Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

Clapping with one hand

I am delighted to have been asked to deliver the 5th Distinguished Guest Lecture here at the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo. I am particularly pleased that the university has chosen to devote this year’s lecture to the issue of women’s education, leadership and national development, a topic that is very close to my heart.

Millions of women and girls in Nigeria suffer from the feminisation of poverty, lack of access to basic resources, disease, violent conflict and the complex use of culture, religion and tradition to render women voiceless. Crimes against women, young girls and children are on the rise. Gender-based violence, femicides, rapes, sexual assaults, harmful traditional and religious practices, religious fundamentalism, voluntary and involuntary commercial sex work, trafficking, sexual exploitation, institutionalised gender-based discrimination, kidnappings, and so on, make private and public spaces in our country very unsafe for women and girls.  In addition, Nigeria continues to record unacceptably high levels of maternal and infant mortality rates, one of the highest in the world.


Nigeria features poorly on most global indicators, measuring Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE). The 2014 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report rated Nigeria 118/177; the 2015 World Bank Gender Equality Measure Report gave Nigeria 158/177; the 2016 UNDP Gender Inequality Index rated the country 152/188 and the 2017 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report ratings place Nigeria 122/144. As a result of the above, Nigeria is ranked as one of the 20 worst countries in the world for women alongside Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, DRC, Yemen and other countries usually associated with a very low status for women. Not only did Nigeria not meet any of the original Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), if care is not taken, we might not meet most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030 either.

READ ALSO: We’ll kick out polio in Ogun, says Commissioner

These challenges continue to rage unabated because of factors, such as patriarchal power and privilege, which provides an excuse for the use of culture, tradition and religion to undermine the progress of women and girls. Another major factor is violent conflict and displacement.  Education has been disrupted so badly in many parts of northern Nigeria that the effects will be felt for many years to come. The rampant kidnapping of children and young girls has had serious implications.

According to findings from UBEC, National Population Commission, National Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF, Nigeria currently has one of the highest rates of out of school children (10.5m) many of them females (60%). This has dire implications for their future. An educated woman will make better family decisions with regard to education, number of pregnancies, spacing, childcare, nutrition and health. There are also millions of Nigerians, living in Internally Displaced Camps around the country (1.9m) and 53% of them are women, with the attendant risks that this poses.

Sadly, there is also minimal political will to push for gender equality and women’s empowerment beyond policy rhetoric. The national and state gender machineries in Nigeria are grossly under-resourced, making it very difficult for them to coordinate and implement effective gender mainstreaming policies.

Recommendations going forward

  • Encourage conceptual clarity on gender and feminism

In a university such as this, I would like to advocate for an approach that opens the minds of teachers and students alike to the need to have a firm grasp of concepts, such as gender and feminism. We cannot advance women’s rights and seek gender equality without using feminist analysis and tools. Without an analysis steeped in the politics of feminist agency, our work will not be as productive as we would like it to be. This university is training policy makers, decision-makers and practitioners. The next generation has to be equipped with tools to think and act differently.

  • Prioritise an understanding of legislative and policy frameworks

Another area of critical concern for tertiary institutions going forward is ensuring that there is enough knowledge of how legislative and policy frameworks create an enabling environment for gender issues to thrive. We still have significant gaps and challenges in this area, and we should all be concerned about our lack of institutional capacity to enforce laws and policies. Inadequate implementation frameworks, lack of reliable data, lack of financial, technical, material and human resources, lack of cohesion and coordination, insufficient analysis and research, lack of continuity, and much more, make implementation extremely difficult. At the minimum, we require, for example, the domestication of the National Gender Policy of 2005 (revised in 2015) by all states in Nigeria; domestication and implementation of the Violence against Persons Act of 2015 and the domestication of the Child Rights Act by the states in Nigeria, which have not already done so. We also need to see the passing of the pending Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill by the National Assembly.

  • Engage in creative resource mobilisation

There is a lot of support that is required from philanthropic institutions, both public and private, to address women’s rights and gender equality because the government and donor agencies cannot do it all. Corporate funding in Nigeria to support women’s rights work is negligible. To the academics here, who need grants for their research, there is a sound business case to be made for investments in women and girls. A trafficked and abused girl will not grow up to become the senior executive, who will be able to afford the new car, state of the art equipment, house or other products companies are selling.

The woman suffering from domestic violence will spend her money and time in and out of hospital or church, and will not have resources for the latest cell phone or refrigerator. The Corporate Social Responsibility goals of corporate bodies need to be revisited to allow for the inculcation of values and principles that espouse gender equality and women’s empowerment. If they can invest in reality shows, beauty pageants, musical concerts and cooking competitions, they can fund training programmes for young leaders and they can build more partnerships with academic institutions, such as this one.

READ ALSO: Rope Skipping Federation appoints Matron

  • Make educational institutions safe for women and girls

A priority of all educational institutions, ranging from primary to tertiary levels, is making the educational environment safe for women and girls. There has to be zero tolerance for the sexual abuse and exploitation of girls in schools. In cases of sexual assault and abuse, suspects and offenders need to be handed over to law enforcement agencies to be dealt with in accordance with relevant laws.

  • Promote working with men

There is a need for sustainable partnerships with Male Champions. Even though they are mostly the beneficiaries of patriarchal power and privilege, men can negotiate the use of the power they have to ensure a world that is more just and safe for women. Every father, husband, brother and son has a stake in the ways women experience the world. These partnerships need to happen at a personal, political, professional and communal level. It is only when both men and women are able to fulfil their full potential that we can truly achieve the development and progress we seek.

  • Be the change you would like to see.

Charity begins at home. If we would like to see a difference in the way things are done, let us begin by setting examples for others around us. For those of us who are parents of young children, bring them up differently from the norm. If we want a different outcome for our future the time to begin that change is now, otherwise we will have the same faces and voices of tyranny, disrespect and impunity. One of the famous sayings of Albert Einstein is that only a mad person does the same thing over and over again and expects a different result. Let us raise boys to be responsible men who respect women and girls, who can become phenomenal women. For the young leaders here, I encourage you to keep learning, keep investing in yourself, keep good company and do not take the opportunities you have been given for granted.

We need a revolution that focuses on changing mind-sets, attitudes and behaviours, a shift in our cultures of hopelessness and despondence to one of hope and achievement. Please, let us all make ourselves available to mentor or be mentored. Let us all look inwards and see what we can do more or less of. Central to all this is an acceptance that there can be no progress without women’s full and equal participation in society. Nigeria needs to stop clapping with one hand.

Thank you.



 Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is currently the First Lady of Ekiti State. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com