Gender equality has been the focus for years in developing and developed nations globally. Gender discrimination affects women and girls across strata, tradition and ethnicities though arguably more profound in some localities than others. As Nigeria joins the rest of the world in marking the international women’s day yearly on March 8th, it is imperative that more efforts are put into enhancing the lives of women and girls, with a view to making a lasting difference.
Due to the level of priority placed on highlighting gender related issues, British Council had commissioned a global report to highlight the work of the British Council in relation to the empowerment of women and girls between 2010 and 2015, generating recommendations on ways to improve on the existing offer through the identification of strengths, gaps and opportunities in this area. The report was commissioned covering eight countries. These are Nigeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, Tunisia and Uganda.
As the United Nations marked its 70th anniversary in 2015, Heads of State and High Representatives had decided on 17 global Sustainable and Development Goals (SDGs). The 5th goal listed is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
This goal covers ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere; eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls including trafficking and sexual exploitation; eliminating all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage; recognizing and valuing unpaid care, domestic work; ensuring women’s full and effective participation; equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life and to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.
Towards the UK government’s efforts to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030 and to support the world’s poorest people to ensure every person has access to basic needs, the UK government’s policy supports the 2015 SDGs. There are specific priorities to the rights of women and girls as part of the spending review of UK Official Development Assistance (ODA). The British Council which is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities seeks to contribute to the overall goal of increasing gender equality as part of its remit to building connections and trust between the UK and the countries it works with.
The British Council in Nigeria is not left out of this focus particularly through its work in cultural relations and its strategy of embedding equality, diversity and inclusion in everything it does. The report titled Women and Girls – making a lasting difference is intended to highlight the different activities of British Council that work towards addressing the SDG goal of increasing gender equality. It is very important to look at how women and girls’ empowerment features across the British Council’s portfolio and the outcomes that have been achieved.
Empowering women and girls through sport:
The British Council works through sport as a way of reaching and engaging young people, and uses it as an entry point and engagement tool to also address issues such as child protection, boys’ and girls’ rights, violence against women and promoting changes in gender norms by linking sports to education. The British Council’s major sports programme is Premier Skills, a global programme delivered in partnership with the Premier League that uses football to develop a brighter future for young people around the world, primarily through training courses run by Premier League club coaches for grassroots football coaches and referees. So far in Nigeria, 300 female students between the ages of 12 and 16 years have participated in two football coaching sessions and one classroom-based session (on rights) per week over a nine-week period. Over 20 community coaches in Kano and Jos have been provided with skills in community football development and child protection advocacy through the Premier Skills programme. These teachers, acting as volunteers, have delivered the Premier Skills training.
Empowering women and girls through volunteering, individual and collective action.
Active Citizens is a project that promotes intercultural dialogue, community-led social development and social responsibility, working to build empowerment through the promotion of social change in communities. In Nigeria, the Active Citizens methodology encourages the issues that address gender equality. It engages university level students and over 1,000 students and university staff have developed their leadership skills through the Active Citizens project. Over 100 community action projects have also been supported in six states across Nigeria.
Empowering women and girls through peace, justice and security:
Justice for All (J4A) is a large-scale DFID funded project where British Council is the lead partner in a consortium of several international and Nigerian partners. The programme focuses on reform of the justice sector and works across several states. This programme includes broad reforms that improve access to justice for disadvantaged groups. It is not specifically focused on women and girls, but has some explicitly gendered components. These include supporting the creation of the Mirabel centre situated at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, and the Tamar Centre in Enugu which provides counselling and medical support to victims of sexual and domestic violence.
British Council also leads a consortium of international and Nigerian partners to deliver the DFID-funded - Nigerian Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP). NSRP aims to reduce violent conflict, providing support to Nigerian stakeholders to better manage conflict resulting in wealth creation, service delivery and poverty reduction.
In particular, Component 3, which is supported by Social Development Direct, is directed at women and girls with the aim of ‘more influential participation by women and girls in institutions and initiatives relevant to peace building, with reduced prevalence and impact of violence against women and girls’. Peace clubs are one of the elements of Component 3. Dr Eleanor Nwadinobi, who leads the work on this component, argues that a main success of the programme should be seen in the increased willingness of women and girls to report sexual violence. She explained that peace clubs train facilitators have gained the trust of young people aged 10–24: ‘These young people are willing to report issues and through the peace clubs will be linked to the “observatory” steering committee, which has medical, legal support and religious support. Peace clubs are also sometimes characterised as “safe spaces”’.
Empowering women and girls through partnerships in education:
Through the Northern Nigerian Girls Education Programme targeted especially for states with poor data on educational outcomes, British Council Nigeria has supported the set-up of Girls Education Advocacy and Research networks (GEARn) comprising representatives from Government MDAs, civil society organizations and the academia to support research to be utilized in influencing policy for the improvement of girls’ education in Nigeria. The aim is to produce high-quality research on what works in support to education of girls. The network is also supporting research in six states exploring, for example, the impact of school management committees on girls’ outcomes in basic education, the impact of conflict and security on girls’ education and the early career prospects of female teachers in science.
Research findings have been utilised by GEARn members for advocacy to government and private stakeholders within project states to influence policy aimed at ensuring better educational outcomes for girls. In Niger State, the State Universal Basic Education Board acknowledged the efforts of British Council in partnering with the State to support girl child education by promoting awareness on the gains of sending the girl child to school.
Empowering women and girls through arts:
The British Council in Nigeria contributes to the development of Nigerian creative industries, exchanging and showcasing quality Nigerian and British artistic content and providing skills training.
It offers opportunities for women artists to showcase their skills and to learn from each other and from international artists. It can also facilitate the telling of stories that question gender stereotypes and that therefore help start conversations on gender norms and attitudes. These include NAIJA STREET STORIES where young filmmakers were challenged to present ideas for a women-centred documentary through workshops, mentoring and training. The participants were mixed in terms of gender, with the aim of equal representation. The process built the skills of young Nigerian documentary filmmakers to tell stories that raise difficult social issues that contribute to advocacy for change and influence social attitudes. It also potentially raises the awareness of elites as to the hardships faced in the lives of the poor. Naija Street Stories is collaboration with Hatch Africa under the direction of Yemisi Mokuolu. In addition, there is also the Go Women Go, collaboration by British artist Laura Aldridge and Nike Davies Okundaye of the Nike Arts Centre in Abuja which aimed to promote ceramics, textiles and sculpture.
Edemekong Uyoh, Head of Communications, British Council contributed this piece from Lagos.