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Exploring an Open Culture: New Tools for Progress in Nigeria

A black woman speaking.
Written by
Published on
June 9, 2020

This post is part of our series on the Open Heroines Community Events Fund, through which we supported local or international OH meetups on women/feminism/gender and the intersection of data/open government/civic tech. This blog was written by Ayomide Faleye, a writer, researcher, volunteer, and member of the Open Heroines community. You can find her on Twitter at @AyaObaEkiti.

In the past, open data has been a vague and open-ended conversation in Nigeria. However, when Nigeria joined the Open Government Partnership in 2016 — committing to a transparency reform agenda — it became necessary to embrace openness and transparency in practice.

While progress has been made on transparency in general, open data as it relates to gender equality is almost absent in Nigeria. Gender-responsive legislation is simply not a key government priority. Despite civil society’s many attempts, efforts to add gender-responsive open data legislation under the Fiscal Responsibility Act have stalled. The number of women in governance and decision making processes is consistently falling, rather than rising. Even in universities, gender responsiveness is a taboo topic, which limits progress through the next generation of young professionals.

When Open Heroines held a call for mini-grants for support on hosting International Open Day events this year, we felt it was important to use this opportunity to talk about open data and gender in Nigeria. We hosted an event that aimed to capture the attention of other advocates in the country.

The event aimed to deliver a powerful message: Nigerians no longer want to be passive recipients of legislation that is ‘inflicted’ upon us. Instead, we are looking for constructive approaches to engage, contribute, and use public policy as a means to empower ourselves and marginalized communities. To do so effectively, we need to orient around evidence. We aimed to spread the message that with a stronger evidence-based open data culture, we will have insight on how information is developed, shared, and used by citizens and civil society.

Group of women posing for a picture.

The panel’s brilliant participants included Fumilola Odita, a computer programmer, Esther Nwokoro, a chartered accountant/HR manager, and Dr. Bibianah Okoli, a visually-impaired lecturer from the University of Ibadan. Each speaker focused on a different element of open data and gender-responsive policy, sharing individual expertise and personal experience with the group.

After identifying inequalities in her office, Ms. Odita successfully advocated for open data and equitable work environment policies. This led to management acting swiftly to help create a new workplace culture that embraced open data.

Women attending a meeting.

Through her discussion on the need for inclusive computer programming, Ms. Nwokoro asked the audience a powerful question,

“If open data is a tool used by citizens to drive social change, as a citizen, how many times have you asked questions? How many changes have you initiated? Do you know you have a right to ask questions?”

Dr. Bibiannah helped draft Nigeria’s 2018 Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities bill and advocated for its passing into law. She shared how open data was essential to the process. With gender-disaggregated data on the number of persons with disabilities, persons with significant barriers to social and physical functioning, and out-of-school children, the team was able to help lawmakers understand how essential the law was to children with disabilities, especially girls.

A woman speaking at a conference.

One man participant asked how men can get involved in the advocacy movement for an open culture, especially on pushing for more effective gender-focused legislation in Nigeria. Through this, we reminded the audience that men can also get involved and push for better policies.

We also received a powerful reminder from Dr. Bibianah following a question on how to make the case for better legislation for women in Nigeria, that:

“the constitution calls for equal rights for all, without exemption.”

Following the session, six women approached me about joining Open Heroines. While there isn’t an active gender-responsive process that supports women in Nigeria just yet, I hope that with these new advocates, the open data community can continue to engage decision makers for more gender responsive processes and laws in Nigeria.

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