At a time the world is creating more space for women and breaking the barriers that once limited them, we’ve chosen to be retrogressive in our ways as a nation. There is a saying that when you educate a man, you educate an individual, when you educate a woman, you educate a generation.
There is so much to unpack with regards to how Nigeria has treated its women. First, the British, sensing the kind of of influence women wielded in their communities sought to crush them by limiting their influence through violence and the institution of laws that made them second class citizens. Nigeria hasn’t done much for the women since independence either, reinforcing the laws made by the British and adding new ones to further marginalize them. The Ministry of women affairs and Youth Development, created to ensure the rights of women were properly represented in political dealings has been handled successively by men and women who are unable or unwilling to do the unpleasant things that would allow for their offices to have real clout. Instead it has run needless, trivial campaigns that only reinforce stereotypes about women.
This is not to downplay the efforts of various administrations in the country that have granted women a viable space since 1999 till date. The Obasanjo administration gave a chance to some of the brightest technocrats and academics, most of whome went to influence global policy and hold coveted position in internationally renowned organizations. especially Dr Mrs Oby Ezekwesili and Dr Mrs Ngozi Okonjo iweala.
This approach to women’s liberation and empowerment was also emulated by successive Government including the Yaradua/Jonathan administration. Following the inauguration of former President Goodluck Jonathan it was evident his administration was ready to accommodate women in leadership which he proudly displays. One of his major major policies geared towards increased opportunities for women development was the 2010 approval granted to the Nigeria Army to admit female cadets into the regular course of the Nigerian Army.
The directive which produced the first set of 20 females named the Jonathan Queens was the first of its kind in the Nigerian Military. It was applauded by many as victory for women’s rights and the first class of female cadets who graduated four years later, a triumph over gender norms.
However the Punch reported that the policy allow women into the Nigerian army’s officers programme was under threat of being annulled, thanks to pressure from a group of Northern Muslim leaders. The Nigerian Defense headquarters has come out to debunk the reports as unfounded, but that it was even on the table at any point say enough.
It is unfortunate that Nigeria is even contemplating this line of action, even more so when we factor in that these women are being punished because they excelled over their male classmates. At a time when the world is investing a lot in women empowerment. Saudi Arabia, one of the bastions of patriarchy has granted approvals for women to drive and contest for public office, in Libya, UAE and other countries their women are military trail blazers.
Any decision that may seek to stop the admittance of women into the Nigerian Army regular combatant course is the highest form of public discrimination against women and an infringement on their rights and cannot be allowed to happen.