•Odumakin, Afolabi, others speak
BY CHARLES KUMOLU, Deputy Features Editor
The demise of the late anti-apartheid heroine, Winnie Mandela is not just the passage of a historical icon.
It comes with sweeping significance for the 21st century African woman, especially the Nigerian woman.
So relevant is the event that treating it as just the passage of an amazon, would only but deny women some critical ingredients that could promote their cause.
Her passage is indeed an auspicious event to interrogate the 21st century role of Nigerian women in nation building.
The status of women is currently a far cry from what it was in the pre-colonial, colonial and early post independent Nigeria when they challenged the status quo to bring about social change.
Alteration of social order
Today, women in the country are believed to have lost the traction that made them pivotal to the alteration of the social order in the times past.
Even with the successes, a lean percentage have recorded in the private sector, Sunday Vanguard observed that the 21 century Nigerian woman seems to have lost her voice in a society in dire need of social justice. It is indeed an irony that such is obtainable in the age of feminism. Interestingly, local and international statistics exist to justify the observation about the declining role of women in nation building.
For instance, writing in Gender and Development: Challenges to Women Involvement in Nigeria’s Development, Fapohunda Tinuke, observed thus: “Though there has been considerable progress in developing the capabilities of women, their participation in economic and political decision making remains very limited. Women’s inequitable gender relations, their poverty and powerlessness in the society are
Similarly, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, recently lamented that in the 2015 general election, only 44 percent of female voters came out for accreditation compared to 56 percent of male voters. It however considered the situation worrisome given that the participation of women in governance and decision making process is a major goal in the Global Development Agenda as embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals ,SDGs.
New social order
These are indeed painful facts considering how women had dared cultural elements, especially patriarchy in the past, to enthrone a new social order in Nigeria.
Sunday Vanguard recalls that the country had produced women who challenged stereotypes, held lamp for others, built legacy for women’s rights, and changed how women see themselves. But that is not the case now despite the laudable efforts of the likes of Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, Ankio Briggs, and Chief Rita Lori-Ogbebor, Aisha Yusufu, among others.
But how could that have happened in a country/society that produced the likes of Queen Amina, Queen Idia, Moremi of lfe, Emotan of Benin, Omu Okwei of Ossomari, Aba Women, Alimotu Pelewura, Margaret Ekpo, Fumilayo Ransome-Kuti, Hajia Gambo Sawaba, and Kudirat Abiola?
Another common question is: why is the resilience that made these women the stars of the struggles and triumphs of their times, absent today?
Sunday Vanguard found this failure to build on the template created by these transformational figures connected to patriarchy, non-inclusive policies, absence of courage and resilience, and sheer lack of trust in the system.
Ironically, the triumph over the aforementioned factors under one of the most vicious polities ever, made Winnie Mandela a reference point today. That is why she matters to Nigerian women.
Strength, style, resilience, optimism
Like the historical figures earlier mentioned, she combined beauty, with strength, style, resilience, optimism and consistency to emerge the most transformational woman in the 20th and 21st century África.
The late wife of Nelson Mandela identified and echoed the aspirations, fears and frustrations of the ordinary man and woman on the streets in the face of danger.
Sunday Vanguard found her role in African politics and social work to have had an enormous effect on gender roles and politics.
The observation was re-echoed by Gracha Machel in her tribute.
Machel said: “You loved our people unconditionally and sacrificed so much for our freedom. It is my prayer that as befitting tributes are paid to you both at home and abroad, all of us will internalise the values you helped to mould and birth into existence. As a nation, I hope we will stand tall and proud, and as uncompromising as you were in the defence and protection of our rights. As one of our brightest stars, continue to be the lioness that protects your children and your grandchildren. Warm their hearts so that while your transition may shake them, it does not break their spirit. The extraordinary life you led is an example of resilient fortitude and inextinguishable passion that is a source of inspiration to us all of how to courageously confront challenges with unwavering strength and determination. Thank you for your brilliant wisdom, your fierce defiance and your stylish beauty. Fortunately, stars shine brightest during the darkest of hours. I know you will continue to illuminate our sky, even through the storms and clouds. Your legacy will be an uplifting beacon from which we can continue to draw guidance and strength during difficult times.”
