Untapped natural resource: The vital role of women in governance
It is encouraging to read a 2019 list of countries with at least 50% female cabinet ministers. The newest addition is South Africa which joins Sweden; France; Canada; Seychelles; Colombia; Ethiopia; Rwanda; Finland; Spain; Costa Rica; Nicaragua; Norway and others, in having a government of which it could be said that both genders are adequately represented. Even the Republic of Guinea has enacted a law stating that 50% of candidates for elective positions must be female. So where are we on this matter? Why does it seem as if we are regressing in the area of gender inclusion?
After our recent 2019 election, the number of female senators dropped from 8 to 7 out of a total 109 available seats. The number of female members of the House of Reps dropped from 19 to 11 out of an available 360 slots. We only had 6 female cabinet members during the 8th Assembly. As the 9th Assembly commences we hope that the number of female cabinet members does not fall too. When history looks back on the 9th Assembly may they be remembered as the lawmakers who stood up for women and championed the cause of fair representation for all Nigerians.
As I wrote in my 2015 article Nigeria’s Greatest Natural Resource, there is a lot of talk about “inclusive growth”. That’s all well and good but in addition to this, it is worth repeating that we need an “inclusive government”. A government that includes capable, honest citizens based on merit irrespective of gender.
There is a positive correlation between gender equality and economic growth. Countries that do not treat women as second class citizens are more likely to prosper in a sustainable manner, and this is true regardless of the prevailing ideology or religion of that country. Look at Rwanda. Look at Dubai. Both places rank high in comparative regional gender equality surveys and both have experienced an upward trend in economic prowess and social development over the last 14 years and 44 years respectively. In the book Flashes of Thought, the Ruler of Dubai Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum says of his government “Our job is to provide an environment that unlocks women’s potential – one that protects their dignity and femininity, helps them create the necessary balance in their lives, and values their talents and potential. Given this environment, I am confident that women will perform nothing short of miracles”. To that end, as at 2015, 70% of university graduates in Dubai are women. 85% of his personal team are women. 65% of their government employees are women and 30% of the leadership positions are held by women.
Closer to home, let’s look at Rwanda. Since the genocide ended over 10 years ago, women have generally made up more than 50% of their parliamentarians. Currently approximately 68% of their members of parliament are female. During that time Rwanda has experienced year-on-year GDP growth. Their GDP per capital, their Gross National Income per capital, their Agricultural Production Rate and their Food Production Rate have all increased steadily over those years. Is this a coincidence? I think not. I once heard someone say that women are the greatest causalities of war and he might be right. This being the case, by putting capable women in leadership positions you have a government that is less likely to make decisions that would lead to civil unrest or war. Prosperity fosters in times of peace. The absence of confusion and an orderly society fosters progress. One could therefore argue that the more women you have in leadership positions the more likely you are to have an orderly and prosperous country.
In her essay The Economics of Exclusion, University of Oxford Business Professor Linda Scott illustrates in monetary terms the national benefits of adequately including women in leadership and the hidden, indirect cost of excluding them. “Taking account of the benefits of including women should encompass not just the growth possibilities, but the bigger economic impact lies in avoiding the costs associated with exclusion, such as…hunger, violence and disease.”
In some of her other work Scott compares the Women’s Economic Opportunity data compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the National Competitiveness Index created by the World Economic Forum. Her findings show that “a country making concerted efforts to protect, support, educate, and place its women would be making similar decisions across the board to maximize its other resources”.
There are living examples of gifted leaders all over the world who happen to be female, women such as Valerie Amos, Michaelle Jean, Ursula Burns and Condoleezza Rice. We also have our fair share of such assets here in Nigeria and in deciding who should form part of the leadership team that moves this country forward, let those who are gifted with skill, scruples, stamina and a solid track record prevail irrespective of their gender.
It should be a public policy priority to “provide an enabling environment for women to achieve their highest potential.” That environment would be one that protects them from violence, one that does not force them to compromise their principles and one that includes them on the basis of competence.
Overlooking women for positions in leadership would be akin to a self-inflicted brain drain. Speaking of a brain drain, Valerie Amos is originally from Guyana and Michaelle Jean was born in Haiti. Both women achieved sterling results on behalf of their adoptive countries, the United Kingdom and Canada respectively. If the right environment had existed in their countries of birth they probably would not have left and perhaps they’d be doing these wonders as emissaries of their birth countries rather than as representatives of their adoptive countries. Let us create the right environment here in Nigeria so that capable women (and men) don’t have to leave the shores of their country to find a place where their intellectual talents can be maximized and appreciated.
The positive change that we would like to see is the significant inclusion of clever, capable, conscientious and compassionate women in government leadership. Let us realize the benefits inherent in our greatest natural resource. Let us uphold the spirit and the letter of our National Gender Policy. You can create an environment that enables women to succeed or sets them up to fail. By choosing the former, the whole nation, male and female, young and old, will also move forward.
This article was first published in June 2015 as “Nigeria’s Greatest Natural Resource”, updated June 10, 2019. Olubunmi Aboderin Talabi is an author, publisher and the founder of Clever Clogs Books. She is the current Executive Council Chairperson of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), and is also the Chairperson, Board of Trustees, of the OA Foundation.
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