Themed Press for Progress, this year’s International Women’s Day celebration called attention to the gender gap and charged women to support each other to attain enviable heights in society.Amina Oyagbola and other Nigerian women were not left out as they joined their counterparts around the globe to mark the day designated to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women, with various activities.
While notable Nigerian women including the wife of the President of Nigeria, Aisha Buhari seized the opportunity to call for an end to violence against women, some others such as former MTN Executive, Managing Consultant AKMS Consulting and WISCAR Founder, Amina Oyagbola also charged Nigerian women to equip and position themselves for leadership roles.
She posited that Government should be at the forefront of the fight for gender parity both in terms of advocacy, education and awareness to change mindsets and attitudes; and in terms of policy and legislation to enforce women’s rights by passing certain laws (Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill) and repealing draconian laws. Mrs. Oyagbola stated that CEOs of private sector organizations should make gender diversity and inclusiveness a priority, institute gender friendly policies and create the enabling environment for women to thrive to enhance productivity and improve business performance. The level of female participation is a leading indicator for development.
Question: The struggle of women’s rights has come a long way; do you think there is any success?
Amina Oyagbola: I think we have made some progress globally. There are women presidents all over the world, there are women ministers of state, any position you can think of; a woman has finally emerged and broken that glass ceiling but we are still far away from achieving gender parity and gender equality. If you look at the world economic forum report of 2017, it says that it will take us another 200 years to achieve gender parity and bringing it home to Nigeria, even though women have achieved certain feats like we have a female Chief Justice of the Federation, we have several judges of the high court and also women are occupying significant positions, we have had female ministers but we still have never had a female Governor and President, the question is WHY? The gap is real, both in the public and private sector. If you look at the data, it is really embarrassing and appalling. In politics, we have less than 7% of women represented, the question is WHY? In the private sector, less that 5% of women are CEOs, less than 11% of women are on boards; the stories go on and on. The statistics are really bad. The question is WHY is this so?
Question: A lot of people want the answer, so why do you think this is so?
Amina Oyagbola: There are several reasons and a lot of them are rooted in history, in our traditions, and socio- cultural norms; in the way we have been brought up and socialized. We need a major attitudinal and mind set shift not just from the men but also from the women. Women must also accept that essentially, we are the architects of the society; we are the primary care givers and nurturers of children. So how do we bring up our children; children don’t have these biases, they don’t know inequality as children. They do not discriminate. When they are in school and eventually go to the work place, the environmental influences take root and the cultural nuances that they observed and took place in the house where all these issues are rooted is where we need to attack. If a young girl has been brought up to hear that her place is in the kitchen and she should not aspire to anything greater, even when she goes to school and she is educated, she will think that she is only good enough to be kitchen bound and this is consequently translated to the office. When you get to the office and a woman wants to speak out, the men will shout her down and that is because they are used to seeing that scenario play out in the home. We need a major attitudinal shift and change in mindset, even in organizations and it must start from the top. The CEOs of organizations need to make gender equality and gender diversity a priority. They need to advocate and sell the business case for it to men and women. We are not ‘pressing for progress’, for the sake of it. There is an economic reason why we should all press for change and progress. There is a benefit that will accrue to the larger society, to both men and women if there is gender equality and diversity.
Question: Do you think that women should be more aggressive with their demands instead of just waiting for opportunities because it will not come to them on a platter of gold?
Amina Oyagbola: At the end of the day, power is not given; you have to seize it. We also have a responsibility to say that in spite of the challenges, we must position ourselves, equip ourselves, build capacity and support each other to make this change happen. Many people have sacrificed to get us to where we are. The suffragettes sacrificed over a hundred years ago, to enable us enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy today. Building on that, we have to continue to press for change, press for progress and ensure that our voices are heard. The few of us that have been able to overcome the obstacles and get into decision making fora need to ensure that the policy changes that need to be made for women to be properly enabled and empowered actually take place.
Question: So how can we ensure that the conversation goes beyond the 8th of March?
Amina Oyagbola: There are several things that can be done. There are several women organizations and a lot of civil society organizations, WISCAR (Women in Successful Careers) being one of them. WISCAR focuses on a very small piece which is strategic mentoring and building capacity through training and that is very important; building the confidence of women, ensuring that there is self-awareness, sending a message across that we can do it and role modeling. It is important to note that the government also has a responsibility to drive gender equality and ensure that there is proper representation of women is every sphere of activity and in every sphere of life. This can be achieved through advocacy and education and by taking simple steps like enabling transparency in certain processes. For instance what is the nomination process for elective positions and appointments? The process is very opaque. How do people emerge? What is the criteria that is used? A lot of the time one hears things like we would like to have put a woman there, but we could not find a woman who was qualified. That is certainly not true. There are women out there who are capable and competent. Women who have the zeal, vigor, agility of mind; we are in a knowledge world today. Gone are the days when physical strength was required and necessary. What you need today is your intellect, your mental strength and agility to get things done. Women are as bright as the men and in many cases brighter.