By Nimi Thom-Manuel
After many years of work by the United Nations, the International Women's Year (IWY) was declared in 1975. Further to this, 1976 to 1985 was established as United Nations Decade for Women.
Consistently and committedly the United Nations kept faith by working towards the improvement of women's status throughout the world.
The Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 held in Beijing yet had its theme, "Action for Equality Development and Peace". One of its sub-themes was "Looking at the world through the eyes of women". This theme pointedly, had directed all nations to consider the issues concerning women as very important and need to be tackled with all sincerity and vigor. Not done with its focus on the persistent depravity of women in many spheres of life, the United Nations brought out the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The third of the eight millennium goals which is "to promote gender equality and empower women" continues to drum into leaders of countries that the status of women in their societies had not been sufficiently addressed and so their political will must be put to bear.
In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly again formulated another policy not only for the improvement of the status of women but also a host of other areas of human endeavour that are lacking attention. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was therefore put in place. The SDGs has a collection of 17 global goals set by the UN for 2030. It is envisaged to transform our world by the year 2030. Keeping its essence “Goal 5" relates to Gender Equality. This goal specifically directs all nations to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls — “Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large,” the goal postulates. This goal will also ensure that there is an end to discrimination against women and girls everywhere in the world.
In order for countries to be able to articulate women's issues to the benefit of the women and the countries at large, there is the need for WOMEN CENTRES to be built in strategic places in every country, every state and if possible at the local government centres - where the grassroots women could benefit from.
What are the reasons for building Women Centres for women, one may ask? First of all, the United Nations throughout the recent times has identified the deprivation of social and economic amenities being witnessed by women all over the world which must be brought to a zero level so as to improve the life of women and children in their care who are the future of any nation. Furthermore, Women Centres afford the women a place they can go to discuss their problems collectively and seek solutions to them.
Women Centres must be all encompassing, integrated to serve myriads of purposes concerning women issues and should be multi-purpose centres - a one-stop-centre which would house skill acquisition centre, where crafts of all sorts will be taught by experts and exhibited for sale to the public at Trade Fairs. This no doubt will bring the needed economic empowerment of women.
Other services the Centre will provide will be care giving to vulnerable women. Therefore, “a Care-giver training institute,” which will take care of the health issues concerning women such as mental health, fitness, maternal and child-care is advocated. Under this could come some creches where little tots could be cared for during the office hours of their mothers.
A legal unit will be most desired for the legal matters concerning women. Some of our women lawyers will be handy to lend assistance to indigent women who cannot afford the regular legal fees.
Women have often been neglected in matters of security. Society need to appreciate the fact that since women are not involved in the nation's security architecture, the issue of security had not been tackled positively. Peace is eluding us daily. A Women Centre must incorporate a Peace and Conflict Resolution Unit. Women have been known from our history to be good mediators. Our society is losing that half of humanity that could be gainfully employed for peace processes.
An office of Political Empowerment training is very essential. With the near neglect and sometimes tokism being given to women who constitute more than 50% of the electorates in Nigeria by way of their political participation need a new direction of thought. The Political Empowerment of Women Unit will ease any government of the drudgery of choosing the best women for both appointive and elective positions in the governance of any country. Women are tired of government hand-picking women who more often than not do not align with the ideals of the modern women. Let women choose the women who will represent them in any sphere of endeavour. The women know their women robustly and so their choice will be the desire of the collective and they will work for the good of the women. In this Unit the right women will be picked for the various offices.
Education of women and the girl-child is a hot-button issue and so is key to the development of any society. It is said “educate a woman, you educate a nation.” An Education Unit undoubtedly takes an A-list position in priority in the Women Centre. Nelson Mandela once said, “education is the most important tool to transform a society.”
The Unit will be responsible for counselling women and girls on their career choice. Accompanying this should be an Informal Adult Education Unit for women who did not have the first chance of having education at their early age – “The Second Chancers” as it is often called. The market women are targeted for this programme.
Also Digital Training for Women will be in this compartment – “an educated society is an informed society." It is also said the more you learn the more you earn.”
A Conference Hall which will serve as an event centre will be most useful. It will not only be a place where meetings will be held but it will also generate revenue for the Centre, which could be hired for birthdays, marriage, etc.
Another area where revenue could be generated for the Centre is the “Sleep-over” apartments. These are one-room apartments -just like hostels for women and girls who could spend short periods of time when conferences are being held in Port Harcourt.
Some parts of this hostel could be given to vulnerable women and girls who are either chased out of their matrimonial homes as consequences of matrimonial disputes or others who have domestic problems. Our legal personnel will decipher which apartment is suited for each of these categories of women.
Agricultural Unit also has its place in the Women Centre. Here women who are interested in agriculture could be counselled on which type of agricultural training they would wish to undertake from the process of acquisition of land to production and processing of their goods. The Centre could also aid in the distribution of the agric-products for these women.
A good number of women in Rivers State had made significant input into the development of Rivers State. They need to be celebrated in the various fields they had excelled. A Hall of Fame should be created for such women. This is aimed at inspiring other upcoming women and girls in the society for them to achieve more and be counted. In 1994 late Maryam Babangida commissioned the National Women Centre in Abuja. All States were expected to build same in their States and I know some States have done so but others have not.
The Women Centre which is indeed a multi-purpose one is not only to answer the call to order for the fifth goal of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be instituted in every country, it is also to provide the right environment and resources that will cater for the specific needs of women and give succor to those experiencing different challenges.
Furthermore, the multi-purpose Women Centre will no doubt help in building a critical mass of women in leadership positions at all levels, those who are economically viable and consequently will bring their experiences and perspectives to the table where everyone will benefit in the society - peace and justices can become a reality in the present rather than in some distant future.
Sometime last year the Chief Executive of this State, Chief Nyesom Wike promised to build a Women Centre in Port Harcourt. Some of us were very excited and welcomed this pronouncement. We know the import of Women Centre in any society. We hope and believe our amiable Governor will redeem this pledge and the women of Rivers State will eternally be grateful to him.
With all the benefits to be derived from having a Women Centre in a society, Rivers State indeed is in dire need of a Multi-Purpose Women Centre. Women are ready to help in weaving the strands of development. All they need is the political will from those who control the levers of states. Let's put women in their right spaces in the polity so that society will reap the benefits thereof.
Nimi Thom-Manuel is a social critique from Port Harcourt