Nurturing the ‘Armed Forces Gender Policy’
By Mahmud Abdulsalam
Women, several decades and centuries back, used to be considered as nonentities. They were never factored in many schemes of things. Their opinions and inputs, in fact, were immaterial to any sort of discourse.
But thanks to the efforts of The Shakers, women, especially in our contemporary times, are no longer considered as second class citizens or labelled as the ‘weaker gender’.
The Shakers, an evangelical group, which practiced segregation of the sexes and strict celibacy, were early practitioners of gender equality. They branched off from a Quaker community in the north-west of England before emigrating to America in 1774.
In America, the head of the Shakers’ central ministry in 1788, Joseph Meacham, had a revelation that the sexes should be equal. He then brought Lucy Wright into the ministry as his female counterpart, and together they restructured the society to balance the rights of the sexes.
Meacham and Wright established leadership teams where each elder, who dealt with the men’s spiritual welfare, was partnered with an eldress, who did the same for women. Each deacon was partnered with a deaconess. Men had oversight of men; women had oversight of women.
Women lived with women; men lived with men. In Shaker society, a woman did not have to be controlled or owned by any man.
Like The Shakers, one institution in Africa’s most populous black nation that is passionate about women development; and more importantly, giving Nigerian women a sense of belonging, is the Military.
The Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN), under the leadership of General Lucky Irabor, Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, in April this year, unveiled its Gender Policy, geared towards promoting gender mainstreaming in the nation’s armed forces.
The gender policy for the AFN seeks to among others ensure 35 percent affirmative action of women and achieve increased women involvements in recruitment and enlistment, education and training, retention, promotion, posting, operations, logistics, accommodation, budgeting, and institution of maternity and paternity leave for both men and women of Nigerian Armed forces to mention but a few.
The policy was launched by the wife of the President Aisha Mrs Buhari in April this year. She was represented at the launch by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Women Affairs and Administration, Dr Hajo Sani.
She commended the military for taking steps towards actualising gender mainstreaming in the armed forces.
She said that the policy had the propensity of opening up opportunities not only for the female personnel but also for the children aspiring to join the military.
According to her, the policy has set the stage for every woman in the AFN to begin to play a significant role in the defence of the nation from all forms of security challenges that confront Nigeria.
“It is on record that women and girls exert more efforts than the men and boys to prove their competence in many chosen areas of endeavour including the military.
“Therefore, the Armed Forces of Nigeria has set itself up to benefit maximally from the abundant innate capacities and capabilities women and children possess.
“It is also heartwarming that with this giant step, the Armed Forces of Nigeria is encouraged to ensure that the large part of the population contributes to the task of defending the country against its enemies,” she said.
She expressed hope that because women had been “imbued with wisdom that enables them to unite systems”, they would play a critical role in bringing solutions to various security challenges confronting the country.
She advocated that the policy should keep in view the challenges that militate against women emancipation, adding that gender stereotypes against women was a potential threat to their advancement in the military.
Speaking further, she said there are a good number of reported cases where women were prevented from participating in combat duties, excluding pregnancy or maternity.
“Women are often restricted to careers within the supportive aspect of the military such as finance, human resource, personnel, logistics, medical services, welfare etc.
“I enjoin the military women to continuously take note of this and vehement exception to such psychological oppression with the formulation of this policy.
“The security issues bedeviling our Country Nigeria still abound probably because we are yet to redefine the Armed Forces of Nigeria to explore the potentials of women for operational effectiveness,” she said.
Speaking, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor, said the complexity and dynamism of the spectrum of security challenges facing the world demand that all useful approaches and means must be employed to combat the menace emanating therefrom.
Irabor said it was the realisation that gender disparity contributed in no small measure to the suffering of women and girls in any environment that birthed the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325.
He said that the crux of the resolution aimed at ensuring that women and their societal needs were safeguarded through increased emphasis on granting access to opportunities in all spheres of human endeavours including the military.
Irabor said that Nigerian armed forces had become gender-sensitive by ensuring that the career paths of female personnel were unhindered.
This, according to him, is evident in the fact that the AFN can boast of producing female officers up to the rank of 2-star generals, adding that women were currently engaged in all areas of specialisation including combat operations.
He said that the Nigerian Defence Academy had continued to train female cadets as combatant officers as well as the establishment of Nigerian Army Women Corps in 2018.
According to him, the Nigerian Air Force established the Women of War in 2018 to involve women in all aspects of air operations including flying, aircraft maintenance, air traffic control and engineering.
He said that the Nigerian Navy had equally deployed women as sailors and for other key aspects such as ship maintenance.
The defence chief said that the coming of the policy was a clear declaration that the AFN was totally committed to taking the issue of women empowerment to higher levels.
He said that the policy was part of ongoing efforts at addressing some of the security challenges prevalent in the country.
“The involvement of women and girls in a myriad of violent crimes and activities including banditry, kidnapping and terrorism among others, demands that the innate capacities and capabilities of women and girls are channelled and harnessed for societal benefits,” he said.
It is only a matter of time before we see this ‘CHILD OF DESTINY’ known as the Armed Forces of Nigeria Gender Policy’ blossom and mature to become another successful progenies the country’s military ever birth. By then, Gen. Irabor, may have since quit holding sway as CDS. Yet, his indelible legacies would remain reference points and barometer for judging his successors.
Mahmud Abdulsalam is an Assistant Editor PRNigeria