‘The society we live in is not fair to women’
Senator Uche Lillian Ekwunife is popularly known as Iyom, which is one out of many honorific titles she has garnered over the years as a result of her public-spirited and political activities. Mrs. Ekwunife has been a constant factor as far as politics is Anambra State is concerned.
Although she stumbled twice on her way to getting into an elective office, but since 2007 when she succeeded by being elected as member representing Anaocha/Njikoka/Dunukofia Federal Constituency in the lower chamber of the National Assembly, she has not looked back.
Who is Uche Ekwunife, politically speaking, is therefore, no longer a question anybody could ask in Anambra State or even in Nigeria.Having become a political heavyweight champion by virtue of defeating a national chairman of a political party on two occasions on her journey to the Senate, Ekwunife has become an authority, especially concerning the challenges women face in their search for a space to contribute their quota in the country’s public policy formulation and implementation.
But, what are those things people don’t easily recognise about Senator Ekwunife? In her words: “Well, I will say that I am just a woman that God’s grace, mercy and peoples’ grace has singled out not just in politics, but also in every area of my life.
“I came into life just like every other human being, I have my stories and challenges, but above all, same God’s grace and people have enabled me to stand out successfully.”
In Nigeria’s practice of constitutional democracy it has always been said that there are many impediments to women participation in politics. How did Senator Ekwunife overcome those challenges, especially the ones that revolve around economic and social hurdles, including culture and tradition?
“First and foremost, I had to deal with identifying that being a woman is not an impediment, rather a blessing. If men can succeed, so can women,” she said, adding, “The society we live in is not fair to women.
“Some of us that are where we are now had to rise above economic and social odds that are stacked against women. I remember as a young girl, after school I will go to a particular salon to help make ladies’ hairs and raise some extra money to augment my out of pocket allowance from my mum. My mother had all-girls children and she taught us early in life to be very prayerful and to be hardworking, never to depend on anyone for our needs.”
Talking about growing up years, were there things she dreamed of and dreaded about life, “yes,” she says, noting, “As a Child, I fantasied a lot about things, but one thing I dreamed most was to succeed in leading people, especially to ease the burden of the girl-child and the vulnerable in the society.
“Growing up, I feared failure. My mother played a major role in my growing up. She was a very prayerful woman and I remember as a child how my mother converted my dad’s garage to church. She gave out the space for the use of some Pentecostal churches for their church services. When they construct a permanent structure they will leave, only for another church to occupy the space.”
Having passed through those interesting times and attaining adulthood and motherhood, the senator made some recommendations on what she considers as keys to a brighter future for the girl child:
“Work on your mind and education. Why do I say so? You must understand that failures or successes are products of the mind. It is easier to succeed if you trust in God and work hard. Believe in His purpose for your life, develop your passion, believe in it and work towards it. With good education, the sky is your limit. Education is the only key to unlock the barriers of failure and ignorance.”
Rape, sex slavery and sexual harassment as well as human trafficking have become new barriers to women, particularly the girl-child in their vision for a fulfilling Life. The Senator disagrees, contending that “these are not really new barriers to the girl child; rather it has lately become more rampant.
She believes that tackling the scourge will have to be multi-faceted, stressing precisely that everyone has a role to play.As to whether there are workable solutions and strategies to change the narratives, the second term Senator said parents must give their children, both boys and girls, good upbringing on the vulnerabilities of those menaces.
“Remember, parents bring up both the rapist and the raped. If they were taught from the beginning the evils of rape, the spirit of hard work and the fear of God inculcated in them, that will turn out as the game changer.” She disclosed that so much is currently going on at the legislative levels in terms of bills and motions, adding that those in the executive branches like state governors and the presidency are making pronouncements.
“The Judiciary is, more than ever before, living up to its responsibilities. I am involved, there is hope and we must keep hope alive.”
Having been in the House of Representatives and Senate over the years, what does she think is the secret to her continual electoral victories?
“Service and people,” she declared, explaining, “Some people see politics as a vocation of enjoyment, while I look at it as an opportunity to serve humanity.
“When you serve people, you end up becoming their own. They follow you, they stand with you, and they don’t give up on you through thick or thin, because they know that you are always there to serve them.”
The men have always downplayed the issue of affirmative action for gender balance in governance in the guise that it is unconstitutional and undemocratic, so, how can women enjoy equal opportunity in politics?
“My take is that we have to keep pushing till the narratives are changed and like in most cases hard work. Women should keep demonstrating that we have what it takes to do the right thing. Yes we can.”
Against the background of legislators aspiring to become governors, the conversation should not come to a close without posing this question to Iyom Senator Uche Ekwunife:
If you are to compare and contrast the Executive and the Legislature, what are the things you would have liked to do for the people, which you could not do as a lawmaker?
Her words: “As a lawmaker, you are limited. As a state chief executive you can solve problems from your personal perspective, giving problems a human face. You can use empathy, which as a lawmaker is still subject to debate and amendments by other members. The difference between the two cannot be over-emphasised.”
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