By Blessing Oladunjoye
Women have been making impacts in their various fields, chosen careers and even homes, Blessing Oladunjoye shares some of the exploits that women have been making regardless of class, status, disability or level of education.
Nigeria ranks 139 out of 156 countries in the global gender gap index calculated by the World Economic Forum, and the labour force participation, financial gaps as well as leadership participations have widened in 2021. The low rate of women in the labour force is linked to low access to education.
Also, it is a known fact that women have never occupied the Presidency or the Vice Presidency post in the history of Nigeria. Significantly, the representation of women at the National Assembly is 5.8% between 1999-2015 compared to men with 94.2%.
According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, between 1999 – 2015, State Houses of Assemblies had 5.3%female and 94.7% male; while LGA Chairpersons were 9% female and 91% male. Lower in the category is councillorship seats, where women have occupied just 5.9% and men 94.1% between 1999 – 2015.
Furthermore, women are rare in senior positions: only 30% of managers and 13.9% of firms have female top managers. According to a research by International Finance Corporation, women are as qualified as their male counterparts, but do not attain leadership positions in the corporate environment and neither are they incorporated into as board members of organizations.
Women Impacting the Society Despite all Odds
Ekaete Judith Umoh, the National President of the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities, JONAPWD, joined JONAPWD in 2004 with the aim of advancing the rights of women with disabilities who are excluded in the mainstream women’s movement and within the disability space.
Sharing some of the challenges she faced before emerging as the National President of the Association, Umoh said, “it was a thug of war and people told me to my face that how will I as a woman ever think I would contest for the position of the National President of the association. I was considered to be too ambitious.”
“But little did they know that I’ve been building my army by providing opportunities for women with disabilities who suffer various levels of discrimination in the society.”
“This didn’t come easy”, Umoh said, adding that, “I was met with a lot of stereotypes and it was extremely discouraging.”
Stressing on the need to place priority on competencies instead of gender bias, Umoh revealed that, “it was when I joined JONAPWD that we constitutionalized the post of a woman leader. I also led the process which created affirmative action to ensure that at least 2 out of 6 Persons with Disabilities, PWD delegates who attend congresses are women. This would ensure that women are well represented.
“So, before I joined JONAPWD, women had no recognition in its constitution,” she added.
Without disregarding efforts by various development partners, International organizations and various Disabled Peoples Organizations, it was during the term of Ms. Umoh that the National Prohibition Against Persons with Disabilities (Discrimination) Act was assented to. The Act provides protection for the rights of over 25 million persons with disabilities across Nigeria and has led to the domestication of similar laws at state levels.
Umoh noted that “whenever I look back and think about the successes that have been recorded within the disability space over the years, I am always excited. People had thought I would fail, but being a woman doesn’t mean you lack capacity, it’s just that people find an excuse to make you a second fiddle, and that was what I rejected.”
The Society thinks men are good to lead, but I tell you, Women are the best to lead – Ekaete Judith Umoh
As a result of forced evictions and illegal demolitions which rendered her homeless and separated from her family in 2013, Bimbo Oshobe, popularly known as Iron Lady, co-founded the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation (aka Nigerian federation) with the aim of providing interventions for victims of forced eviction in urban Slum communities.
According to Oshobe, “The Nigerian federation is a movement of the Urban poor for their dignity and community development, which educates slum dwellers of their rights. Federation also has savings groups in slum communities for the purpose of financial independence among residents, and to empower them to be vibrant /resourceful to be part of policy change through advocacy, data /profiling and media campaigns to stop forced eviction of slum communities.”
Oshobe currently leads over 8,000 savers at Federation and has through Federation and various organizations like; Amnesty International, Slum Dweller International and Social Economic Rights Action Centre, SERAC, intervened in cases of forced eviction where victims were awarded justice against the Lagos State Government. One of such cases was the case of forced eviction in her community, Badia East where victims were awarded compensation, though minimal, but noteworthy.
A woman must be self-confident, don’t be intimidated by the forces around you, those who shun you and think you’re not capable. – Bimbo Oshobe
Madeleine Ngeunga, a Cameroonian Data Journalist and Editor with InfoCongo, a Geo Journalism platform that covers positive and negative environmental challenge going on in the Congo basin rainforest countries, despite limited access to the internet in Africa, has been able to use data and satellite imageries analysis and visualization to investigate on some of the most urgent topics of the world such as deforestation, land grabbing, Climate Change, that remain undercover topics in Africa.
Sharing how she has been to achieve this, Madeleine said, “I am grateful to the support from InfoCongo team and the different training I got from the French media cooperation and Global Forest Watch Fellowship,” however noting that, “it has not been an easy task working as a data journalist because of “limited access to electricity and internet that we encounter in most African countries.”
Speaking on how she has been able to overcome gender stereotypes in her career, Madeleine shared that, “when I emerged in a leadership role as an environmental journalist, half of the congratulatory messages I received were asking how I would cope as a woman and I believed this is one of the stereotypes and perceptions that women are not capable to lead or should rather take up some specific roles which the society design”
“One major thing we can do to address these stereotypes is to continually make very good use of opportunities that we have, as women, to lead,” Madeleine noted.
