IWD: It’s time to break the glass ceiling
The global community today beams an unprecedented searchlight on biases women face in the cause of building the nation, as the world commemorates International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022.
Nigeria, as a member of the global community, should show more than a passing interest in challenging those factors that impede the social, economic, cultural and political progress of women. Indeed, the country has not shown an admirable record in women’s affairs but the time is ripe to break the glass ceiling.
Coming on the heels of the global movement for realising women’s rights, equality and justice, the IWD 2022 is marked with the theme: #BreakTheBias. The unique celebration is an opportunity to consider how to accelerate globally, the 2030 agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) five and four – to ‘‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’’ and ‘‘ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning,’’ in that order. Although it is now globally accepted that both men and women have complementary roles to play in a nation’s development, some forms of bias against women and girls continue to hold women back and deprive them of their basic rights and opportunities.
Such prejudices loom larger in the Nigerian socio-political, cultural and economic spheres, where women’s contributions and potential to national development are still freely palmed off. The House of Representatives’ recent rejection of a bill seeking to reserve special seats for women at the National and State Houses of Assembly is a stark reminiscence of enduring biases against women. Of the 302 lawmakers present at the session, only 81 voted in favour of parliamentary seats for women! Similarly, the male-dominated House also expressly threw away another bill seeking to provide for affirmative action for women in political party administration.
Besides politics, available evidence affirms that Nigeria is yet to birth equality in business, economy and other spheres of human endeavour. Particularly in political leadership, corporate boardrooms and factory floors, women are yet to have equal say in the policies and decisions that affect their lives, bodies and environment, from villages to cities. Besides, Nigeria is yet to achieve significant and sustainable progress on the socio-economic emancipation of women.
Yet, inimitable are the roles Nigerian women consistently play in nation-building. The famous quote, “women are the backbone of the family and the bedrock of a nation” succinctly captures these unsung heroes. They have consistently brought lives to the world, nurture families, and work harder to cater for loved ones. Unbroken by the stakes, they consistently shine in all walks of life – including the male-centric political space – juggling both family life and the demands of a career. Women deserve better opportunities, fewer prejudices, to do more for national development.
This newspaper, therefore, aligns with the global community on the need to break the bias. The delimiting hurdles before Nigerian women are at variance with the ultimate goal of the Nigerian National Gender Policy (NGP), which is to build a just society devoid of discrimination, harness the full potential of all social groups regardless of sex or circumstance, promote the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and protect the health, social, economic and political well-being of all citizens to achieve equitable rapid economic growth. Ipso facto, adherence to this policy is yet to be fulfilled, and the National Gender Policy has been a mere beauty on paper.
However, the IWD 2022 is an opportunity to cascade the theme: #BreakTheBias, into action. This is by embracing integrated and innovative approaches and new solutions that disrupt “the usual” to advance gender equality and empowerment of women. Break the bias that they face through cultural norms, policies, laws, professional bodies, media reportage and civil society activities, particularly in the areas of survival, development, social protection, participation in decision making, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure. Also, to celebrate the activists who are working relentlessly to claim women’s rights and realise their full potential.
Specifically, women groups and NGOs should push for the institutionalisation of accountability mechanisms and frameworks in the implementation of the NGP and the use of gender-disaggregated data for planning. Available evidence since the return of civilian rule in 1999 and the socio-political realities suggest the need for constitutional and electoral reforms in Nigeria, especially as it has to do with challenging the marginalisation of women in politics. Women groups should hold Mr. President and the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs to account for the non-implementation of Nigerian NGP.
Despite the recent debacle in the House of Representatives, development-conscious political parties should not only have women leaders but be deliberate about having women stand for elections by ensuring that women emerge as candidates in party primaries. Nigerian women makeup about half the population and should be politically aware to convert this strength to power. They should be politically conscious, get Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), be ready to vote and be voted for in 2023. Also, women should engage the government using moral suasion, advocacy, bargaining and negotiation for power to pursue internal party democracy that will entrench affirmative action in party constitutions.
Women who choose to work can make a significant difference in their success in life. Albeit they face rough weather on the way, society should forge inclusive work cultures where women’s careers thrive and their achievements are celebrated. Similarly, we should seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. It increases their visibility by spotlighting remarkable women leaders while calling out inequality and raising awareness against bias.
Together, we can all help create an inclusive world. From breaking the bias comes change. So, let’s all choose to break the bias and birth equality in political leadership, technology and innovation, feminist leadership, corporate boardrooms and factory floors. End gender-based violence, promote economic justice and rights for all, bodily autonomy, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminist action for climate justice. We are co-pilots and together we land the plane of gender-balanced development safely. So, cross your arms to show solidarity!