Written by Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
The Nigerian government has done much for women’s rights. Boko Haram must not be allowed to undo our work
The plight of more than 200 girls abducted by Islamist extremists from their school in Chibok has come to symbolise the struggle our country is waging against dark forces opposed to the education and empowerment of girls and women in northern Nigeria.
As a mother of four children, including a daughter, I cannot imagine the agony the parents of these children must be experiencing. We understand, however, the anger and sadness that is shared by Nigerians at home and abroad. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has promised that the Nigerian security services will work tirelessly to bring back the girls. We appreciate the assistance of the US, the UK and now China; and we need the support of the rest of the international community in this effort. Working with it, we will not relent until our children have returned to their families.
We are fighting Boko Haram because we will not let any terrorist group undo the progress we are trying to make in ensuring new rights and opportunities for girls across our country.
Educating our young girls is the foundation for Nigeria’s growth and development. That is why the abduction of our daughters and the attempt to truncate their education is so unacceptable. Women account for about 70% of Africa’s food production, and manage a large proportion of small enterprises. They are also increasingly represented in legislative and executive leadership positions.
Moreover, the Nigerian government has concrete evidence of its fight to develop the country, to battle corruption, and to improve the country’s human development indicators. While it is true that corruption and weak governance remain serious problems, we must not overlook the efforts to tackle these challenges, nor discourage those attempting to do this difficult work.
The Nigerian government has been focused on the challenge of inequality and exclusion. We have begun programmes to introduce social protection schemes, especially in economically deprived northern parts of the country.
In Kano, working with the UK Department for International Development, we have piloted a conditional cash transfer scheme to poor households that is linked to girls’ enrolment in school; this is now up by 40%. A special development programme for north-eastern Nigeria is being developed.
The government has gone further, introducing gender-sensitive budgeting. In agriculture, we have enrolled 3 million women into an e-wallet programme, providing them with mobile phones so that they can receive subsidised seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.
In public works, the government is developing women’s groups across the country as maintenance clubs to repair local roads. Women are also being given opportunities as subcontractors on public-works projects.
Finally, the ministry of health is supporting medical programmes for young women. We intend to scale these up in the coming years, and are working with the World Bank and other developing countries to share our experiences.
The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls will not deter Nigeria’s efforts to support the education and livelihoods of its girls and women. So, in addition to our efforts to bring back our girls, we are now launching the Safe Schools Initiative, to provide security so that parents and pupils are reassured about our determination to protect them.
We will do everything in our power to bring back our girls, and we will never be complacent when it comes to girls’ rights. We will not relax our efforts until every one of the 10.5 million girls and boys who are today denied education in Nigeria are given a chance to go to school in safety.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s minister of finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy. Okonjo-Iweala is a renowned development economist and economic reformer and former World Bank executive.