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12 March 2018
Just like previous years, International Women's Day in Nigeria was celebrated by the trade unions with low-key activities. Compared with efforts that go into preparation for May Day, how the trade unions mark women's day is one way to understand the status of working women in the unions – a reflection of their overall status in a deeply patriarchal and neo-colonial capitalist society that Nigeria is.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) appears to have done nothing at the national level to mark the women's day. Efforts were made in Abuja to know what plans there were for the occasion but they bore no fruit. But there was a mass protest called by striking university education workers (SSANU, NASU and NAAT) which was fixed for March 8 in Abuja to demand payment of owed allowances, better funding of education etc.
In a few other states, a number of activities were organised by labour unions, the Socialist party of Nigeria (SPN). Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to mark the day.
The Socialist Party of Nigeria organised a public meeting in Ibadan Oyo State. The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – CWI Nigeria – produced 2000 copies of our leaflet which was circulated in all the activities of the women's day celebration that we organised or participated in between 8 to 10 March 2018. In the leaflet, we called for an urgent campaign to be launched by the trade unions and student movement against sexism, gender discrimination and oppression of women in the home, school and workplace.
Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) participated in two events organised by the trade unions in two cities on March 8. In Lagos one was organised by the United Labour Congress (ULC) - a new labour centre formed from one of the factions that emerged in the NLC after controversy arising from its 2015 delegate conference. The event attracted about 150 working women who gathered at the secretariat of the Nigeria Railway Workers Union to celebrate women's day. It also served as an occasion to inaugurate the leadership of the women commission of the ULC trade union federation.
This meeting began with a brief speech by the ULC president Joe Ajaero followed by the address of the chairperson of the women commission, Mrs. Havilah Ofule. Next was a lecture delivered by Prof. Dixton Bolajoko on the challenges women face in the trade union movement. This was a very inspiring discussion in which Prof. Dixton tried to use her own experience as an ASUU (university teachers' union) activist to motivate the women workers to get active in union activities and struggles. Another speaker was Tunji Sekoni, the coordinator of network for Global Goal and Sustainable Development, who harped on the need to always apply the Marxist theory of class and class struggle when discussing women oppression. The event ended on a high note with the women workers committing themselves to play more active roles in the union. Members of the DSM attended this event and circulated leaflets.
On the same day, DSM members also participated at a public lecture organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Oyo state chapter in Ibadan. We also circulated leaflets and displayed political materials including copies of the Socialist Democracy (SD) – the organ of the DSM.
Apart from these two trade union events, members of the DSM branch at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Ile-Ife organised a stall in the centre of the town where they displayed Socialist Democracy and also handed out leaflets.
We participated in a public symposium organised by the teachers' union in Ajegunle, Lagos on Friday, March 9 to discuss women's struggle. The programme was organised by the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) Ajeromi Ifelodun chapter led by comrade Dagga Tolar (acting general secretary of the DSM) in conjunction with PEN Nigeria. About 93 female teachers were in attendance.
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) organised a public symposium in Ibadan, Oyo state, on Saturday, March 10 to discuss inequality and women oppression in the home and workplace. The SPN is a newly registered political party formed by the DSM in collaboration with workers and youth activists. The party won official recognition in January of this year after fighting for nearly four years to be allowed to stand candidates in elections.
The public symposium which was held at the NLC office in Ibadan attracted over 50 people, mainly women, from the 33 Local Government Areas in the city. The symposium was addressed by founding member of the DSM, Ayo Arogundade, Mrs. Olanrewaju O.A, Comrade Adekoya Shewa (member of DSM women committee) and Rasheedat (a member of the CWA). At the end of the event, about 25 people agreed to join the party.
Similarly, student members of the DSM in Adeyemi College of Education (ACE) Ondo state organised a public symposium on the platform of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) to discuss the struggle against education attacks as well as 'the importance of women in society'. About 35 students were in attendance, 8 of whom signed up to join the ERC. The symposium was addressed by the Osun State Secretary of the DSM, comrade Kola Ibrahim, ERC National Secretary, Omole Ibukun and Mr. Akingbola (Chair of the institution's branch of the Non Academic Staff Union).
At the end of the day, we had limited but good activities. We attracted over thirty new people to the DSM. The success of the activities that we organised by ourselves actually shows the immense prospect that a campaign on women's oppression has. We hope to consolidate on this in the coming months by launching a national campaign against sexism and discrimination in the home, schools and workplace. This can also help to challenge the trade unions and students' unions who do not have any real active campaign on women's issues despite the litany of attacks that women face in the workplace, school and in the home.