(By Iniobong Iwok)
“Even though progress has been made and women are gradually breaking the stereotypical image about them in our societies, this progress is slow! Access to education for the girl-child remains a veritable tool in breaking the gap between the two sexes. Education offers empowerment and a leverage, and hence, efforts must be intensified to allow more females have access to education not only at the primary and post-primary levels but at the tertiary level.“
NOT until the early 20th century did women begin to receive some forms of recognition in some parts of human societies. Before then, women were traditionally seen as good only to perform domestic chores, as objects of slavery, as symbols of wealth and property. In early Greek societies, women who lacked ability to perform domestic chores were often given as gifts to the losers in the society’s annual wrestling contests.
Not until after much clamour, demonstrations and riots did women begin to receive some form of recognition and given partial integration into the society. In Britain, for example, women were admitted into the university after much clamour but they were not allowed to sit for the qualifying examinations so they could not graduate. Even when there was a form of liberation in terms of professional practice, they were restricted to professions such as sewing, nursing and play-acting. In most Western countries, women did not have the chance to vote till the 1920’s.
The struggles for gender equality and affirmative action by women have been on the front burner for ages and women are not losing steam yet. The struggle has always been for equal rights such as equal education, opportunity, professional employment, political, marital rights, and right to own properties and so on. Virtually all these rights have been won by women in the Western and civilised world but for women in Africa and the rest of the Third World, the struggle continues.
Arab societies have always subdued and discriminated against women and this has largely remained so with little progress even in the present 21st century.
Here in Africa, since the Beijing declaration, significant progress seems to have been made and the public are more conscious about gender issues. Also, the increased stability in democratic culture among countries within the continent has helped. Not even the most optimistic delegate at the Beijing Conference in 1995 would have said that by 2012, the continent would have two female Presidents. The election of Helen Johnson Sirleaf as the first female president in Africa was the licence women needed and we can see the effect: more women have followed and are occupying high positions on the continent. From Rwanda, Africa’s most successful story where women account for 50 per cent of the legislature to Senegal, where recent elections have seen more women elected into the parliament; in South Africa also, progress has been made over the years and women are rising to key positions and for the first time, a woman, Nkosana Zuma, is the chairperson of the commission of African Union.
Here in Nigeria, in 2007, the national gender policy was signed to support gender mainstreaming in politics and governance. Kudos should be given to different women umbrella bodies in the country for their resilience and steadfastness over the years. Perhaps, in a long time, we have a First Lady who has not paid lip service to the struggle but is committed to the cause and we have seen the result in recent time. About 35 per cent of the cabinet members are women and for the first time, a female, Hon. Justice Mukhtar Aloma is Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). More women are having access and occupying decision making positions both in the public and private sectors in the country.
While I acknowledge that we are in a predominantly male dominated society and it will not be easy for women to break this circle, it is also important to say that, over the years, most women who have occupied public office in Nigeria have exhibited a high level of enthusiasm and commitment to their jobs and their performance has never been in doubt. For me, it is not a question of what women can do. The question is if we will give them the chance? Today, there is hardly anything a man can do that a woman cannot do and in some cases, better. Female footballers, doctors, broadcasters, engineers, entrepreneurs, academics and so on have all excelled in their positions alongside their male colleagues with many notable examples.
Even though progress has been made and women are gradually breaking the stereotypical image about them in our societies, this progress is slow! Access to education for the girl-child remains a veritable tool in breaking the gap between the two sexes. Education offers empowerment and a leverage, and hence, efforts must be intensified to allow more females have access to education not only at the primary and post-primary levels but at the tertiary level.
Also, women need to be more ambitious, be involved in decision making processes, particularly in politics and aspire to more positions; it is only then that they can influence decisions in their favour. No one can fight your battle, with more passion than you. Records from the Women Advocates Research and Document Centre (WARDC) show that women participation in politics in Nigeria was about 2 per cent in 1999 and this jumped to 8 per cent in 2011 while 9.1 per cent of the candidates in the 2011 elections were women against 90.9 per cent male. The Centre identifies entrenched cultural attitude, god-fatherism, male dominated party executives, money, violence, labelling just to mention a few, as some of the factors which have affected women involvement in politics.
In a period of our national life, where there is general discontent about the state of the country and the quality of leadership, there is the need for Nigerian to harness the full potential of its citizens and this can only be possible when individuals irrespective of sex, tribe and religion have equal chance in the society.
• Iwok is a graduate of Sociology, University of Ilorin and a freelance broadcaster/producer.
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