A former commissioner for health, Kaduna state, Dr. Amina Baloni, has called for a shift in traditional norms to align with present realities.
According to her, to design development programs that resonate with the deeply ingrained beliefs and values of our communities, we must engage our people, ensuring that each step we take towards development is rooted in our identity and reflective of our collective aspirations.
She noted that this approach held great potential for progress, enhancing the acceptability of these norms and propelling us toward establishing a new status quo.
Baloni spoke at the opening of this at the 2023 Social Norms Conference, organized by the Nigeria Social Norms Learning Collaborative (SNLC-N) with the theme: “Norms Shifting: Cutting-edge Innovations for Health, Education, and Gender Equality.”
She said: “Today, I advocate for opportunities in the synergy between traditions and transformation ideals. To design development programs that resonate with the deeply ingrained beliefs and values of our communities, we must engage our people, ensuring that each step we take towards development is rooted in our identity and reflective of our collective aspirations. This approach holds great potential for progress, enhancing the acceptability of these norms and propelling us toward establishing a new status quo.
“For instance, in Northern Nigeria, community engagement strategies leverage the support of a robust traditional system. Traditional leaders, as custodians of culture, wield their authority and credibility to mobilize and monitor communities, ensuring that every child is reached and protected. Women’s collectives and associations have played pivotal roles in empowering woman economically through cooperative societies and medically through nursing mother groups, among numerous others.
“As we convene at this illustrious 2023 Social Norms Conference, our mission is clear, to usher in a societal metamorphosis that aligns with our development goals while ensuring our communities are not mere spectators but active contributors in this process. Shifting societal norms is no small feat. It requires nuanced strategies, unwavering commitment, and collective action.
Baloni said the prevalent lack of decision-making power among women in Northern Nigeria had led to avoidable loss of lives.
She said: “Sadly, not all norms are conducive to the progress of our society. For instance, the prevalent lack of decision-making power among women in Northern Nigeria has led to avoidable loss of life. Numerous women in regions such as Kano and Monguno lose their lives because they cannot make vital health-related decisions without the consent of a male authority figure. Likewise, restricted access to financial resources and education among women has placed more women and children at risk. Inadequate financial capability and knowledge hinder development and delay progress for a substantial portion of the population. Ineffective decision-making and inequitable representation, particularly concerning women’s leadership, have not served our country well. A significant portion of our population remains unaffected by or unable to relate to the issues they deliberate on.
“The cost of these harmful norms transcends the individuals that they affect, they are borne by society across several generations. Extremist groups can latch on to these norms and cause significant distress as witnessed in the Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states of Nigeria. Similarly, anti-vaccination beliefs in northern Nigeria led to the prevalence of polio cases that took significant investment to curtail across several years. Traditional beliefs have also impeded significant progress in eliminating child marriages and girl-child illiteracy. We can go on and on and on. But finally, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor asserts that restricting women’s access to literacy like in northern Nigeria increases the likelihood of Under-5 mortality by up to 50%.”
The Director of SNLC-N, Dr Raihanah Ibrahim, said: “Today we make history at Nigeria’s first social norms conference – A dedicated stage that brings together diverse donors, government, implementers, CSOs, academia, media to share experiences anf network – so we can better understand and commit to a singular call to action – To open our minds, think outside the box, and be energised to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals through our individual work and as a collective.
“We are standing on the threshold of a remarkable journey. This conference transcends being a mere event; it is a movement towards a brighter, more equitable future. We invite you to contribute to this transformative journey.”