Nigerian Women can Lead
By Dakuku Peterside
In the year 2008, I co-edited a book with the title, African women can lead, published by Kachifo Publishers under its prestige imprint. The book was a collection of essays and presentations made for three editions of the Development and Leadership Institute, DLI, Women in Politics and leadership program. We chose the book’s title after a rigorous debate by the advisory board of the program. The thrust of the debate then was that more African women should be given a chance to lead as it will help address the prevalent inequality and empower women to contribute more to advancing society. Recent events where many Nigerian women are playing critical leadership roles globally on merit have made the book’s title a prophetic choice.
Particularly noteworthy is the recent assumption of the former Nigerian Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. This epochal event has again put Nigerian women in the spotlight – their impact on our society and how they can excel when given the opportunity. To be clear, Dr Okonjo-Iweala did not become the DG of WTO because she is a woman.
The fact that she and South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, who were the last two remaining candidates for the WTO top job, happened to be women was merely incidental. The world was looking for a capable hand to lead global trade negotiations, and two women came up tops. So, the Nigerian economist and international development expert who was a two-time Nigerian Finance Minister, Managing Director of World Bank, and a board member of Gavi and Twitter, got the exalted position of DG of WTO wholly on merit.
Nigeria is a typical patriarchal society. Ours is a country that has never found a single woman competent to be elected the chief executive of a state. The under-representation of women in political participation gained root due to the deep-rooted cultural practices inherent in our society, which has existed from the pre-colonial era to date.
However, the return to democratic rule in 1999 has witnessed an increase in women’s political participation in elective and appointive offices. By 2015, the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria was 6.7 per cent in elective and appointive positions, which is far below the Global Average of 22.5 per cent, Africa Regional Average of 23.4 per cent and West African Sub Regional Average of 15 per cent.
Nigerian men hold primary power and predominate in political leadership roles, moral authority, social privilege and property control. Most Nigerian traditional societies are also patrilineal, meaning that the male lineage inherits property and title.
Nigerian women face several challenges. Most critical is the cultural bias favouring male children, which has led to parents giving more support to male children above their female children. There is the problem of domestic violence. In some cultures, it is acceptable for a man to maltreat his wife purportedly as a discipline in Nigeria. Some Nigerian women are traumatized mentally, sexually, physically and emotionally by their husbands, male counterparts, or partners. Our women have faced all manner of violence, from molestation , battery, physical attacks, wife-beating , corporal punishment to rape.
It has been said that women handle crises better than men. One may argue that childbearing makes them compassionate and patient as it requires patience to carry a pregnancy for nine months and compassion to deal with little children. A crisis-torn country like Nigeria needs these attributes. They also show greater empathy than men. Insouciance is not gendered-specific, but one can argue that we have more hardhearted men in our society than women.
Women are great leaders because studies and experience have shown that they bring unique perspectives from different emotional, cultural, and structural dimensions to drive effective solutions to society’s challenges. They are better than men in balancing professional and personal leadership skills. They exhibit high emotional intelligence, often flexible and lead by example – essential qualities needed in today’s Nigeria. They listen well, and dealing with children probably makes them better communicators and better at nurturing people than the menfolk.
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