Ghanaian diplomat per excellence and citizen of the world, former UN Secretary General, late Kofi Anan, once asserted that, “There is no tool for development more effective than women empowerment.” Anan’s conviction is obviously shared by the wife of Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano (Osodieme), whose messianic zeal and dedication to the course of women in the last four years has improved the well-being of many within Anambra State and beyond. 

Wikipedia free encyclopaedia describes women empowerment as an economic process that involves empowering women as a poverty reduction measure. The empowerment entails the development of women in terms of politics, social and economic strength. It is also a way of reducing women vulnerability and dependency in all sphere of life.

Interestingly, women development was adopted as the third millennium goal in 2000 at the world conference on women in Beijing, China. But whereas the global trend in gender advancement amongst western nations is towards parity, at the core of the African, nay Nigerian, gender imbalance is the distorted power dynamic of culture supporting male domination on virtually every front. There are imbalances within marriage, work, religious and government institutions and access to good health etc.

It is in order to stem the tide of male domination across cultures that the United Nations and majority of nations across the globe thought it wise to develop and organize programmes which aim to ameliorate gender inequalities and discrimination.  Lending her voice to the debate for gender sensitisation and behavioural change, a champion of women courses and former US Democrat Presidential Candidate, Mrs Hilary Clinton, averred that “When women participate in the economy, everyone benefits.” Thus apart from the push for change in mind-set, economic empowerment of women is without doubt a sure means to breaking gender barrier in traditional societies where mothers and daughters are often unduly restricted.

It is no longer news that since the inception of the Obiano administration in Anambra State in 2014, the Governor’s wife, Osodieme, assumed the role of women champion by consistently seeking and creating avenues for women to become economically empowered and contribute to the development of the state and country. Osodieme makes it clear that her single-minded approach in promoting women empowerment programmes is borne out of its obvious transformational impact on the average woman’s economic status and well-being, and the need to tackle economic inequality in general.

A strong advocate of sustainable empowerment of rural women, Osodieme asserted in a March 20, 2017 presentation entitled ‘Opportunities for Entrepreneurship for Rural Women,’ at the Women Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON) Side Event at the 61st Session of the United Nation’s Commission for the Status of Women (CSW), in New York, United States of America, that “When you take away economic power from the woman, you take away her gender power.”

According to Osodieme, the average rural woman is industrious and enterprising but needs opportunities as an entrepreneur, collaboration, and information sharing which encourage positive exchanges between organizations on capacity building; she needs empowerment through financial inclusion. Apparently, these are amongst the principles behind the programmes of Osodieme’s NGO, Caring Family Enhancement Initiative (CAFÉ), which has made remarkable changes in the lives of Anambra women.

CAFÉ empowerment initiatives have so far provided over 4,350 women especially indigent widows and youths  with training, new skills, and free start-up capital in the areas of tailoring and fashion design, soap making, bakery and confectionery, hair dressing and beauty therapy; interior decoration, telephone and computer repairs, and community health assistant services.

Osodieme recognizes that the first step in the emancipation of an indigent widow is to put a roof over her head. Thus under CAFÉ’s Widows’ Housing Project, she has built twenty-two 2-bedroom houses with boreholes for clean water supply and handed them over free to beneficiaries across Anambra communities. Also under CAFÉ’s Market Toilet Project, which she initiated in furtherance of the dignity of the market woman and the promotion of hygiene, Osodieme has constructed fifteen modern toilets in rural markets.

Perhaps the most significant of Osodieme’s support for women in Anambra State is her role in the full implementation and domestication of the National Gender Policy of 35% Affirmative Action for Women with Anambra state currently ranked above the national benchmark. Today in Anambra, women occupy positions of authority at all levels including head of the legislature in over four years, commissioners, special advisers and heads of government agencies. In fact many observers attest to the increasing number and active participation of women in politics in the state due to Osodieme’s encouragement and inspiration.

It is important to note that the projects undertaken by the wife of the Governor are financed through support and donation to the NGO by philanthropists. Osodieme consistently argues that her quest for women empowerment should not be seen as threat but complementary by the menfolk whose role as heads of family is not in doubt. Such interventions by CAFE, she explained, are designed to incrementally help women become economically self-reliant by gaining better quality of life; acquiring self-confidence, self-esteem and basic life skills; above all, over time women will cease to be seen as burden in households but will be able to contribute to family upkeep.

All told, Osodieme’s consistent promotion of women empowerment has in the last four years helped in no small way in improving the quality of lives of Anambra women.  As the 63rd Session of the United Nation United Nation’s Commission for the Status of Women (CSW63) gets underway in New York United States in March 2019, there is no doubt that the wholesome value Osodieme adds to the life of women in Anambra State will ensure that the voice of Anambra women will be heard through representation at the global stage. This will ensure that the latest best practices on gender issues will be shared for the benefit of others back home at the end of the annual event.

Ozumba is Chief Media Officer to the Governor of Anambra State.