Gender equality: An Herculean task?
There is the very urgent need to clear the misconception of the word “feminism“. Feminism is an intellectual commitment and political movement. It is a belief system which preaches equal rights for women and their emancipation from all forms of domination exerted by men. It agitates for the social reconstruction of society that makes women permanently subservient to men’s domination, socio-culturally, economically and politically. As such, it is not a concept or movement or word for hatred towards men, neither is it a plot to pull men out of power. Feminism is not about promoting women superiority or female same sex marriage; feminism is not about relegating men. Rather, it is for equal opportunities for both genders. The need to clear these misconceptions is so that policymakers can be rid of sentiments. For it is high time they embraced objectivity after all they have beloved daughters, wives, sisters, and mothers who are females and for whom they desire opportunities.
Clearing the misconception lessens the level of antagonisation which readily meets anything projecting feminism. Having the right concept of feminism ensures that everyone is on same page and sees the need to embrace the concept and act towards an all inclusive society and a world of equal opportunities for both genders.
Instead of “fixing” women in the belief that they are being done some favour, Nigeria must fix her structures which prevent women from getting preselected, elected and having fair opportunities to be leaders. The evidences of the benefits of having more women in leadership roles are crystal clear. Research comparing the leadership styles of women and men showed that in contrast to the gender stereotypic expectation that women lead in an interpersonally-oriented style and men in a task-oriented style, female and male leaders did not differ in these two styles in organisational studies.
Eagly and Carli (2003) conclude that among managers, women tended to be more democratic in their leadership styles compared to men. They also reported that a meta analysis of 45 studies examining gender differences in transformational leader behaviours found compared to male leaders, female leaders used a more transformational style through socialisation process, building relationships, communication, consensus building coma power as influence and working together for a common purpose. Across the world and more importantly in Africa, we must dismantle the continuing legal and social barriers that prevent women from fully participating in economic, political, and societal lives.
Education plays a significant role in the lives of everyone. Unfortunately, nearly 2/3 of the world’s illiterate adults are women. With COVID-19-related school closures happening in developing countries, there is a very real and high risk that a number of girl children would drop out of school for pregnancy-related reasons, financial reasons (COVID-19 having affected substantial number of businesses). This, naturally, would have retarded the little gradual progress being recorded across the Africa and in Nigeria particularly in terms of girls’ education. Child marriage, teenage pregnancy and child labour soar instead.
Ensuring educational equality is a very necessary condition for gender equality. In order to change the landscape to remove the barriers that prevent women coming through for leadership and having leadership fairly evaluated rather than through the prism of gender, there is a need for radical shift in structures away from stereotypes. Good intentions will not be enough to achieve the profound wave of change required, there is a need for hard headed empirical research about what works. We must be firm to ensure that subtle barriers like unconscious biases and cultural stereotypes which continue to hold women back are totally discarded and buried. There is a need to start implementing policies that prevents women from being marginalised and embrace a gender equity and social inclusion policy which must not only be embraced but also be made fully operational across all public sectors.
The democratic process must be reviewed. The character of Nigerian politics is very hostile towards women. The social economic factor no doubt plays a great role in women involvement in politics. Women have little or no resources, no money or material wealth to compete with their male counterparts. Obviously, money is power and power is freedom and confidence. The character of Nigerian politics leaves women with little chance of getting involved in policies. The murky waters of politics which involve thuggery, night meetings at private places, hotels etc, the blackmails, the electioneering judicial process and rigging have left women with little or no interest in active politicking.
The legal framework of a nation is perhaps the most direct measure of its commitment to new policy initiatives. The national policy on women will be an incomplete and futile exercise without necessary legal backing and enforceability. The National Assembly has refused to domesticate the women’s Bill of Rights (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) 1979. This bill would have enthroned women’s human rights in Nigeria and women’s repositioning in the affairs of the nation. The lack of legislation naturally gives room for non- implementation of even the best policies particularly if it falls within the provisions of Chapter Two of the 1999 Nigerian constitution. Factually, this is where most policies that affect women reside and the courts are limited to pronounce on them as decided in the case of Adamu versus AG Borno State. It is desirable that Affirmative Actions become institutionalised, the constitution being the supreme law of the country. This will encourage claims to right as it affects the right of women in decision-making.
In South Africa, the 1996 amended constitution provides specifically for Gender Equity Commission. This is to maintain equality in the distribution of economic and political resources. The ultimate aim of entrenching gender equity into the constitution is geared towards justice, peace and development. Women’s full and effective participation and leadership in all areas of life drives progress for everyone.
Women must learn to support one another and shun unhealthy rivalry, envy, hatred and the pull down syndrome generally attributed to women. There is a lot women can do in unity. The world is at an inflection point, 2020/ 2021, being years that global recession disproportionately destroyed women’s jobs, years which escalated domestic violence and years which brought about corporations cutting back on their corporate social responsibilities even to women. Government at all levels must ensure mechanisms are put in place to cushion and ameliorate the sufferings of women heralded by the pandemic and all her attendant effects on politics, economy, health and education as it affects women. Women must be more creative not only adaptive. They must be more determined now than ever to lead and take their quotas.
History is not yet written, we still have an opportunity to make it happen. Surely, women who led the way 100 years ago can inspire us to seize this moment and create that better more gender equal future. There is still so much more to do.