with significant challenges and disparities that persist.

While progress has been made in certain areas, there are still notable gaps and inequalities that need to be addressed in Nigeria.

According to UNICEF, approximately 57percent of Nigerian girls between the ages of six and eleven do not attend primary school while only 35percent of women aged 15 and above are literate.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that Nigeria accounts for one-fifth of global maternal deaths. Every year, thousands of women in Nigeria face significant health risks during pregnancy and childbirth.

A survey conducted by the National Population Commission in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation revealed that 30percent of Nigerian women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence at some point in their lives. Gender-based violence remains a pressing issue, necessitating comprehensive efforts to address and eliminate such harmful practices.

Despite the immense potential of Nigerian women as catalysts for economic growth, gender disparities persist in accessing economic opportunities. The World Bank reports that only 40percent of Nigerian women participate in the labor force.

Also, Women’s political representation in Nigeria remains low, with women holding only 7percent of seats in the National Assembly.

Even in the current 10th National Assembly, names of women were conspicuously missing in the list of principal officers released by the Senate while only one woman, a second-term member of the House of Representatives representing Ikenne/ Sagamu/Remo North Federal Constituency, Adewumi Onanuga is the only female principal officer in the House of Reps. She was announced Deputy Chief Whip.

Also worrisome is the decline in the number of female lawmakers as there are only 18 women out of the 469 members in the 10th Assembly; three made it to the Senate while 15 are in the House of Reps.

Nigerian women in 2022, suffered backlash in their quest for gender equity as five gender bills presented to the National Assembly were rejected.

The bills included: Bill to provide special seats for women at National Assembly; Affirmative action for women in political party administration; Bill to grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of a Nigerian woman; Bill to allocate 35percent of political positions based on appointment to women and creation of additional 111 seats in National Assembly as well as at the state constituent assemblies; Inclusion of at least 10percent affirmative action in favour of women in Ministerial appointments.

These statistics provide a glimpse into the complex realities faced by women and girls in Nigeria.

Encouraging greater inclusion and participation of women in decision-making processes is crucial for fostering a society that truly reflects the diverse voices and experiences of its population.

It is therefore imperative to recognize the urgent need for collective action, policies, and initiatives that empower, uplift, and amplify the voices of women and girls, unlocking a future where Nigeria’s infinite possibilities become a reality for all.

World Population Day serves as a powerful reminder of the challenges faced by Nigerian women in the quest for gender equality.
By addressing the barriers to education, promoting economic empowerment, improving healthcare access, political participation and challenging cultural norms, we can forge a more inclusive and equitable society.

Christiana Alabi-Akande
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