The world remembers rural women today. This column is devoted to their advocacy. The United Nations has set aside this day as the International Day of Rural Women. This is supposed to provide an opportunity for the nations of the world, including this country to reflect on the conditions of unemployment and poverty of millions of rural women.
How much are our authorities doing to promote female empowerment? The ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP at the center has a policy that ensures that 35 per cent of their appointments go to women and in truth, this has increased the visibility of women in the corridors of power. What remains to be answered is, does visibility translate to empowerment? As with our budgets, it is fashionable in this country to promise a lot and then do nothing. If this idea of the 35 per cent of appointive positions is to raise the living standard of the rural poor and modernize the nation, I would not hesitate in saying that the noble idea has not been met with success. How does the rural woman gain from the increasing glitter and the razzmatazz around Abuja women ministers, CEOs and government advisers?
One female Presidential Adviser married off her daughter in Lagos a few weeks ago and the effect of the presence of the event gridlocked the entire sections of Victoria Island. The venue of the event, Eko Hotels was choked without an inch of space. There was so much glitz, glitter and show of body that the rural woman would have thought that these ones came from a different planet.
From the kind of things going on, government may have achieved the direct opposite, through the creation of a neuver-riche cruising Lagos and Abuja streets with state of the art of jeeps and VIP women distinguishable by their sartorial flourish.
I don’t know how many of these newly-rich women own of the 300 private jets in the country. As an indication that the times have changed, these are the days you see a lot more women occupying First Class seats on out-bound flights for vacation in Europe and America and those taking Nigerians to South Africa and Dubai to shop for gold and homes. One such upwardly-mobile banker who was shot down by Sanusi as Governor of the Central Bank not only had a jet but fed her pet dogs on the salary of university graduates.
The UN General Assembly, in a resolution passed on 18th December 2007 recognized “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty”. It is widely recognized that women play a critical role in the rural economies of both developed and developing economies. In most parts of the developing world including Nigeria, they participate in crop production and livestock care, provide food, water and fuel for their families and engage in off-farm activities to diversify their families’ livelihoods.
In addition, they carry out vital functions in caring for children, older persons and the sick (http://www.un.org/en/events/
Fifty decades of independence, it is sad to note that we are yet to enjoy the fruits of modernity at the village level. In fact your blood will boil if you deeply reflect on the way our rural folk are treated. Poverty in the rural areas, where 80 per cent of the population lives is below poverty line. Rural infrastructure has long been neglected. Investment in health education, roads and water supply is mostly concentrated in cities. In a system that allows office holders to loot as much as you can and let the nation go to hell, rural communities have been pushed into the ditch government has dug for them. Without electricity and potable drinking water; their culture abused, education denied to their brightest children in a corrupt system of survival of the fittest, the rural population is condemned to a life of perpetual misery. Many of our women and their children in parts of this vast country are living away from home as internal refugees.
Despite the rebasing of the economy which put Nigeria as the leading economy on the continent, the annual growth rate averaging seven per cent has failed to achieve a good record in terms of human development index. Last year, the United Nations Development Program, UNDP ranked Nigeria 153 out of 186 countries that were ranked in this respect. With life expectancy at 52 years, 68 per cent of our population below the poverty line, a slew of other global tables, such as the Failed States Index and the Transparency International Corruption Index, the rural communities where the “inconsequential people”, the women and children live, are certainly getting a raw deal.
Unfortunately, if I have to make a confession, the blame for this state of things is on this country’s media. People can’t focus on news that the media fail to provide. That’s what they call agenda-setting. The Media today are busy with news from politics, sports, entertainment, food and drinks and their concerns for individual and collective survival that they have no time to look at the rural poor.
The very distressing situation of these people cannot continue the way it is and the way to force change to the unwanted situation is for the new media to take this as challenge. We are now linked to the world through internet connections with immediacy and expansive reach as their advantage. Since we are not living in a different planet, concerned Nigerians should cause comparison to be made between what we have here and other countries in the hope that a peer review of sorts might force our governments into doing something to ease the burdens of the rural poor.
Mr. Shehu, a veteran newspaperman and editor, is currently a political communication consultant in Abuja. He writes a Wednesday column for Premium Times.