Jobs for the girls!
By Donu Kogbara
David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, recently revealed that his wife, Samantha, regularly berates him for not having enough women in his Cabinet.
There are only four females in Cameron’s 27-strong Cabinet. Meanwhile, only 47 out of the 302 Members of Parliament from Cameron’s Party are women; and we’re told that Samantha, a senior company executive who is accomplished in her own right, thinks that her husband’s failure to promote women is depriving his Government of “more than 50% of the talent” he could access.
The above statistics make Cameron look like an old-fashioned male chauvinist. And, in a bid to improve his image amongst voters (and stop his wife from carping!), he has admitted that he can do better and has said that he is aiming to ensure that one in three ministerial posts will be held by women by 2015.
Our feisty, feministic First Lady, Dame Patience, is also known to share Mrs Cameron’s concerns about gender equality; and, perhaps because of her influence, President Goodluck Jonathan has really tried on this front.
He has put women in charge of key sectors like Finance, Education and Aviation; and, until he came along and displayed a surprisingly radical streak, I never imagined that any Nigerian Head of State would agree to allow the premier cabinet slot – Petroleum – to be occupied by a “mere” female in my lifetime.
Even in more advanced nations, petroleum ministries have always been headed by chaps; and no matter what reservations some folks may have about Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke’s stewardship of our oil industry, it is pretty amazing that a lady is sitting in that very prestigious and very powerful hot seat.
When political leaders, captains of industry, etc, go out of their way to elevate women and other historically disadvantaged groups, they are said to be pursuing Affirmative Action or Positive Discrimination agendas. And there was a time when I had grave doubts about this approach.
I spent my formative years in Britain; and there was much talk, while I was growing up and in the early stages of my career, about the “need” for white-controlled organisations to drop their recruitment standards, so they could make space for black people and help them progress, educationally as well as employment-wise, in a “hostile” environment.
The rationale underpinning this viewpoint was that most Blacks in Britain had low self-esteem and/or lacked adequate qualifications because they were victims of racism or slavery or colonialism…or were simply from underprivileged family backgrounds that had not encouraged them to fulfil their intellectual potential or believe in themselves.
That – the l980s and l990s – was also the era in which there were endless discussions in public fora in the UK about the “need” for male decision-makers to bend over backwards to actively assist women to escape from the bondage of low expectations, limited opportunities and a patriarchal system.
It was even said, on several occasions, that the entry requirements for women and blacks should be lower than the entry requirements for men and Whites.
Such debates were driven by male and female liberals from all ethnic groups. And these liberals were staunchly opposed by male and female Darwinians of all hues, this columnist included. It was quite a battle.
As someone who happened to be Black as well as female, I belonged to both of the groups that the liberals pitied; and I resented the passionate, protective rhetoric they lavished on the world on my behalf. I acknowledged it as sincerely well-meaning but also felt patronized, infantilized and humiliated by it.
I was, in a nutshell, too proud, too stubborn and too doggedly self-sufficient to regard myself as a weakling who needed babying or special treatment.
Margaret Thatcher had become Prime Minister without Positive Discrimination or Affirmative Action. Some British Blacks had done very well indeed without Positive Discrimination or Affirmative Action. And because I had OK academic credentials and bags of social confidence and had easily outshone many men and Whites in academic arenas and various workplaces, I felt totally equal to these alleged oppressors and didn’t want anyone to ascribe any successes I might eventually achieve to Positive Discrimination or Affirmative Action.
I wanted to earn real respect. I didn’t want to be propped up and cosseted. And I was furious with any Black or female who was not as tough as I was.
Survival of the fittest
But you know what? I’ve changed my mind and become a bit kinder in old age! I’ve also endured a few failures that have compelled me to become humbler.
Life should not always be about the survival of the fittest. The fittest are few and far between; and civilized societies SHOULD make serious efforts to actively support groups that have suffered injustices and individuals who will stumble if nobody bothers to hold their hands as they struggle to keep going.
So kudos to President Jonathan for doing more for women than any of his predecessors. And to David Cameron…if he means what he says.