Young women should look for opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge and learn alongside colleagues in order to expand their knowledge and expertise – Madeleine Ngeunga
Ejiro Sharon Okotie, founder of Hope Inspired Foundation for Women and Youth (HIFWY), who lost her sight at age 11 revealed that “rejection, stigmatization and stereotypes about being a woman with disability were the reasons I decided to acquire quality education and I can say education opened me to the endless possibilities life could offer.”
Sharing her perception about being a leader, Ms. Okotie said, “leadership is diverse and I can say I’m a leader because through HIFWY, I have been contributing to raising a generation of productive young people, who can live their dreams, by creating an enabling environment for them to thrive in society through education, capacity building and economic empowerment”
Okotie believes that women can lead successfully if society doesn’t stop them, she said, “these stereotypes that women cannot lead emanate from deeply rooted traditional and cultural beliefs and perceptions about the role of women. In this part of the world, women are socialised to be homemakers and are basically groomed to only be married off to be good wives. This socialisation placed restrictions on other capacities that women possess.
“Do you know that, despite my level of education, I have 2 Masters Degree, and capacity, people would still prefer an unqualified person over me just because I’m a woman and also have a disability,” she lamented.
Society dictates what you can or cannot do but constant personal/professional development will set you apart and no one can stop your potential and capacity. – Ejiro Sharon Okotie
Being the queen could be a ‘figure head’ title as it is perceived that the husband is the ruler and not the wife. However, such is not the case with Olori Iyabo Akintokun, the queen of Idoka town in Ijeshaland, Osun State. Olori, as popularly called, despite her low level of education has been a staunch advocate for women inclusion in decision making processes in her town.
“As the queen, whenever they bring any issue to the palace, I could have recommendations or suggestions to make things better, but they (the chiefs) would never allow me to make any input. Up to the extent that ‘Kabiesi’ (the king) would also tell me not to be involved. Oftentimes, it is more like an embarrassment to me, but I understand the importance of making our voices heard. After all, the Yoruba adage acknowledges that both young and old have ways of making an impact in their own ways.
“Also, there is a chieftaincy position for women which is, ‘Yeyerangun’, a similar title to ‘Iyaloja’ in some towns, but whenever the village elders are having meetings every Friday, the ‘Yeyerangun’ is never involved. This made me wonder how possible it is to neglect women’s voices in decision making in the town.”
To ensure that the voices of women count, Olori had to engage the chiefs one after the other and explained the importance of involving women in decision making.
“Currently, ‘Yeyerangun’ engages with women in the village, collates their requests and concerns and shares it with the village elders during the weekly meetings at the palace,” Olori recounts in excitement.
Rejection could be from anyone, including your close relatives, but you have to continually pursue what you believe in – Olori Akintokun
Enacting Gender-Sensitive Laws and Policies
It is important that there are laws and policies that would help to promote the participation of women in leadership and political positions. Corporate organizations should design policies and frameworks that are gender-sensitive with the aim of ensuring that women attain top management positions.
Regarding political leadership positions, the National Assembly should pass laws that seek to promote women’s emergence into leadership positions. One of such is the bill titled; “A Bill for An Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to create additional special seats for Women in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly
The bill seeks to create special seats for Nigerian women in the two chambers of the National Assembly, which is sponsored by the deputy chief whip of the House, Hon. Nkiruka Onyejiocha representing Umunnechi/Isikwuato federal constituency of Abia State with over 100 members of the House including Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and all the principal offices as co-sponsors, if passed into law will help to increase the emergence of women into political leadership positions.
Speaking after the second reading of the bill, Hon. Onyejiocha said, “this bill seeks to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 to remedy the low representation of women in Legislative Houses by providing for the creation of additional separate seats to be contested and filled by only women in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly as a temporary measure to promote women’s representation.
“I would like to emphasise that women’s inclusion in politics is not just a women or human rights issue, but also an issue reflecting our history and traditions in our governance process, and I truly believe that this Bill has potential for improving women’s political representation.”
Also reacting to the potentials of the bill, Mr. Bukola Idowu, Executive Director, Kimpact Development Initiative, a non-governmental organization working on the advancement of youths and women in governance, highlighted that “this bill is not reserving seats for women but creating additional seats in all Senatorial Districts across the country. This will definitely increase women’s representation.”
He also noted that “the body language of the National Assembly and the Executive is suggestive that the bill would be assented to and this would be a great achievement of the 9th National Assembly.”
Achieving an Equal Future – Leaving No one behind
It is evident that women, regardless of age, disability, education or class have made notable impacts in their little spaces. What then is the basis for stigmatization and discrimination against women’s capacity in governance or leadership positions?
Just like Ejiro Okotie shared, “It is time for parents, friends, teachers and society in general, to consciously raise all children, regardless of their gender, to dream, set goals and reach out for whatever they can achieve. Because if you can dream it, then you can be it!”
Olori Akintokun also believes that “there should be the inclusion of women, to achieve an equal world and ensure no one is left behind.”
This year’s International Women’s Day theme – Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World, recognizes that when women lead, results are evident. Thus, it is important to be deliberate about involving women in leadership positions.
This story was supported by Code for Africa through its WanaData initiative, and funded by the Global Forest Watch (GFW) with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment (KLD). GFW supports data-driven journalism through its Small Grants Fund Initiative.