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This world is unfair to women

EDUCATE the women, you educate the nation, empower the women, you empower the nation, improve the health of women, you improve the health of the nation, and improve the overall lot of women, you improve the overall lot of everybody. But why are we not doing it. It is no more news that countries where women are less free are also chart toppers on the global poverty list. Why are we not giving women better opportunities to be all they can, if we truly desire to improve the world?

Today, violence against women is on the rise. In places like South Africa, it has become the norm for women to be killed by their partners; infact a recent stat from the rainbow nation shows that every day, a woman's life is snuffed out by someone who professed eternal love to her at one time or the other. In India, rape has been elevated as a national culture to be tolerated with impunity. According to Council on Foreign Relation's Isobel Coleman Gender Inequality is at the Root: "In India, girls are valued less than boys," she says, "and this results in many inequalities in society." In addition to rampant sex-selective abortions, Coleman points to significant disparities in access to health care and education. Moreso, India has a Culture of Complicity: "Culturally, there's not enough exposure and conviction against those who are perpetrating acts of violence against women.

Worryingly, what was viewed as a foreign malaise, or something only perpetrated by armed robbers or campus cultists have arrived safely into Nigerian homes and is becoming a 'normal' news on our stable. The rate at which, violence against women and rape is rising in Nigeria is so alarming that unless an urgent action is taken to curb it, it would degenerate into something worse than India's or South Africa's.

The world lost out on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) simply because most of the goals and targets are about women. Now they have started talking about Post 2015, yet the statistics are as dreary as they have been. For example, between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides, according to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

If current levels of child marriages hold, 14.2 million girls annually or 39,000 daily will marry too young. Furthermore, of the 140 million girls who will marry before the age of 18, 50 million will be under the age of 15. Despite the physical damage and the persistent discrimination to young girls, UNFPA says, little progress has been made toward ending the practice of child marriage. In fact, the problem threatens to increase with the expanding youth population in the developing world.

“Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects,” says Babatunde Osotimehin, M.D, Executive Director, UNFPA. “A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled. Since many parents and communities also want the very best for their daughters, we must work together and end child marriage.”Girls married young are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence and sexual abuse than those who marry later.

“Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15-19. Young girls who marry later and delay pregnancy beyond their adolescence have more chances to stay healthier, to better their education and build a better life for themselves and their families,” says Flavia Bustreo, M.D., Assistant Director-General for Family, Women's and Children's Health at the World Health Organization. “We have the means at our disposal to work together to stop child marriage.”

On March 7, a special session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held, it focused on child marriage. The session was jointly sponsored by the governments of Bangladesh, Malawi and Canada and it was held in support of Every Woman Every Child, a movement spearheaded by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that aims to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015. I didn't expect the Nigerian government to show so much support when we have people like Senator Yerima in government. But there are so many like the Senator hiding under cover today, we may never know them, infact there are many far worse than Yerima, at least Yerima went  far away Egypt to pick his 13 year old bride, what of the many Nigerian men who are sexually molesting their own daughters, many of them highly placed individuals in the society. Who will these helpless girls cry to.

Though child marriage is a global issue, rates vary dramatically, both within and between countries. In both proportions and numbers, most child marriages take place in rural sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In South Asia, nearly half of young women and in sub-Saharan Africa more than one third of young women are married by their 18th birthday. And unless child marriage is properly addressed, the UN Millennium Development Goals 4 & 5  calling for a two-thirds reduction in the under-five mortality rate and a three-fourths reduction in the maternal deaths by 2015  will not be met.

The 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are: Niger, 75 per cent; Chad and Central African Republic, 68 per cent; Bangladesh, 66 per cent; Guinea, 63 per cent; Mozambique, 56 per cent; Mali, 55 per cent; Burkina Faso and South Sudan, 52 per cent; and Malawi, 50 per cent. Interestingly, Nigeria is not among.

