As usual, the celebration of achievements of women, otherwise known as the International Women’s Day (IWD), has come and gone but its effect, particularly the way it was marked in Nigeria, cannot be forgotten in a hurry. From Abuja to Lagos and from Port Harcourt to Kano, Enugu and other states’ capitals, women of all colours and shades paraded the major streets to protest the state sanctioned barriers to women development.
The women were not happy that the gender bills that will ensure that they are no longer politically excluded and the ones that will enhance their citizenship and indigenship were rejected by the National Assembly. The women are not happy that the nation’s politics, like its literature, is phallocentric, patriarchal and male dominated. They are sad that our politics lacks the much-needed female touch as well as female principles, the necessary ingredients for nation-building and socioeconomic development.
It is true that our women are no longer contented with playing gender roles that confine them to the kitchen chambers of Nigerian politics. They are now interrogating the notion that they belong to the kitchen and the other room of Nigerian politics. They want to prove that they belong to the parlour and indeed every room in the political field. They want to be at the centre of the political action and not at the periphery.
For years, they have been marginalized and excluded from the juicy part of our politics. Now, they don’t want that any more. They are tired of playing supportive roles in the political game. They want to play major roles now as we move towards the 2023 election season. There is nothing wrong in having a woman elected as a governor or even the president of the most populous black nation in the world. Let’s prove to the world that we can do it. Nigeria can show that a woman can aspire to any position in the country without any man-made constraint. Although we have female legislators at the federal and state levels but they are very few. The tragedy is that they are not representative enough of the female population.
It can be safely argued that Nigeria cannot see the envisioned development when almost 60 per cent of its population is not factored in its development matrix. Most developed nations make adequate use of the resourcefulness of their women. Nigeria can follow their example and even do better. Nigerian women are sad that they are excluded from the power and economic structures of the country. The can no longer do with the position of women leader or commissioner or minister of women affairs.
They want more of the political cake. They constitute over 50 per cent of the population as well as the bulk of the voting population. If women decide to vote for women, they will alter the outcomes of our elections. And if they boycott the 2023 polls as being threatened, the consequences will be dire and difficult to manage. It is instructive that during the IWD celebration, the women demonstrated against exclusion from politics, poor representation, and citizenship and indigenship matters. Through the protests, they had sent a strong message to the male politicians to sit up and do the needful.
It is sad that it took the demonstration by women for the House of Representatives to deem it fit to reconsider the gender bills earlier rejected by the National Assembly in the current effort to review the 1999 Constitution. Therefore, the Senate and the House of Representatives should seize this golden opportunity to make laws that will enhance women’s inclusion and participation in politics. I say this because the toxic nature of our politics is why democracy dividends and development elude the country. They should not trifle with the gender bills.
A nation that neglects the contributions of its women to development cannot fare better in global human development indices. However, the celebration of the achievements of women should not end in rhetoric alone. It must be quickly followed with actions targeted at breaking biases, stereotypes and other man-made barriers that are inimical to women’s aspirations.
In all, we need concrete actions to smash the glass ceiling that impedes the rise of women in politics and other socioeconomic circles. All tiers of government must work to together to come up with pragmatic legislatures to address the socioeconomic inequality between men and women in the country. Our women want a Nigeria and a world that is diverse, equitable and at the same time inclusive. They also want a Nigeria where difference is valued and celebrated. Women and men need equal pedestal to stand and contribute to nation-building.
It is worth mentioning that our female writers have written back to the male-centred literature of Achebe, Soyinka, Okigbo and Clark. It will be remembered that the foremost Nigerian and African female novelist, Flora Nwapa, started the crusade to include realistic women in Nigerian literature with her first novel Efuru, which was a write back to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart where female characters are mostly seen but not heard, a novel where wives serve their husbands foofoo kneeling down. Along with his literary daughters, such as Buchi Emecheta, Akachi Ezeigbo, Ifeoma Okoye, Zaynab Alkali, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sefi Atta, and others have also salvaged the poor image of women in male fiction and replaced them with more realistic images of women in female-centred works.
In the same vein, Dora Akunyili, Oby Ezekwesili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and others proved that women can really excel in governance if given the chance. Just as our female writers have broken the barriers that put the female at the fringes and margins of Nigerian literature and become part of the mainstream Nigerian literature, our women politicians can borrow a leaf from the female writers and put themselves at the centre of Nigerian politics.
I believe that their insistence on the approval of the gender bills on 35 per cent affirmative action and others to improve the lot of Nigerian women in politics are steps in the right direction. They must not relent until victory is theirs. If they don’t struggle to put themselves at the centre of Nigerian politics, they will perpetually remain in its kitchen or periphery and eat only the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.
However, it is commendable that President Muhammadu Buhari has praised the contributions of women to national development and underscored the fact that our women are not yet where they should be. All the politicians mouthing support for gender bills should stand up and be counted. They should match their words with action. