International Women’s Day: Embracing Equity for a Corruption-Free Society

It is that time of the year when women worldwide are appreciated and celebrated for their contribution to humanity. Events such as the International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day, Mothering Sunday, etc. will be held in their honour starting from the month of March. Women give birth to children, nurture them and build a home. They are wives, home managers, mothers, disciplinarians, teachers, professionals and more. Unfortunately, their role in the home, as well as in the workplace is not always appreciated. Therefore, specific days have been set aside to specially recognize women and celebrate their achievements in different fields of endeavour.

The first in the series of activities lined up this period is the International Women’s Day with the theme, Embrace Equity. The theme calls on all to fully accept, adopt and espouse, not just equality but Equity.

Equity is a concept that recognizes people have inherent worth in themselves and, regardless of the differences, deserve to be given a fair chance to succeed. Equality, on the other hand, implies that everybody should be given the same opportunity regardless of differences in gender and other demographics. Like a popular quote puts it, “Equality is giving everyone the same pair of shoes, while Equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fits.” The question to ask is whether an equitable society is a requirement to enhance the fight against corruption. And the answer is an affirmative YES.

The principle of equity forms the core of the human rights vision of the 1945 Charter of the United Nations which states that human rights and fundamental freedoms should be available to all human beings “without discrimination on the basis of race, sex, language or religion”. The principle of the equal rights of women and men is thus one of the pillars upon which the United Nations was founded.

The Charter codifies women’s rights to non-discrimination on the basis of sex, and equality as self-standing norms in international law. It also establishes that women and men are entitled, on a basis of equality, to the enjoyment and exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other sphere.

Since the year 2000 when the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) was established, the anti-graft agency has been making conscious efforts, through many of its policies to engender and promote equity vis-à-vis its anti-corruption fight. The Commission, in year 2020 got the Presidential approval for the National Ethics and Integrity Policy (NEIP), which aims to “strengthen national cohesion, social EQUITY, and equality of purpose in the pursuit of basic freedoms, individual and social rights as well as the material development of all Nigerians.”

The need for Equity is at the fore of the NEIP. This is because where citizens believe that Government has their best interests at heart and is fair to all, they would accept policies and programmes meant to change the society, and this will engender patriotism, loyalty and a sense of well-being leading to a more productive citizenry who would contribute to national goals and objectives. The entrenchment of this value will also help reduce social conflict and create more harmonious relationships among citizens.

The NEIP has seven (7) core values that Nigeria and Nigerians should embrace to bring about a country that is fair and equitable to all. These values are Human Dignity, Voice & Participation, Patriotism, Personal Responsibility, Integrity, National Unity and Professionalism.

The value of Human Dignity in particular, recognizes that both men and women have inherent worth in themselves that must be respected and never violated. Therefore, all human rights – right to life, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, fair hearing, and freedom from discrimination on the grounds of ethnic group, place of origin, circumstance of birth, gender, religion or opinion, etc. must be respected.

Human Dignity as the first and underlying value of the NEIP, in simple terms speaks to Equity for all and recognizes all segments of the society, including women.

The NEIP prioritized women as one of the major stakeholders for the implementation of the Policy and these include all women – urban and rural, northern and southern, employed and unemployed, married and unmarried, etc.

It has been said several times that corruption affects women differently so that even when there seems to be equal opportunities, corruption in various forms would not allow them access the benefits. Therefore, where there is equity and a proper recognition of the peculiar nature of women, they are likely to perform as well, if not better than they are currently doing.

Most women were identified by the NEIP workplan to be pre-occupied and distracted with mere survival – putting food on the table, children’s education and healthcare, security, etc. – which weakens their resistance to unethical practices, but the fight against corruption being waged by ICPC and other anti-corruption agencies is structured to not just arrest those that misappropriate the nation’s resources, but also retrieve stolen assets, use them to improve the socio-economic life of all Nigerians and give every Nigerian the opportunity to excel in their chosen fields of endevour.

ICPC is also working hard to ensure that there are policies of government to protect the women in the home, at school and the workplace so they can perform optimally and deliver their best to the nation. One of these efforts is the drafting of a model Sexual Harassment Policy which the Commission, in collaboration with different partners, hopes to institutionalize in secondary schools and tertiary institutions across the country. Also, the Commission has set up a special unit focused on investigating and prosecuting sexual harassment as a form of corruption (abuse of office) in schools and the workplace.

Building on the momentum, and judging from the role ICPC had played and continues to play in advancing equity in its anti-corruption fight, one would say the Commission has laid a solid foundation through the National Ethics and Integrity Policy and it is imperative that citizens and major stakeholders give it the needed support to notch up the campaign for entrenchment of equity in all facets of the country’s operational system.