Young girls who marry before the age of 18 according to the UNFPA, have a greater risk of becoming victims of intimate partner violence than those who marry at an older age. This is especially true when the age gap between the child bride and spouse is large. “Child marriage marks an abrupt and often violent introduction to sexual relations,” says Claudia Garcia Moreno, M.D., of WHO, a leading expert in violence against women. “The young girls are powerless to refuse sex and lack the resources or legal and social support to leave an abusive marriage.”

Most of cycles of poverty in very poor countries of the world points to the role early child marriages play in perpetuating poverty. Poor families marry off young daughters to reduce the number of children they need to feed, clothe and educate. In some cultures, a major incentive is the price prospective husbands will pay for young brides.

I strongly believe that any culture that impedes progress is a retrogressive one and not fit for the human race. In some cultures, there are quite ridiculous practices and beliefs; one that come to mind is the belief that marrying girls before they reach puberty will bring blessings on families. Also, some societies believe that early marriage will protect young girls from sexual attacks and violence and see it as a way to insure that their daughter will not become pregnant out of wedlock and bring dishonour to the family. Yet when the same girl is forced into a relationship she abhors, she ends up bringing worse opprobrium to the same family.

Ending child marriage would also help countries achieve other MDGs aimed at eradicating poverty, achieving universal education and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and should also figure within a renewed development agenda.“The needs of adolescent girls were overlooked in the Millennium Development Goals; they must have a central place in any new goals set by the international community,” said Lakshmi Sundaram, Global Coordinator of Girls Not Brides. “By using the rate of child marriage as an indicator to monitor progress against new goals, we can make sure that governments address the practice and focus on ensuring the welfare of their girls.”

Inspite of all the right noises made about the state of the womenfolk,significant challenges persist in reducing gender disparities in health especially in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for more than half of the 287,000 maternal deaths worldwide in 2010, with an average maternal mortality ratio of 500 per 100,000 live births. Maternal mortality trends have been varied across the African continent and overall progress has been modest.

African women on average have more children than anywhere else in the world leading to a detrimental impact on their health and survival. In 2010 a woman in Sub-Saharan Africa had 4.9 children, compared to 2.7 in South Asia and2.2 in Latin America.

The average contraceptive prevalence (22 per cent) is less than half that of South Asia (51 per cent) and less than a third that of East Asia (77 per cent). Although the rates of family planning use are increasing, empowering women with the means to control fertility remains a neglected priority. A recent study published in the Lancet showed that contraceptive use averted 92,752 maternal deaths in Africa alone, accounting for nearly one-third of total maternal deaths. An additional 59,000 maternal deaths could be averted in Sub-Saharan Africa if the unmet need for contraception is met.

Commenting on the rising culture of violence in South Africa, Leadership Intelligence News Bulletin notes that a research done by the Medical Research Council (MRC), shows that“women are most at risk of being raped or murdered by people they either know by sight, or have an intimate relationship with, it means that looking to the police or the criminal justice system for solutions is not going to get us very far. By the time the police arrive or a case comes before the court, it is already too late. It is also simply not feasible to arrest and prosecute up to a third of all South African males.”

The article argues that the difficult truth is that there is no quick fix. “No politician can change this, nor can any political party  though they may promise to do so in the hope that it will secure your vote in the next election. Politicians are as much part of the solution as they are part of the problem. So is the media, and so are you.”

It concludes that “politicians need to model the kinds of attitudes toward gender and violence that we wish to see throughout society. Politicians who call for more policing and harsher punishment in response to violence reinforce the idea that violence is a solution to social problems.”It is also argued that the solution lies in the way society responds to violence “at home, between children, on television and at school. We need children not to see violence at home or at school and provide support to those who do.”

A change of attitude across all spectrums of society is needed, and the article concludes: “Changing the high rate of violence and rape starts with how we care for and protect children and requires the involvement of everyone: parents, teachers, politicians, nurses, doctors, social workers and psychologists. Africa and by extension the world will not make a dent on poverty and inequality if concerted efforts are not made to address the state of its women.

Happy Women's Day.

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