Accelerating the journey of women into power – Part 2
In 1975 the then military government ordered each state to have nine commissioners of which at least one must be a woman. That was in 1975 – women had about 11%/12% representation at the top of Government. If that seed had been allowed to grow, women’s representation would have increased to at least the UN benchmark of not less than 30%. Moving it to 50% to compensate for lost opportunities and to bring greater and diverse strength to the polity would be more than justified. But instead we have regressed.
Women should be, and in many cases actually are, demanding these changes. Not only because it will bring progress to women but because it will also improve the lives of men, and perhaps most importantly, because the change will be good for Nigeria. Their participation would enhance the social order generally. Women are often better managers and they prioritise the family unit. They would bring skill and efficiency to the job of providing better education, healthcare and childcare. They focus on what is really important without the distraction of the ‘macho’ competition that often distracts and overwhelms the male political environment. They will help us enhance the core values of care, love, respect and regard within families that will inevitably transfer from family to family, building healthier and more wholesome communities, states, and countries.
But choosing to focus in on these benefits only risks extenuating existing stereotypes into our interpretation of the role of women in politics. Let’s be clear, that is not what I mean. I believe enhanced female leadership will also translate into better national security, a better performing economy and lower crime rates.
Contrary to stereotyped perception, women are great financial managers. Go to many households across our country and it is the women who take the lead managing the families finances, and earning the money that the family needs.
Women are great communicators. There is none of the ambiguity about the point that they want to make. Women are extremely patriotic and fierce, passionate defenders of what they see as important, and they teach their children this same passion. There is no doubt that they can, and have, translated this into strength in political debate, and even in direct conflict. Nigeria could do with more passion; more patriotism. If it is brought to work every day and embedded in our leadership, it will awaken a new sense of patriotism in each of us.
I can already hear the mumbling of men across Nigeria as they read this. If women are busy running parastatals, ministries, local governments, states and countries, who will take care of the home? Only men would ask this question. First of all, women have no issues multi-tasking. They have untapped capacity to take on various roles and execute each one as though it were their only role. Women across the world already run nations, states, companies, excelling both at home and at work. But it is not right to expect them to do this without support. Perhaps the greatest outcome of this transition will be the need for fathers to at last get to know their children better and to play greater roles in the home. That is not something that men should resist.
I know there will be other objections from those who want to maintain the status quo. Those who will say that our ‘traditions’ dictate male superiority. Or that our religions do. The idea that women’s ‘skill’ in the home cannot be translated into leadership. All false premises being rapidly disproved. Where elements of these traditions do seek to prevent it, they should be changed. The current way of doing things has not exactly served us well!
In some of our traditional cultures, women cannot inherit anything when their fathers or husbands die. A woman`s husband dies and she is regarded with suspicions as having killed her husband. She is secluded; the husband`s brother takes the keys of the cars, house and bank account. That cannot be fair, but more than that, it is destructive. These customs will have to change just as others have changed because all cultures are ultimately dynamic. Just look at the European Monarchies. It was always the first male child that succeeded. This has changed and most of them no longer follow an exclusively male primogeniture. Why can that not apply to our own Emir’s, or Chiefs? What have the male’s that have been Chiefs for decades achieved for us other than collecting money to keep themselves while doing little for the people? No need to abolish them.
They can do some work in keeping the traditions, settling family disputes. But we should also give women a chance to fill these positions.
Religion? I hear you say? The scriptures that seek to embed the same male dominance, but they too have, or are changing in interpretation. Would there be an evangelical movement without women? There wouldn’t, and that’s predominantly why we now have female evangelical pastors. Interpretations can shift to suit the norm, and that includes Islam, Hinduism and Judaism, in which we have also seen female leadership emerge in some way shape or form.
Coming to this realisation at the age of 80 is in some ways painful. Others should avoid it and get there quicker! But having done so, I want to lend my voice to the debate on how to ensure that we can accelerate it.
What proof can I give you that this should be implemented as soon as possible? The countries globally that have managed the impact of COVID-19 best so far, have been women. From Germany and New Zealand, to Taiwan, Scotland and Iceland.
The unofficial ‘leaders’ of the #EndSars protests in Nigeria, which until they were sadly hijacked, were a group of women, who put in place a level of organisation and support that was unprecedented, and in a very short period of time. The most successful British Monarchs were women. From Elizabeth I and II to Queen Victoria. Perhaps the greatest British political leader of recent years, Margaret Thatcher, was a woman.
The New Zealand example is one I find especially poignant. Both candidates in the recent election were women, and during the campaign, the winner, Jacinda Ahern, delivered her campaign speech in both English and Maori, demonstrating a cultural inclusiveness that is very rare. Would a man have done that? Her empathy for the victims of terrorism, despite them being a minority, was hugely impressive. These are the leadership qualities that the world needs to navigate the challenges in front of us. Women are showing us they have them. We must do all we can to give them the chance. They have waited long enough.
Dr. Cole OFR, is Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Brazil.
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