Women have come a long way. The stereotype of women’s role in society not going beyond fetching of water and hewing of wood is gradually giving way to a more positive perception of them and what they can offer.
This year’s edition of the International Women’s Day provided an opportunity not just to draw world attention to the rights of women, which are at the core of the event, but also to highlight their contributions and generally celebrate them.
The wave of stories, comments and creative displays on the media – conventional and social – to mark the event, which included celebration of the Nigerian woman as a mother, teacher, guide, breadwinner, etc, gave vent to the increasing acceptance of the role of the womenfolk and the positive impact their contributions have had, and are still having, on society.
The limitations that women face are numerous. These range from traditional beliefs, which limit the roles of women both at home and the larger society, to outright discrimination as regards educational and job opportunities, as well as participation in the decision making process on issues of governance.
However, through sheer resilience and determination, women have been able to rise above these limitations to excel in the different areas they have gone into. In Nigeria, history is replete with women who overcame socio-political barriers to play leading roles in the upliftment of the womenfolk in particular and society in general.
Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, generally referred to as the doyen of female rights in Nigeria, is remembered for founding the Women’s Union of Abeokuta, with over 20, 000 members, and leading the movements to abolish separate tax rates for women. A strong advocate of women’s rights, she provided workshops for uneducated women to learn trades.
Mrs. Margaret Ekpo was a women’s rights activist whose place in history is that of the organizer of the famous Aba Women’s Riots of 1929 that was staged to protest draconian colonial rule in the then Eastern Nigeria, particularly the special taxes that were levied on women.
Queen Amina is remembered as the Hausa warrior queen of Zazzau (present Zaria), around the 15th century. She is credited with military conquests and establishment of the first formal government among the Hausas.
These women achieved exploits with relatively lower level of education and exposure than the present crop of Nigerian women. But their places in history and, indeed, their footprints in the sands of time, remain indelible.
We can look around Nigeria today to see the numerous women that stood strong on all grounds and excelled in their chosen fields – the academia, the professions, business, and even politics – despite seeming disparity and limitations.
Women are increasingly playing leading roles in the corporate world, more than was the case a few decades ago. The first time a woman chaired the board of a bank was in the 1990s. Today, two of the leading banks in the country have their boards chaired by women.
In politics, female deputy governors are, admittedly, not occupying the office on the strength of their own personal efforts. But the fact that they are good enough to be number two citizens of states means they can run the states as well, if it is considered that the death or permanent incapacitation of a governor automatically thrusts on the female deputy the constitutional power to assume the office of governor.
In the legislative arm of government, both at the national and state levels, we have female lawmakers who won election purely on merit, not through any form of concession.
The seemingly low level of success recorded by women in politics cannot be separated from the relatively short lifespan of democratic governance in the country. In its 57-year history as an independent nation, the country has had barely 28 years of democratic governance. It is possible the level of political participation by women would have been higher if the democratic journey had been a smooth one, devoid of a longer period of military rule.
While space constraints may not allow for celebration of individual women in present day Nigeria who have attained great heights despite gender parity, one woman that is worth mentioning is Fatima Alhaji Kolo, a strong supporter of the reintegration of victims of sexual violence by Boko Haram, as well as internally displaced persons in the North East.
Kolo was selected by International Alert (an international non-governmental organization that promotes peaceful response to conflicts and also supports reconciliation process) and the Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN), to join the integration project as a community leader trained in peace building and non-violent conflict resolution. This also involved organizing support dialogues for victims of conflict, especially girls and children.
But it is not yet Uhuru for women. There is work to do, perhaps more than what has been done so far. Thankfully, the increasing awareness on the need for educating the girl child means there are more educated females in the country today than there were some three or four decades ago. This will, in the coming years hopefully result in more females holding higher offices and assuming greater responsibilities in the public and private sectors.
No other area presents the greatest challenge to the full realization of women’s potential than politics. It is one area women will require more than education to excel. They need to embrace politics in the same manner youths under the auspices of Not Too Young To Run are doing. They must come to terms with the fact that political power is not a gift. It has to be fought for. This, they will do, through mass mobilization by the various women groups to get women to participate in politics, from the grassroots level. They may not have the financial wherewithal to compete in the highly monetized Nigerian political field. But they have the numbers to make the difference.
Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, spoke from a position of knowledge when he advised women at a forum of Women in Management and Business themed, “Press for progress: Women, Politics and Nation Building” which held recently to be prepared to fight for political relevance, rather than expect to be given such on a platter of gold.
With concerted and intensified efforts by the various women social and professional groups in the country, all aimed at uplifting the status of women, the place of the Nigerian woman in all spheres can surely only get better.
Mojisola SAKA is a seasoned marketing and communications practitioner. She is the Chief Operating Officer of Soulcomms Limited- a leading engagement and communications company of long standing repute.