By Sakirudeen Bashiru
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were drawn in 2000 to galvanize the efforts of about 193 countries and over 23 international organizations to making the world a better place for its inhabitants. However, over the years, more non-governmental organizations (NGOs), donor foundations and philanthropic individuals within each of these countries have also been making efforts to fast track the realization of this global plan. With 2015, targeted for the goals around the corner, many observers argue and critics have continued to argue that irrespective of the progress recorded in some areas, it is almost uncertain that the goals would be met especially in geographical regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia, part of South America and the Caribbean Islands.
Such skepticism, as it appears, holds true, especially when hindrances such as the global economic recession, irresponsible government policies, political unrest and conflicts, natural disasters amongst others are considered. Consequently, the progress made so far, which is reportedly uneven among the nations, has posed an impetus for more skepticisms. In spite of that, it is equally important to point out that since the United Nations Millennium Summit birthed the MDGs in 2000, remarkable positive strides have been charted even in parts of the regions with negative appraisals as governments at all levels across the world have conscientiously integrated the 8 goals in some of their policies and scheme of governance.
For instance in Nigeria, as at the last quarter of 2013, approximately 13 years after the UN Millennium Summit, the considerable progress recorded in terms of fight against the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, reduction of child mortality, and promotion of gender equality is commendable despite little other shortcomings in other areas. This imbalance in the appraisal of the country’s progress owes, in part, to the fact that some state governments pay attention to realization of some or all the MDGs more than others. Another factor for this is poor execution of public policies. However, keen observers have given due plaudits to specific governments, at the state level, on their speedy improvement on the earlier stated goals which the country made average progress, particularly in the area of women empowerment and gender balance.
One exciting illustration is Ogun State Government’s recent aggressive momentum towards creating an environment where both male and female genders have equal access to opportunities in the state in line with goal 3 of the MDGs. With 2015 just around the corner and given the government’s thorough synergy of its specific activities relating to MDGs by the Ministry of Budget and Planning, this goal seems quite achievable even within the frame of time.
For instance, according to the State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Elizabeth Sonubi in an interview recently, her agency’s ultimate goal, is “…to promote gender equality, ensure that both male and female in the state, have equal opportunities, equal access to all the programmes and activities of this administration…to ensure that we build that social trust and that the state will have social justice that ensures the treatment of everybody fairly and equally.”
It is pertinent therefore to mention that the current 40% increase in the number of women in governance, at the state and local government levels, is a remarkable indicator of government’s promise kept. In a society where its core values and socio-political terrains, historically favour men, such exciting statistics promises a more gender-conscious political inclusiveness for women in the nearest future. Perhaps, one of the factors responsible for this is that ratio of girl-child enrolment to that of male-child has become more balanced over the years which has translated to more women making it to the zenith of any professional calling in the society.
In spite of this impressive progress, the current government in Ogun State has continually prioritised women empowerment and gender equality amongst its key areas of focus for sustainable, holistic development. Consequent upon this commitment is the unparalleled micro-credit loan scheme in partnership with Ecobank Plc., which was conceived to empower thousands of women across 20 local government areas of the state. In three years, loans to the tune of N300 million have been disbursed to approximately 9,000 women beneficiaries, especially rural dwellers, to help them start or improve their trade and ultimately contribute to poverty alleviation in the state.
Similarly, the Bank of Industry (BoI) and the First Lady, Mrs. Olufunso Amosun, had sustained huge partnership to empower women in the state through her Uplift Development Foundation. The partnership also proposes to ensure a massive employment of over 1,000 women in an agricultural processing and packaging plant that is estimated to cost N100 million. This would imperatively consolidate the various opportunities being made available to farmers in the state.
Also targeted at empowering more female to scale the poverty line, the state has put in place a vocational skill acquisition training programme on catering, fashion designing, and shoe making and other vocational areas for 185 trainees drawn from all areas of the state. The programme is structured into phases with a new set of 156 trainees presently acquiring different skills in the second phase. To ensure sustainability and to continually gear thousands of youths across the state towards self-reliance, the government has pledged to resuscitate all the vocational training centres in the 20 Local Government Council Areas in the state.
Moreover, collaborative efforts between the government and international organizations to further fuel the state’s drive towards achieving gender balance by 2015 are culminating in a notable crescendo. One of such is the series of capacity building workshops for journalists on gender-based violence and ways of reporting its occurrence organized by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development in conjunction with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). It must also be stated that both partners facilitated technical support for the State House of Assembly Committee members on Women Affairs and the principal officers of the seventh legislature on the passage of the Equal Opportunity and Gender Based Violence bills in the State.
The wife of the Governor, Mrs. Amosun, inexorably uses every opportunity to not just directly empower women in the state but also to form partnerships that would achieve the same desired end. One of such is the Coca-Cola’s partnership with her Upliftment Development Foundation to empower about 1,400 low income earning women in Ogun State and Nigeria, in line with the former’s vision of empowering five million women entrepreneurs by 2020.
As the curtains gradually draw to end the world’s 15-year execution of the MDGs, a number of the set goals are likely to be at least close to being achieved. Gender Equity arguably tops the few options in that category. For government to give its people the new lease of life as being demonstrated in Ogun State, striving for a socio-political environment that constantly empowers women is an imperative for holistic gravitation towards sustainable development. Given the increase in the number of women given political appointments of women from 14 since 2007-2011 to over 20 today has continued to reduce tremendously political apathy amongst women in the State. More importantly, with the continued support by government to her citizens in these ways to improve on the means of livelihood of women, Ogun State is definitely on course towards achieving gender equity by 2015.
•Bashiru wrote from Ogun State