WHEN WOMEN WIN: NIGERIA’S UNPLUGGED FORCE
The Woman Leadership Conference in Dubai holds lessons for Nigeria, writes Joshua J. Omojuwa.
The United Arab Emirates’ Dubai provided the backdrop for a gathering of a select group of inimitable women of Black descent. The excellence in display was a perfect match, some of the best minds out of Africa and its diaspora with Dubai serving as a poignant canvas of what could be. If development followed the David and Goliath model, where if you picked the best individual in each country to go one-on-one against one another, Africa would be the cap of the pyramid. Because women to women and men to men, we can challenge the rest of the world and come out tops. Sadly though, for Africa and specifically Nigeria, development largely depends on many moving parts aligning to achieve a common purpose. While the rest of the world recognizes the enormous value of female participation in society, Nigeria has yet to fully leverage its own human potential.
There is no better representation of this failing than our tendency to treat women as an afterthought in our pursuit of development. If one needed yet another argument on why that is such a great failure on our part, the just concluded meeting of some of the world’s most influential and successful women at The International Woman Leadership Conference – #TIWLC2023 – in the UAE city of Dubai closed the debate. Extraordinary women of Black descent shone like stars bestriding the Arabian desert and Nigerian women helped to provide the initial spark. The icons in attendance from across the Black race – from Africa to the United States, South America, Canada and the Caribbean Islands – reflected the convening power of the Dubai government. At least, that is what you would understandably think until you learn the whole experience was conceptualized, nurtured and developed in Nigeria by Mrs. Ibukun Awosika.
In essence, what you would have understandably ascribed to the soft power of the Dubai government and its ability to attract the best brains was entirely made in Nigeria by a Nigerian woman, except that Dubai provided the platform for it to thrive. It did because even with its Nigeria ban in place, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce worked with the organisers to ensure visas for about 300 Nigerian delegates who comprised about half of the total delegates. It takes a government that knows that a crying person can still see, to adopt some pragmatism when it comes to its interest.
Women of Black descent are the beau idéal of Black Excellence – the evidence speaks for itself. If our collective continues to stay short of the efficiency and excellence required to build societies that work, we should seek the lost opportunity embedded in the greatness of our own women.
Through the ages and years of indoctrination, we have asked that they can speak but be quiet, that even when they stand, they better not stand too tall. That even when they appear, they better not be seen. That they are free to be great, but within the walls of home. That they can be driven but not enough to drive men away. We have largely domesticated our force of nature and instead unleashed our barest minimum to the rest of the world. By maintaining a system that moderates our women’s ability to attain their full human expression, we are in essence undermining our collective quest for development.
We have a systemic problem designed to reserve tokens for women and young people – woman leader here, youth leader there. We have heard successive governments make the right statements on ensuring respectful representation for both genders and young people. Clearly, statements do not change systemic problems, if they did, we wouldn’t be dealing with the dearth of representation of both groups across the different levels of our government. Platforms like Elect-HER are advancing a new design to ensure better representation for women via election and appointments. The work that Ibijoke Faborode and her colleagues are doing will require the right laws to bring these ideals to fruition. This is not an agenda in the interest of women, it is an agenda in the interest of our race.
We’d need a gender-based affirmative action. Not the type that’d say, ‘at least 35 per cent women’, but one that’d ensure both genders are represented by at least a certain percentage, say 35 to 40 percent. Whilst compromises may be permitted on this quest, none of it should treat the process as a favour for women. I remember refusing to join one of those advocacy projects because whilst it intended to push for more women in parliament, it was going to do that by asking for more seats. I believe women can and should be represented within the current design and numbers. We do not need to expand government to make it inclusive of women and young people. We just need to design a system that automatically ensures the best people across both genders and age groups are well represented. Until then, we’d stay stuck with these tokens and the extremely slow progress it delivers. If we crave discontinuous change, we must break the norm.
For an event full of highlights, a telling one at the TIWLC 2023 was the health component where Dr. Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu mentioned that the HPV vaccine, that for many years eluded women in Nigeria because of its limited availability, was now going to be added to Nigeria’s routine immunization schedule from September 2023. This is on the back of the work she and others have put in over the years. At times, it takes wearing the shoes to know where and how they hurt. This is a reminder that policy and agenda for development are more likely to miss the mark if boards and committees continue to be dominated by men. We’ve got a great group to select from, this Dubai meeting was yet another proof of it. I hope the next administration breaks from the norm on this front.
Source: Thisday news