Inclusive Governance and Women Rights in top agenda with UNAIDS

During the Women History Month, to address gender equality and to implement policies that will allow more women to participate in leadership and governance, UN Women and UNAIDS met to shape conversation. The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima, who was visiting Nigeria, held an interactive session with women leaders and government officials to further drum support for women, and assessed efforts and strategies deployed in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.

Date: Friday, June 18, 2021

Abuja, Nigeria

While addressing women in Abuja, Ms Byanyima, UNAIDS' Executive Director, lamented the lopsided societal expectations on women, which more often than not, result in truncating a bright future for teenage girls and women. She emphasised the relevance of women leadership and the importance of healthy living for women that is not dictated by obnoxious traditions and religious practices.

“Many women die daily due to pregnancy or childbirth-related issues while the governments do  little to prevent these avoidable deaths, which have been worsened by the COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS pandemics”, Ms Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director.

Edited: Winnie Byanyima UNAIDS Executive Director Giving her Remarks-Photo Credit-UN Women Nigeria
Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director, giving her remarks -Photo Credits: UN Women Nigeria.

In setting the tone for the conversation, UN Women Country Representative for Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms Comfort Lamptey, said the meeting was convened to provide a platform for the visiting UNAIDS’ head to bear the agency’s new five-year strategy to end the inequalities that have been fueling HIV globally, with a goal to end the epidemic by 2030.

It's a strategy that is people-centred and emphasizes the prevention of HIV. Nigeria has the fourth-largest HIV epidemic globally, and as with the COVID-19 pandemic, HIV bears a woman's face here in Nigeria, as the prevalence is more than double for women. Data shows that of the 1.8 million estimated people living with HIV in Nigeria, the prevalence rate for women is 1.7 % compared to 0.8 % for men, particularly for the category of women living between the ages of 20 to 24 years the prevalence is three times that of men , Ms Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Country Representative for Nigeria and ECOWAS.

The challenges of sustainable legal and political frameworks for gender equality and women's empowerment in Nigeria also came to the fore of discussions. According to the 1st Lady of Ekiti State, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, these are vital to ensuring that the rights of women are not arbitrarily violated. She reported that her state has been a model of policy framework for tackling gender inequality and sexual violence against women, where she facilitated the passage of four bills - a bill on Gender-Based Violence, Gender and Equal Opportunities bill, an HIV Anti-Discrimination bill, as well as the Treatment, Care and Protection of Sexually Abused Minors bill - aimed to protect women from all forms of SGBV. The state was also the first to have the Sex Offenders Register in Nigeria. According to her, the implementation of the policies and frameworks are equally as important in tackling gender inequality. 

On her part, Pauline Tallen, Nigeria's Minister of Women Affairs bemoaned the lack of women in decision-making spaces as the reason for developmental and economic challenges facing the country. She encouraged women not to give up but continue to fight the societal injustice against them, and observed that “most of the women in the north are highly educated but they are denied their rights,” promising that women will no longer watch things deteriorate but “will continue drumming and talking until things change for the better.”

On the practical ways to harness the creative energies of young people to transform governance in Nigeria, Kiki Mordi, an investigative journalist, stated that listening to the youth is quite critical to having any meaningful development in a society. She has also praised the youth for their insight and emphasised the importance of intergenerational dialogue.

Realistically we can't achieve much if we don't listen to the young people. They have fresh energy that is easy to lose in the fight. When you're always in the middle of chaos - in the middle of advocating for a thing that you're so passionate about - it is very easy to lose that energy”. Kiki Mordi, Investigative journalist.

Speaking on improving the participation of more women in politics, Oby Ezekwesili - a former Vice President of the World Bank, said women must first recognize that they are not short of the knowledge, but encouraged them to “to be better at collecting and crystallize the knowledge into a necessary set of actions." . In her words “there is no governance without politics,” while encouraging more women to take part in active politics.

The UNAIDS Chief also met with Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, to discuss the country’s response to the twin pandemics of HIV and COVID-19. The visit also sought to recognize Nigeria’s recent accomplishments in HIV management and boost confidence in the leadership and stakeholders that Nigeria can win the fight against HIV/AIDS. The visit will also help the agency garner political support for the next Global AIDS Strategy (2021-2026) as well as the UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS in June 2021.

 

More information:
  • Faith Bwibo - Communication Specialist, UN Women Nigeria - faith.bwibo@unwomen.org