The need to create more space for women to participate actively in the socio-political and economic development of the country received another boost yesterday at The Guardian’s International Women’s Day Summit, which held in Lagos.
Leading the renewed campaign was the chairperson of the Nigerian Governor’s Wives Against Gender-based Violence (NGWA-GBV), and the wife of Ekiti State governor, Erelu Bisi Fayemi.
At the event, she said that it was imperative for Nigerians to reform the country’s political culture with a view to ensuring that the government delivers on its promises.
Also making a case for improved legislation and legal reforms, she said the ongoing Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill, and the Constitutional Reform Bill are part of what is needed to address some of the pressing issues that women are contending with.
Delivering the keynote speech at summit, during which excellence among women in public service was recognised, she stressed the need for women to be more politically engaged, by supporting political processes, and also giving support to females running for office amongst others.
“I am tired and I have earned the right to be tired. I was at the Beijing Conference in 1995 and not much has changed for Nigerian women. Nigerian women still live in poverty and lack access to water; traditional and religious practices are still being employed to render women useless. There is an urgent need to address women’s emancipation as part of sustainable development.”
The Publisher/Chairman of The Guardian, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, in her welcome address, said the country can achieve gender equality by recognising the need for excellence among women.
“As a flagship publication, The Guardian has been in the forefront of promoting the aspirations of women. From our editorials to special publications and desks focused on telling the stories of successful women, whilst highlighting the challenges that leaders must proffer solutions to. By so doing, The Guardian is expanding the access to opportunities for women empowerment so as to enable them contribute their quota to the development of the Nigerian society,” she said.
Alex-Ibru continued: “Before this time, the tasks before us all have been daunting. But with the ever-can-do spirit of the woman, especially in the face of seemingly insurmountable hurdles, we are proud to celebrate the many that have emerged as models and icons of excellence, productivity, innovation and leadership, while inspiring others to climb the ladder. Regardless of the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected us on personal, national and global levels, together we have emerged stronger, wiser and better to fulfill our common destiny.
“The pandemic no doubt changed our perspective to how things have been done, and opened us all to a future of doing things differently. Has it been easy? Your answer is as good as mine. Yet we are here today, hosting a hybrid event that is happening both onsite, and online, whilst adhering to the covid-19 protocols,” the publisher stated.
While congratulating Tanzania’s new president, Samia Hassan, and the new Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, she harped on the need to “invest in women. We must invest in gender equality and women’s empowerment. It is the practical thing to do. These investments cannot only unlock the human potential on a transformational scale, the returns can be impactful on a geometrical level, for the benefit of all. We also must create platforms as the IWD2021 event to showcase these possibilities and gains.”
During the panel session, which featured the Chairman, First Bank of Nigeria, Ibikun Awosika; the United Nations Country representative for Nigeria, Comfort Lamptey, and the Director, Enterprise Development Center, Pan Atlantic University, Peter Bamkole, Fayemi said that the COVID-19 era has showed the world that those skills that were previously downgraded and looked down on have become key leadership skills.
“Some of the most successful countries battling the pandemic have been female-led countries. Some of the things that women have been asking for, including working from home, have now been adapted by many countries, including Nigeria. This shows that these things that women have been asking for aren’t unreasonable. Most women play in the SME sector, and have been challenged by many factors but are still managing to make things work. If we train women aggressively in their clusters on how to use technology to solve issues, we’ll achieve a lot.
“There’s an ongoing government project to help women recover during this post-COVID era, and I want women to seize the opportunity. If we solve digital tech engagement for women; help them reach their target market; help them seek available grants and source finances, then we have a winning formula for success. During the lockdown, many young girls and women were trapped with their abusers and predators, and Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) spiked significantly, forcing us to ask ourselves hard questions, and with the way things are, Nigeria may not meet her SDG Goals target in 2030,” she said.
Fayemi continued: “We need to assure that there’s easy access to justice for all, proper treatment of SGBV survivors, establishment of Sexual Assault Referral Centers (SARC), and shelters in all the states, education and re-orientation that will ensure the safety of women; community ownership, and a coordinative mechanism that ensures that SGBV laws are implemented to the fullest. It’s hard keeping girls in school because they’re preyed upon right from when they step out of their houses; from teachers, to classmates, to security guards all trying to take advantage of young girls. Many girls fall pregnant in school, and without good support their lives fall apart while the man involved goes on with his life, unconcerned. We need to break the cycle of generational poverty; every child especially girls need to stay in school.”
The governor’s wife, who maintained that the protection of young schoolgirls and women is the responsibility of everyone noted: “The government cannot secure everyone everywhere, so we need community ownership by taking the safety of our children in our own hands.”
On her part, Awosika, who said that Okonjo-Iweala is now being admired by everyone, explained that every Nigerian girl deserves the opportunity to showcase herself, and possibly become the next WTO DG.
“We don’t know if the girl that will cure this pandemic and other pandemics to come in the future has been abandoned in one village somewhere, wasting away. The system of every country must allow everyone to have basic education and the opportunity to realise their dreams. Most women are natural community builders, and many girls and boys start out equal, but as they rise in the world, girls drop off while boys go up the ladder because there’s a systemic process within organisations, and the society that makes it difficult for the girl that graduated with a first class degree (ahead of her male peers) to rise to the top of organisations. Women must play to win; women are competitive in many areas and we must encourage them in areas in which they are strong to succeed. I am not saying that we should erase men because the solution to lack of women representation is not total erasure of men, as we need all voices and equal representation for all.”
Bamkole pointed out that in his experience, women were more grounded, able to connect better with each other, and to solve bigger problems.
“We saw a lot of this during the pandemic and the YouWin programme. Women support each other a lot with a strong network of sisterhood. It’s clear that when you educate a woman you educate a nation because they go beyond themselves to elevate others. Many organisations are supporting women in different areas and women need to research these opportunities because they abound everywhere.”
Lamptey said her experience dealing with women all over Nigeria shows that women are not only capable of doing exploits; they show up and show out when the opportunity arises, which is why we need to give more space to more women especially women in leadership to change the fortunes of the country.
The summit, which was done in partnership with Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WimBiz) had in attendance several dignitaries including the First Lady, Dr. Aisha Buhari (represented by Aisha Bagudu); the wife Lagos State governor, Dr. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu (represented by Bukola Akinloye), female local council chairpersons.
Several women who have distinguished themselves in public service were recognised. They include the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen; Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, Dame Julie Okah-Donli; Hadiza Bala Usman; Hajia Aisha Bagudu; Ebele Obiano; Senator Oluremi Tinubu, and deceased Nigeria Air Force officer, Tolulope Arotile among others.