Wednesday, February 25, 2009

...and a 3rd power house.

The readings for this week really challenges anyone who even as much as glances at them. It was really inspirational to realize the many fronts on which we can make a difference, not to mention a reminder of the definition of the word profession (a calling, work that has meaning in and of itself outside the profit it brings – Bogenschnider p.225) a word which sadly has become synonymous with the concept of a job or a career, inadvertently draining the passion from the promising field of Family studies.

Here in the U.S., politicians and intellectuals are obviously the two basic groups who have to joggle ideas, knowledge and resources to propose, enact, implement and evaluate policies. As I sat back to reflect on the discussions in the text, it seemed quite “simplified”. I couldn’t quite directly reconcile this process with the scenario back home. Why? Then I gasped, but of course! The Third power house is missing.

Any guesses on what that might be?
Answer: Local traditional and/or religious leaders!

Yep, they are that third and crucial foot of the tripod in most parts of Africa, without which policies often come crashing down. This group is widely accorded more trust than the political or intellectual group. They achieve this feat, by shaping opinions and influencing decisions in communities right through to individual families. They live with the people and often make substantial contributions to promote the well-being of families and communities.

A look at the continuous process of promoting school attendance of the girl child in Nigeria, gives us a glimpse of how policies can be facilitated by these leaders. Figures show that more boys than girls are in school. This disparity is brought about particularly, by the low value accorded by some local beliefs to girls’ education and poverty.

National awareness of the prevalence of this problem has led to several political and financial commitments through advocacy and sensitization of policy makers. Programs have been planned and implemented, and while some have failed, others have gone on to record impressive successes. Over and again one key characteristic of succeeding programs has been an involvement of the leading traditional and/or religious leaders in local host communities. When these leaders in their regular interactions with the people use and consistently reinforce key messages, which favorably link proposed policies to the local tradition/religion success is assured. For instance proclaiming that educating all children is a cultural duty and drawing up inferences from the local context, has been shown to make many parents take their children to school, including girls.

On the other hand in situations where local leaders have been indifferent or worse still, spoken against policies/programs, doom has inevitably been the outcome. A quick reference was the recent boycott of the polio immunization campaign in parts of the country in 2003. The immunization campaign was literally brought to a halt by local and religious leaders upon calling on parents not to allow their children get immunized. These leaders argued that the vaccines were contaminated. Responding to the rumors about the vaccine, the federal government set up a committee to access the safety of the vaccines and samples were sent abroad to be tested. The results of the committee were rejected still by these leaders; and even though the truth of the rumor that the vaccines were contaminated were never established all efforts by the federal government to dispel them failed.

After about a year of boycott, the deadlock was finally settled with the local leaders playing the significant role in the process. Shortly after this occurrence, a meeting was hosted by WHO and UNICEF in the West African sub-region. The aim? To inform traditional and religious leaders (in the wake of the recent polio crises) about issues that affect children, to ensure that the right messages were passed down to the people.

In one sentence, the federal government having lost the public trust of one state became handicapped in providing health services. While the local leaders unfortunately disrupted national and global health plans, they believed they were acting to protect the interests of their people.

These experiences serve to illustrate the prevalence of communitarianism in most parts of the continent, where the transmission of information and authority flow downward from community leaders who are the gate keepers and decision makers-a crucial power house which can neither be ignored or excluded from social policy issues.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Almost every Nigerian knows what the acronym “NGOs” stands for, young and old, literate and illiterate alike. Why so? Well, besides being as a result of the involvement of NGOs [Non governmental organizations] in community issues since the pre-colonial era to the present day , their popularity is also attributable to their visible presence across the country not just in the urban areas but also in the rural areas, where a vast majority of the population reside.

So what really are NGOs anyway? Well first and clearly these are nongovernmental organizations, i.e. they are not affiliated to the government; and are simply task oriented non-profit, voluntary groups. These organizations perform a number of humanitarian and service functions across the country. They also make citizens concerns known to the government, encourage political participation in the country’s nascent democracy, and advocate and monitor policies.

During my years working with an NGO back home, I was always thrilled by the literal impact programs had on individuals and communities. One case in point was the impressive results we got when we embarked on a rural campaign geared towards convincing parents of children afflicted by polio, to enroll them in a special school program. This program required first, facilitative surgery for the afflicted child to enhance his/her motor movement before enrollment in the school. At first we were met with stiff opposition. Most of the parents refused to trust their children with “strangers” and were skeptical about any kind of surgery.

Eventually, we were gradually able to convince our proposed beneficiaries, and the program was even welcomed by neighboring communities. How did we achieve this feat? Virtually drawing on the strengths of a typical NGO. These included collaborating with the leaders of the host communities; aligning our programs’ operations to the norms and beliefs of the people; and impacting communities from the bottom-up, starting from the family level.

As many NGOs continue to tell their success stories across the nation, they are not spared of limitations. The multi faceted problem of budget constraints remains a constant threat in a number of ways. First, the lack of sufficient and sustainable funds often gets in the way of the execution of ideas, plans or projects, no matter how grand these may be. At some other times when NGOs have sought external funding, this has sometimes led to NGO activities that were tailored to meet the specifications of the funding bodies, with little or no considerations as to whether or not the proposed projects were pertinent to the communities’ needs. The resulting misappropriate programs naturally lead to conflicts between the concerned NGOs and the government. Unpleasant scenarios like these make it indispensable to have dynamic strategies for raising funds, as NGOs strive to keep up with the demands of being nonprofit oriented and relevant at the same time.

