Women, The Masses & Development: Bridging The Gaps

Women, The Masses & Development: Bridging The Gaps

Government has been telling us that there is growth in GDP but for me, GDP growth will be when I have a change in my diet. If I can eat jollof rice, fried rice and chicken as against my everyday corn meal, it is only then that I can accept that our GDP has indeed

Government has been telling us that there is growth in GDP but for me, GDP growth will be when I have a change in my diet. If I can eat jollof rice, fried rice and chicken as against my everyday corn meal, it is only then that I can accept that our GDP has indeed increased. 

This was Mary Ofon, a rural farmer and member of the Small-scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria (SWOFON), speaking at a National Development Strategy (NDS) Stakeholders’ Consultative Meeting organized recently by Action Aid Nigeria (AAN) in Abuja. The meeting was convened as part of its engagement with stakeholders to deepen alternatives for national development.

For many like Mary Ofon, what is a measure of democracy dividend is an improvement in their standard of living which is a function of economic growth matched with adequate provision and availability of power; affordable and quality education, health care, good roads and adequate income to have affordable quality food.

Though Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been said to be on the increase, it is worrisome that despite the huge revenue generated from oil sales, the country remains one of the poorest in the world, according to a recent UNDP report which ranks Nigeria as 158th in the world on the Human Development Index. This is in sharp contrast to its position as the sixth largest producer of crude oil in the world.

“For us to have the desired result in this country, government must pay attention to education and agriculture. Once the citizens are empowered educationally, then they have the skills to seek financial empowerment”, Mary Ofon commented further.

Her statements fits perfectly into AAN’s objective for the meeting – the strengthening of voices for alternate NDS – which have become very important going by the failure of past NDS to address the issues of poverty and social injustice in the country.

“Most of the development plans owned by this country had been developed with little or no involvement of women. Women must be involved in all decision-making bodies, we must be involved in the process of charting a new path for this country”, noted Sarah Yapwa, the President of SWOFON, who suggested that women empowerment and agriculture are the major issues that government needs to address.

“Also, we want an improved funding of the agriculture sector. Government should increase the budgetary allocation to agriculture up to 10 percent in line with the Maputo declaration” she added.

Giving a welcome address at the stakeholders meeting which brought together participants from the civil society, businesses, labour, professionals, women’s organisations, intellectual activists, research institutes and government agencies, the Country Director of AAN, Dr. Husseini Abdu noted that there is an urgent need to re-discuss Nigeria and re-design her development plans.

“This country belongs to all of us and we need to be part of the process that will define its development” he stated, noting that the State has a social contract with the people and that government should stop managing the affairs of the state on the pages of newspapers and billboards. To him, development is not about building bridges where there are no rivers, adding that that development is improvement in the lives of the people and Nigerians need to take up the responsibility of taking the country back.

As an outcome from the meeting, it was agreed that development strategies in the country continue to fail as a result of the ownership, direction and nature of such development agendas as they do not reflect the context and peculiar development needs of the country. It was also noted that development planning is still organised top-down as opposed to a process that should aggregate the concerns of the Nigerian people taking into consideration sustainable livelihoods, economic justice and social responsibility of the state to citizens.

In view of the above, participants were of the opinion that a constitutional framework that accords priority to consultative processes in governance and by extension national development planning processes should be at the heart of national development planning. It was also mooted  that gender mainstreaming should cut across all policies and that education as a key driver of development globally should be at the fulcrum of development agenda and be given urgent and adequate attention, especially  for a country aiming to become one of the top 20 economies by 2020.

However, while noting that there are challenges with the implementation of development plans in the country,  Mrs. Nkechi Unwukwe of the Ministry of Women Affairs, Abuja urged for collaborative effort between stakeholders from the civil society organizations (CSOs)and government for the nation to reach its desired height.

“The CSOs are the watchdog for government and they need to engage more on development work because there are lots of development work plan, one of which is vision 20:20:20. So I think the CSOs should channel their energies towards engaging government to ensure effective implementation”. According to her, “the engagement which should be flexible, logical and unrelenting to focus on solutions to some of the problems we are facing as a nation”.

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