By Chris Onuoha
African Women have been urged to step up their game in solidarity support to reposition female gender status in business, politics and homes. Former Malawian President, Dr. Joyce Banda who was a special guest at Women’s Power Lunch 2016 held last Thursday in Lagos by the Murtala Muhammed Foundation (MMF) made this call while delivery keynote speech saying there is a need for solidarity among women in Africa to actualize gender equality balance in relevant key positions in both private and public offices to avoid marginalisation.
Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode, the Chief Executive Officer of Murtala Muhammed Foundation and convener of the event in her opening remarks extolled the virtues of Dr. Joyce Banda as one woman that has championed the course of women in development ‘Enterprise across Africa’.
She expressed her confidence that with workshops like this creating the needed awareness, African women can achieve a lot in breaking barriers restricting them from having good position in public services and less pay in work places.
With the theme, “African women in development: Women in Solidarity … a paradigm for inclusion”, Dr. Banda elaborated on issues that pose as barriers for developing African women and proffered solution. She emphasized need for women to work with men in this course or lose it.
“We have talked too much for too long and it is time to bring the matter to the table because men are part of the problem and solution. The battle for gender equality is only beginning and we must not relent. I feel obligated not to lose the connection I have with my sisters in African countries. It’s natural to commit my time to the development of women in Africa.” Banda said.
According to her, economic empowerment is major role to improve women out of poverty, creating confidence for politics and leadership roles. Also abusive situation and domestic violence must be contained which somewhat affects self esteem.
Speaking further, she stressed on how to promote and support women leaders in Africa by illustrating her major contributions during her tenure as Malawi President through the appointment of deserving women in strategic positions in her cabinet. “I also formulated policies to remove unfair barriers for women to rise to the top.
My foundation worked relentlessly in helping women in Malawi to break from yoke of poverty by initiating girl child education, maternal health care and child mortality, confidence for leadership roles and others.” Banda said. She also talked about Rights of Women in business to have income and control it. And right of self control for HIV infection which women are most vulnerable.
Quoting from Gracia Machel’s statement that said ‘You are not a powerful woman until you reach out’, she said she was motivated to embark on foundation and projects that have impacted on the lives of women in her country Malawi. In her final statement she said, “Sustaining the empowerment of women do requires adequate support from both genders but emphasized it should be more from women. She urged women to support each other in faith and kind to achieve the objectives.
During the discussant session, the panelists made up Dr, Joyce Banda, Former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode were of the strong affirmation that women’s role in the developmental process in a nation’s politics and business should not be overemphasized, however, Mrs. Banda was of opinion that name calling in politics and scandals usually experienced by women aspiring for elective positions is not only for women but for both gender, quickly points that women should be supportive of their own and do not see the name calling as gender marginalisation.
According to her, Leadership across the globe is about scandalising and nothing to do with women, perhaps, hyped by the media while Obasanjo mentioned that scandal cut across gender. “Scandal is the bread and butter of politics”. He said.
Speaking on women aspiring to be president, Banda said “When women build strong leadership force within themselves internally, it becomes automatic.” Citing herself as case study, she said “It was made possible through built up experience and unbiased focus.”
Chief Obasanjo in his usual comic manner said, “The game is remove the person there and take over” which drew a wide laughter from audience. On a serious note, he disclosed that 3 things aspiring woman should do are: Education, which involves mental and psychological preparedness with character training. Physical, if you are invalid, that will reduce your chances and lastly, believe and trust in God.
On the issues of business development, Banda said starting little, expanding with building up a company of your own is the key. “With this on ground, project intervention by international donors will boost it while you have to form a foundation to enhance it.” Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode on her part said, “Women getting their priorities right is a solution to success. Women should cut down on ostentatious style and go for needful.”
On women’s right in politics, Obasanjo disclosed that formerly, in PDP, women don’t pay for election which according to him is an affirmative action. “However, operating in a male chauvinistic terrain, women need to manage men to get to the top, noticing that men have ego.”
Other issues like encouraging deserving women for elective post and in government services were discussed while Dr. Banda also highlighted on the hyena issue in Malawi which she said had a model that will eradicate the harmful tradition with the help of traditional chiefs.