On this year’s International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, women all over the world, including Nigerian women, received loud praises. Women in all walks of life were described in many adjectives to underline their achievements and towering qualities in a world where men hold sway, in politics, business and various professions.
President Muhammadu Buhari, while declaring that women were key to a happy and stable family, society and nation, stated: “I am proud of our women who have shown, by dint of hard work and capacity, that they can perform creditably, if given the opportunity at home and on the global stage.”
The Nigerian leader promised to give women more support through gender inclusiveness in all sectors of national life, insisting: “Government which neglects such a crucial component (women) of its demographic asset, stands the risk of stunted growth and likely failure.”
In the United States of America, President Joe Biden said the “International Women’s Day is also a time for us to recommit ourselves to the cause of equity and equality for women the world over, and to shine a light on the systemic obstacles that fuel gender disparities and undermine women’s potential.”
Eulogising women, Biden gave this verdict: “In our nation, as in all nations, women have fought for justice, shattered barriers, built and sustained economies, carried communities through times of crisis, and served with dignity and resolve.”
The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in celebrating women, stated: “Every day, women and girls strengthen our communities, our country, and our world. They drive our economy as business leaders, help advance our knowledge in all fields, and create opportunity and security as heads of state and government.
“Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements of women in all their diversity, here in Canada and around the world, and we honour those who have challenged norms, lifted up others, and created lasting and substantial change. We also reaffirm our commitment to gender equality, so that all women and girls can contribute to their full potential, and we can build a better, safer, and more inclusive world.”
British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on his part, said: “This International Women’s Day I want to pay tribute to some of the leading figures in the UK’s vaccination programme. Their ingenuity, dedication and hard work are an inspiration to all of us.”
Several other world leaders said nice things about women. Women also celebrated themselves, counting their achievements and blessings, as it were. They are proud of their successes.
There is no doubt that women have given a good account of themselves. Despite being slowed down by so many prejudices, from cultural to political, women have stood firm and tall. They have challenged inequality and norms, interrogated policies on exclusion and fought against injustice. They have recorded feats and have proved that what a man can do, a women can also do.
Recently, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian minister of finance, was named the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In a stiff competition for the position, where a rigorous selection process was employed, her credentials and capacity stood her out. She was, therefore, named DG and assumed duty not because she was a woman but owing to what she has to offer and the content of her brain. Okonjo-Iweala is not the only woman who have made the womenfolk proud. Women have led countries and made their marks.
The world remembers Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India. She served first as PM for 10 years, from 1966 to 1977 and returned to the office in 1980 and served till 1984 when her bodyguards assassinated her. She was known for her amazing characteristics and qualities. We know of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. She was British Prime Minister, who set the country on the path of tremendous economic growth. She was not only the first woman to lead Britain but also the first female to lead a western power in modern time.
Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, recorded the same feat as Indira Gandhi. She emerged as the first female to lead a predominantly Muslim nation in modern history. She served first as PM from 1988 to 1990. Again, she served as PM from 1993 to 1996. Fearless and tenacious, at 35, she was “the youngest elected leader in the Islamic world, the world’s youngest Prime Minister, and the youngest female Prime Minister ever elected.”
The world has seen many other female presidents and prime ministers. We know of Corazon Aquino, Philippines’ 11th President, the first woman to hold the office, from 1986 to 1992. We acknowledge Angela Merkel, the first female Chancellor of Germany. The world acknowledges and celebrates these other female presidents and prime ministers of their countries: Sirivamo Bandaranaike (Sri Lanka), who is actually the world’s first female elected Premier; Isabel Peron (Argentina), in 1974; Sahle Zewde (Zimbabwe); Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand); Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia); Katrin Jakobsdotir (Iceland); Tsai Ing-wen (China); and Slyvie Kiningi (Burundu), who is the first female president of any African country.
There are other women presidents and prime ministers, like Golda Meir (Israel); Elisabeth Domitien (Central African Republic); Lidia Gueiler Tejada (Bolivia); Dame Eugenia Charles (Dominica); Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway); Soong Ching-Ling (China); Milka Planinc (Yugoslavia); Agatha Barbara (Malta); Maria Liberia-Peters (Netherlands); Kazimiera Danuta Prunskiena (Lithuania); Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (Nicaragua); Sabine Bergmann-Pohl (German); Edith Cresson (France); Mary McAleese (Ireland); Ruth Dreifuss (Switzerland); Myeong-Sook (South Korea); and Tarja Kaarina Halonen (Finland), among others.
In other fields of human endeavours, apart from politics, women have done well. They have broken barriers and made extraordinary impacts in the world. Junko Tabei climbed Mount Everest. Valentina Tereshkova made record as a cosmonaut in space. Eileen Collins was commander of a space shuttle. Irene Zubaida Khan was secretary-general of Amnesty International. Han Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize and Bula Choudhary made history as a swimmer who crossed seven seas in the world. There are many others whose accomplishments confounded the world. The achievements of these women have proved that women could be good in whatever undertaking they may find themselves doing.
In Nigeria, women have made themselves, their families and country proud. When we talk about Queen Amina, it is with respect. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti carved a niche for herself in activism. Margaret Ekpo was fearless. Ladi Dosei Kwali; Florence Nwapa; Kofo Ademola; Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi; General Aderonke Kale (first female Army General); Adetowun Ogunsheye; Grace Alele-Williams; Folake Solanke, SAN; and Agbani Darego, among others, all recorded firsts in Nigeria and made indelible marks.
Irrespective of various inhibitions, woman have risen to the occasion to change trends in many ways. It took the Aba women’s riot in 1929, which kicked against direct taxation of women and introduction of warrant chiefs, for the colonial masters to redress some social and political inequities in Nigeria.
Women should be given equal rights and justice. Discrimination anchored on gender or culture should be done away with. Women are born equal as men and should be treated as such. They have the capacity to do well. All things being equal, they do not need any affirmative action. Indeed, with their intelligence and God-given assets, women mock themselves when they canvass for the allocation of certain things to them, just because they are women. Therefore, the affirmative action, which, according to Wikipedia, “refers to a set of policies and practices within a government or organisation seeking to increase the representation of particular groups based on their gender, race, sexuality, creed or nationality,” as it apply to women, is really an insult on women. Given a level playing ground, women would compete favourably and excel.
What it takes women to achieve this is determination, the discarding of inferiority complex and societal removal of cultural and political inhibitions. In Rwanda, Cuba and Bolivia, women dominate the parliament. In the United States, there are 102 female representatives in the House of Representatives, more than ever before. In several other countries, women are striving to become an irresistible force. Nigerian women should fight for their rights and record this kind of feat, instead of always canvassing for allocation of political offices in the name of 35 per cent approved representation. As the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day says, it is left for women to “Choose to challenge.”