Stakeholders, students decry barriers to female leadership, proffer solutions
Several factors including societal norms and values, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, religious belief, constant threats and ethnicity were some of the challenges female students in executive positions in their various schools listed as drawbacks to attaining and keeping leadership as well as participating actively in their schools’ governance process.
Speaking at an interactive session held by HEIR Women Hub with some executives of the National Female Students Association of Nigeria (NFSAN), the students decried that asides the above-listed factors, other issues limiting them include poor self-esteem suffered by many women, limited support from other women, zero willingness on the part of female students to pursue leadership and executive positions.
Other factors identified are dearth of female role models in leadership that they could look up to and the fact that women in leadership/executive positions hardly recommend other women for leadership positions, overlooking competent women and giving men more opportunities.
One of the participants, Stella Oji regretted that most people still erroneously believe that women shouldn’t occupy top positions and most women that try to break the bias are discouraged as much as possible or even suffer harassment.
NFSAN president, Oyo State chapter, Peace Oyeleru gave an example of her school, where she said gender discrimination is still a major hindrance for them. “If a woman says she wants to be president of any association especially student union, all the men would work against her because they don’t want to work under her, they see women as beneath them. While many of us are fighting this bias, female student leaders must also look to mentor others coming after them to build up their capacity so they can in turn, challenge biases.”
Narrating her personal experience, state chairperson, NFSAN, Aliyu Mariam, from the Federal College of Education, Zaria said she once aspired to be her department’s president but was flatly told that a lady can’t rule as it is not Islamic. “After the elections which I won, a man was declared the winner but this experience didn’t deter me. I moved on to contest at the SUG level and I was again told that women weren’t allowed to contest. I went on to canvas other ladies and we fought this rule tooth and nail. Today, we have about eight women on the executive council and people were shocked as to how we did it. They kept on asking what we did and now, the current school administration is happy to work with us because they said we cooperate well and don’t give trouble. Presently, we have a woman running for SUG president and we’re going to support her as much as possible whether she wins or not. Discrimination against women is rife and it’s worse in the north where women are seen as lesser beings.
Amina Umar from Ibrahim Bademosi Babangida University, regretted that ethnicity and low self esteem still hinders girls and women from aspiring for leadership positions “Everyone in the north believes women are lesser than and are simply here to marry men and bear children. Women are strongly deterred from contesting from elective positions of any kind, keeping us subjugated”
Speaking on solutions, NFSAN national President, Modupe Mary Adetiba and the assistant secretary general, Janet Bukola, the duo agreed the ‘pull her down’ syndrome must be eliminated and they should encourage one another to succeed. “Some women would join men to place obstacles in the path of women in leadership just to destroy them, this shouldn’t be so. Capacity building is needed and our schools must help with improving gender equality by reviewing their school’s constitutions, which should reflect gender equality. Also, women must set good example for others coming behind so they are inspired to do so. It’s easier to castigate women that don’t do well than men so women leaders have to work twice as hard to be recognized. Mentoring, sensitization and positive impact would also go a long way in bridging this gap,” they said.