By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
The UN Women Country Representative to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Comfort Lamptey, recently met with media executives in Abuja. The event was part of activities to commemorate the 2021 International Women’s Day with the theme: ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 World.’
She stressed the need to take out the mind set impeding women from being able to contribute towards the development of the country. She spoke on other issues including what she likes about Nigerians. JULIANAH TAIWO-OBALONYE was there. Excerpts:
What are your thoughts and outlook for this year’s International Women’s Day and what do you hope this event will achieve?
I think that this year’s Women’s Day celebration is actually a call to action for Nigerian women. I feel as though the theme for this year was made for Nigeria; it is about women’s leadership and in the COVID-19 world. This theme, I believe, resonates very well here because we have a situation where we have seen, in the last year, during the COVID pandemic, the expression of women’s leadership; expression of the leadership of women on the frontline of the health services; the expression of leadership of women in the world as many of the caregivers who have been supportive of young children, or been supporting sick family members, as well. And we see the expression of leadership of women in the communities rising up. I am saying, no, we need to see an end to gender-based violence. A lot of the political commitment that we have seen by governors and the President to condemn gender-based violence, I believe a lot of that was also fuelled by the outreach and the leadership of women to say we don’t want to see this in our society. As much as we have seen women demonstrate leadership, we are seeing that at the political end, in terms of political leadership, women are still far behind, not because they cannot, but because they don’t have the opportunities, that the space has not been created for them.
We want to use this International Women’s Day to call for more women’s leadership in politics, because we know that it is in politics and decision-making that they can effect change, that they can impact development in their communities. And that’s the space where we are lagging. So, whilst we celebrate all the achievements and the resilience of women over the past year, we are also using this International Women’s Day to say, let us demand for more representation of women in political leadership.
There was increase in the rate of domestic/gender-based violence during COVID-19 lockdown. What strategy does UNWM have in place to remedy the situation and how are you supporting GBV survivors?
During the lockdown, certainly with the increase in gender-based violence, one of the things we did was to give more support to the partners, to the service providers that we support. For example, in places like Lagos, where we work with some of the organisations like Project Alert, the Mirabel Centre, we also beefed up and reinforced support to them. There was also support at the level of advocacy to the government of Nigeria to ensure that gender-based violence services were classified as essential services because although in principle, these were identified as essential services in practice, a lot of women who were providing services to victims who needed to get out to go to respond to calls of distress, could not do so because of all of the restrictions of movement. And so being able to support that the advocacy for gender-based violence services be classified as essential services to allow women to access those services, and then being able to strengthen support for service providers, were some of the work we did. And then we also supported a lot of advocacy for passage or domestication of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act across different states in Nigeria and then again strengthened the work of NGOs who are advocates in and around prevention. And in some states, like Cross River, also support community groups and mechanisms that were established to look at ensuring that prevention of early marriage, during the pandemic could be prevented. We still have a lot of work to do, because it’s impressive that over the last year, we have seen so many states adopt the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act. But now we need to see implementation of that within the states and given state budgets to actually support services, but also to support preventive efforts.
According to the UN’s Theme for the 2021 Women’s day celebration, ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving An Equal Future in a COVID-19 World’ and in the Nigeria context, how is UNWN supporting women in leadership? What is stopping women from being appointed into leadership positions and how can we ensure more women lead in post-COVID world?
Our support for women in political leadership is long-standing. Some of the things we were doing even during the pandemic itself, in recent months, has been to support women, young women, to begin to think of engaging in the political process. So we’ve been supporting the Women in Politics Forum to run the Young Women Political Academy to begin to sensitize them about the options of entering into politics, we will continue to strengthen those efforts. And at the same time, we’re also giving technical support to the constitutional review process that is on-going, having a gender constitutional expert work with the technical team, and supporting advocacy efforts that are aimed at seeing how the constitutional review process can actually be the vehicle to get affirmative action principles adopted in the Constitution. So supporting that advocacy, continue to support those who are working and campaigning for the adoption of the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill. So, we see the interventions at the policy level and the constitutional review process is one entry point. And then at the level of support to women leaders themselves, putting the emphasis on young women in leadership that will continue to make those sorts of investments going forward.
Post-COVID, what are the reliefs plans for the women in the grassroots?
Well, we are still in COVID period but as we’re thinking about recovery, I think one of the main entry points is looking at all the fiscal stimulus packages that have been passed to give relief to communities, making sure that we support the organizations that are monitoring. We work with the government agencies that are delivering the support and also support more effective monitoring of how, and the targeting of this support. In principle, yes, this fiscal stimulus packages are gender-responsive, and then they are geared to supporting the most vulnerable women. But we need to also look at disaggregated data. How many people are actually receiving this? How many women are receiving this as opposed to male-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and so on. So really delving deeper and making sure that this is being done, I think that the principle of equal access is there. But the practice and the delivery of the support have to be closely monitored. So we are talking with the government to see how to lend support to the efforts of the government to monitor this more closely.
So going by the submissions at the media strategic interactive session with female media executives, do you think gender equality can be achieved by 2023?
By 2023, it may be a bit ambitious. I mean this is the goal. Our goal is to work towards gender equality, when it is achieved is probably a secondary issue. But how are we going to get to 2030? And to achieve it? I mean, 2023 is our political elections, while 2030 is the commitment that Nigeria, as well as the other governments, has made to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of which gender equality is one. We have less than 10 years to go. So can we do it? Yes, if there is political will, if we’re working with a common vision towards that, and if we have the right strategies in place.
For now, I think we have to look at all the strategies that are in place. Do we have enough women in Nigeria who are competent for leadership, who can drive this? Yes, we do. Are we harnessing their leadership expertise and contributions optimally? I would say, no. How then can we ensure that we can bring all these resources to the table to support Nigeria to achieve this development goal? So we have what it takes, we just need to be able to ensure that we are harvesting the potential of Nigerian women to contribute to the development of this country.
A lot of people know you as the UN Women Country Representative. Can you tell us about Comfort Lamptey: your country, hobbies, best Nigerian delicacy?
I love Nigeria, you know. I’m from Ghana. And so we are neighbours and I feel it’s an extension of my own country. Nigeria has always been around me. I grew up with many Nigerian friends and so coming to Nigeria was not difficult. What I did not anticipate was the extent of the warmth and the diversity and the richness. It’s been very humbling being in Nigeria and it’s been a real privilege for me also to serve here. And of course, food wise, I mean, we eat pretty much the same kinds of foods so I am not going to go into all the jollof rice business.
Do you have favourite tourism spots in Nigeria?
Well, you know, when I went to Plateau, I actually loved the weather. I thought that it was very good; the weather was lovely. And I love the air there. I think I have to visit other tourism sites as well but everywhere I have been and I’ve had the privilege to travel to, whether it’s in the northeast or Northwest or the south, it’s been great, I love Cross River as well, the greenery and so on. I think that the richness and the diversity have just been mind-blowing. I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy Nigeria.