In 2013, Nigeria became the talk of the global media when a serving Senator promoted a constitutional clause allowing for early girl child marriage. Though girl child marriage has been in practice in some parts of the country, the constitutional provision was seen as illegal for many and considered as improper.
With no assistance to education, young girls are turned to mothers at an early age with the damage being both physical and economic. With this, it is also no surprise that Nigeria ranks second amongst countries with the highest number of maternal mortality cases and it is mostly caused by vaginal Fistula, a disease linked to early birth.
According to Women Activist, Eleanor Nwadinobi: “For too long, women have been marginalized and violated and these have been literally accepted as the norm. You then lay on top of that the added violence that they go through during violent conflict”.
Another Woman Activist Godwin Odo added that: “Women and men should advocate for the government to put in place policies to reduce maternal mortality and of course my belief is that it should become a critical election issue”.
In spite of all the glooming statistics, there are a considerable number of Nigerian women who have done well for themselves. This good fortune however needs to be spread amongst all Nigerian women.
Diseye Nsirim, Commissioner of Police, Niger state emphasized the need for the women who have made it and are able to speak out to help others. According to her: “Those of us who have been there and have made it, it is our role now to bring out what we know and teach these junior ones so that at the end of the day they will know their rights and be able to forge ahead”.
Women Activist Bob Arnot added that there are a lot of challenges for women all over the world, as women have to be able to find their voices, demand their rights and demand accountability for organisations and institutions that are supposed to be defending the rights of women.
Another part of hope can be found in the affirmative action principle, which has accorded women a voice in the political sphere.
Former Minister of Women Affairs, Josephine Anenih offered a glimpse of hope for Nigerian women saying: “We are doing what we ought to be doing, we are advocating for policy changes, we are advocating for interventions, we are advocating for infrastructural improvement for the women”.
The women in impoverished communities somewhere in Nigeria who daily confront the harsh reality of poverty and who are struggling to feed themselves and their children should be the primary concern of the organisations and institutions formed to defend the rights of women.
Though the drums are being rolled out in many urban centres to celebrate the International women’s day, the emphasis beyond the celebration should be on how to improve the lots of women caught in the web of economic and social deprivation.