Also there is the absence of a comprehensive membership network for all presently existing NGOs. This often results in multiplicity or overlapping of programs. Amidst these constraints though, NGOs have continued to record commendable successes in community development/ enlightenment as well as policy advocacy issues.

In recent years following the advent of the country’s democracy, there has been a proliferation of NGOs across the country. While plans are being made to better regulate the activities of these organizations, I am hopeful that an atmosphere of urgency is adopted, before we hit a record count of between one and two million! - the estimated count of NGOs operative in India

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Our tale, not without the NGOs

Legislation affecting children and families in the United States often is passed only reluctantly, and even more often is not passed at all because of a pervasive reluctance among policy makers to “intrude” on family life (Zigler & Hall 2000, p.35).

The excerpt above, reminds me again of government’s exercise of constant caution aimed at avoiding interference with parental rights, here in the U.S. This sequence of government-citizenry interaction, primarily intrigues me .This is because democracy only emerged in Nigeria in 1999, ending decades of consecutive military rule. During these years of dictatorship,sensitivity did not always characterize government -citizenry interractions;and advocacies for social policies were quite uncommon.

Nonetheless, Nigeria is one country where local nongovernment organizations (NGOs) have existed since the pre-colonial era, serving as pressure groups. So with the perception that government wasn’t working in the peoples best interest, these organizations multiplied to deal with the issues of the society in the interim.

Overtime however the Nigerian government, even during the military regime has enjoyed and continues to enjoy the good will of many international donors and partners, particularly in the areas of child well being and maternal health. Key players include The African Development Bank (ADB), World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Funds received from these agencies support the formulation of policies, plans and child and maternal health program service delivery. Some NGOs and research efforts also receive support from these organizations.

With the advent of our nascent democracy, advocacy for social policies have increased, consequently the present civilian administration has expressed greater commitments to social policy issues including, improving child survival and restoring the Primary Health Care system across the nation - words which give us reasons to anticipate substantial changes across policy issues in the near future.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

From Japan to Nigeria

Chapter eight of our text book (Family Policy Matters 2nd edition, by Bogenschneider 2006) gives an overview of policies and proposals which are changing the political landscape for families. All of the issues raised are sure to be around with us for a while, and although the government is making efforts to combat the situation, I am particularly concerned about the approaches being used.

Since we are in a recession, the issue of a family’s economic status is “particularly” appropriate for an analysis of the impact of government policies. It is no longer news that many more mothers seek or are financially compelled to work outside the home, and/or pursue education or training. It therefore comes as no surprise that Bogenschneider cites the greatest concern of most parents as – the conflict between work and family. As the working hours of the average American continues to increase overtime, with the longest hours being recorded for families raising children, an obvious question comes to mind. How much time is left for family commitments? Particularly, how much time are parents spending with their children under these circumstances?

Now the American family system is relatively new to me, so I would first like to share with you about the latest culture which I had the opportunity of peeking into. What culture? Japanese! Yes Japanese, I have been in the U.S. for 5 months now and my first roommate for 4 months was Japanese. Her name is Nanako and she is also a new international student. We had a lot of conversations about each others’ cultures, especially since I often helped her with her English essay assignments. One particular conversation we had as we worked on one of her essays titled, The roles of men and women in Japan, was particularly revealing.

As the essay developed, Nanako spoke about the deep-rooted beliefs in Japan, where women are expected to take on the sole responsibility of homemaking. Hence women are not encouraged by society to work outside the home. Furthermore with society frowning at those who “choose” career over family, it is often commonplace to see women resigning from their jobs upon getting married or as childbearing begins. This occurs even though there is an existing Maternity Leave Law.

I found these revelations on the work versus family situation in Japan quite interesting, because there are some similarities present, when compared with the Nigerian situation. For a long time the notion that formally educating a female child in Nigeria was a waste of resources, was wide spread. It was generally believed that she would sooner or later be confined to the domestic affairs of childrearing and homemaking, and there are a substantial amount of people who still hold on to this belief. On the larger scale however, this notion has gradually changed overtime. As a result of government interventions more girls are going to school, and due to economic demands more men are agreeing to letting their wives work outside the home. The outcome? The work and family conflict. How is this conflict managed? To start with under the Nigerian Law, besides the annual paid leave for all employees, a pregnant woman is entitled to a paid maternity leave of at least 6 weeks before the delivery of her child and 6 weeks after the delivery of the child. Beyond this period of the newborn, families usually employ one of three options in managing the work versus family conflict.

Usually the first option is to involve extended family members, like aunts or grandmothers. Here, these individuals live with the family and help with the domestic and child rearing tasks. The second option is to employ live-in or visiting nannies. While the last option usually is to employ the services of day care centers and or after-school programs.

So the problem of working families in Nigeria is not far from the problem of working families in the U.S. The only major difference is the common situation of male-domination in the Nigerian system. It is important to note that even when the mother is working outside the home, she is still first and foremost, expected to perform or sufficiently arrange for “her” domestic tasks to be well carried out, with or without the support of her husband.