By Francis Ewherido
Monday, the 8th of March 2021, is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day for recognition and celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and girls, and raising awareness of the work left to be done. Women surely have something to celebrate this year. On January 20, Kamala Harris became the Vice President of the United States, the first time a woman is occupying that position. Our own Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also emerged the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, the first time a woman is occupying that seat.
The goals of IWD sit well with me because women’s matter is my matter. I have a mother, wife, daughters, nieces, other female relatives and female friends. I, especially, want a better deal for my daughters, nieces and other young girls than women before them had or are having.
I do not believe women are inferior to men. God made us all in His image and likeness, but assigned different roles to men and women. I firmly believe that all parents should create a level-playing field in their homes, where all their children (male and female) can blossom and achieve their full potentials. But this is not what I see in some homes.
The parents send all the children to the same schools, make the same provisions for them and create a semblance of a level-playing field. But some still practice favouritism, based on gender. They create an atmosphere that makes their son(s) feel superior to their sisters and this affects the psyche of the daughters. I do not see any reason why parents cannot treat all their children well so that none feels inferior to the other. But if you must have your favourites, manage your dangerous disposition well so that you do not destroy the lives of your own children or sow seeds of discord.
On a day like this, one cannot but remember the challenges women face in our society. Rape is one of the major problems females face today and they do not seem to have a place of refuge. It is happening in places like homes, churches, mosques, schools and offices, where they ought to feel safe. Their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, other male relatives and male domestic workers; pastors, imams, teachers and other school officials; superiors and other male colleagues in offices, and people who ought to be trusted are the major culprits in these places.
It is also happening in abandoned buildings, vehicles, brothels and hotels, where it is perpetrated mainly by known faces and strangers. Our daughters, wives, female friends, relatives and even mothers and grandmothers are under siege. Rape is a monster and all men and people of good must speak up. Some people say the penis has a mind of its own mind. May be, but it is part of your body, a small but significant part. You must discipline it and have self-control. You should not submit to the whims and caprices of your penis and perpetrate violence. No to rape. Secularly speaking, sex must be consensual and with adults only.
Close to it are other forms of sexual harassments. The minimum again is that sex must be consensual. It should not be used in exchange for employment, promotion or other favours. The stories coming out of offices are not pleasant. No woman – young, old, single, married, Christian, Muslim, atheist – is spared. They are all being sexually harassed. The tales by widows are also not pleasant.
Unfortunately, some of the tormentors of these widows are their late husbands’ male relatives and friends; very shocking animalistic behaviour. Sometimes, you wonder if some of these men even had a hand in the death of the men whose widows they are harassing. Sexual harassment is so bad now that when you grant some women favours, they expect you to ask for sex in return. And some actually behave as if they are ready to offer you sex in return.
Education of the girl child is another sore point. Often some of us, who are educated and comparatively privileged, forget that we are still in the minority. Education of children, especially the girl child, remains a big problem. Over 10 million children are not in school in Nigeria and many of them are girls. And more of that number, who are in school, are not getting quality education due to poverty, poor school infrastructure and unqualified teachers, amongst others.
This is a problem that is at the doorstep of state governments. Free and compulsory education is official for children between 4 to 15 years in Nigeria. The public school system needs to be revived. Most of us in our 50s and above went to public schools. These are not the type of public schools we went to. The entire system has deteriorated.
Some of the problems women face are geographical and environmental. Women who live in Nigeria, for instance, cannot be insulated from the challenges every Nigerian has to deal with it. So like other Nigerians, women also need to re-double their efforts to succeed in Nigeria. Sometimes gender excuses are not tenable. Just go out there and rough it out.
The theme of this year’s IWD is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” This theme looks like something that was not well thought out to me. The priority of everyone for now, including women, should be how to survive COVID-19. You have to be alive to have a future. When I saw the theme, it reminded me of an old saying: “Me dje, wo dje; wo novwe si die twavwe…. (I am running, you are running; you are asking me what is pursuing me….?).” In order words, you do not engage in trivialities during emergencies.
That is what this theme seems to suggest. If a woman running yawa race (race of life and death) remembers to put her arm across her chest to prevent her breasts from flapping, she does not know what she is up against. The race to survive COVID-19 is a yawa race, how can these women be putting their arms across their chests to prevent their breasts from flapping (talking about “equal future in a COVID-19 world”).
Let us face the race to be alive first. Thereafter, we can talk about “equal future,” which, in my understanding, is a future where all humans can realize their potentials irrespective of gender. Even on this, we can only sensitise and put it on the front burner. We are nowhere near getting to this “equal future.”
The entire world is currently skewed because wealth, race, culture, religion, geographical location, education, among many other factors. Gender is just one of the reasons and it is not isolated. It is tied to education, race, religion, geographical factors and other reasons. But let us leave all that for now and just congratulate the womenfolk again on the ascension of Harris and Okonjo-Iweala. We also wish them a fruitful International Women’s Day.