Commitment to social justice
Indeed, those, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard also agreed that Winnie Mandela’s “legacy will be an uplifting beacon.” They described her commitment to social justice as not just a model for Nigerian women but the world.
Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, described her as a source of inspiration but added that her environment contributed in making her the brand she was.
She said: “She was an activist, a mother, a good wife and grassroots politician. She was an epitome of a woman who could combine all these attributes to have a voice in the society. She was not just anybody in the history of South Africa. She was a nationalist, who was able to make a difference. She was consistent for the 27 years that Mandela was imprisoned. Without Winnie there may have been no Mandela because if she had compromised, Mandela would have been compromised. Nigerian women should see Winnie as the knight of the nation. There are a lot of lessons to learn for everyone especially in politics. Politics should be driven by ideology. Politics should not be played the way women play it in Nigeria. Nigerian women should follow her steps because she was not given her role in politics. She earned it because of her consistency and radical disposition”.
Patriarchy and poverty
On the issue of patriarchy and poverty, she maintained that “there are a lot of issues responsible for the decline in the role of women in nation building. Countries are different. During the apartheid era a lot of South African women were affected in large numbers. That made the average South African woman an activist. Our history is different. Where they are coming from is different from ours. In Nigeria, we are still battling with patriarchy and poverty which are very endemic. South Africa is still battling with poverty but ours is in a different way. Nigerian women can stop the decline in their involvement in nation building with the determination to rewrite our narrative. Our women in politics should see politics from a different perspective by being the transformative change within the system.
“A lot of women are interested in politics but they are constrained by the lack of coordination. There is need for a women political movement for us to be able to adresse the decline. The voices of women in politics are very low and there is need to increase the volume. There is need for education. Women need to change their strategy. That is why I talked about philosophy. If women are going into politics by being corrupt, they will not make the needed difference. We need to concentrate on that. Women cannot participate in politics without knowing why they are going into politics.
“The history of women in politics between 2007 and 2015 has not been impressive. There are a lot of corruption allegations which has not helped the discussions on affirmative action.We need to deal with godfatherism, issues of law, patriarchy, politics of money, and social orientation. In South Africa, Thambo Mbeki, resigned, another President also did the same thing because there is is accountability in their society unlike in ours. We must push politics to a level where there is accountability.”
Violation of rights
On her part, Oke-Odumakin said:”There are several valuable lessons Nigerian women could learn from the late South African icon, Winnie Mandela.
“Winnie was an incurable optimist, who believed that the fight against apartheid was a must win fight. Winnie’s fierce fight against apartheid could be a lesson for Nigerian women to also stand up and fight for a right cause instead of keeping mute in the face of gross violation of their rights by men and those in position of authority.
“One of the greatest lessons is that human and socialist principles are the most important foundations for any society. And these are founding principles needed endlessly to defend the rights of Nigerian people.
“Another lesson is the care of peoples’ basic needs. Nigerian women should arise to demand and set as priority for the nation, the care and well being of all Nigerians.
“Winnie Mandela was a die-hard advocate of equitable distribution of the South African resources. Sharing the resources of the nation as equitably as possible and taking care of education‚ health and housing for all‚ are priorities for all nations. Nigerian women should be able to learn from Winnie that if they organise and work together, they can defeat all negative tendencies that hinder Nigeria’s quest for equity and justice.
“Nigerian Women should also learn from Winnie that they need to keep up the struggle for a better Nigeria, and make the best they can. They need to stick together.
“While her husband served a life sentence‚ Winnie kept safe and morally uncontaminated‚ Winnie Mandela fought on the front line and underground. This should be a great lesson to us all.”
Also speaking, founder of Gender Affirmative Summit, Mrs. Gloria Umemezie, urged Nigerian women to emulate Winnie Mandela’s defiance in the face of state-ponsored tyranny.
“Nigerian women are great and exceptional but they lack the courage of Winnie Mandela. Even our men don’t have the attributes that earned this woman global fame. The inequality in this dispensation is enough to create many Winnie Mandela in this country but our people are not courageous. Our women should emulatate her defiant spirit which she used in challenging the status quo. Winnie was not a feminist but a social crusader and politician whose statements were crucial to the making of a democratic South Africa.”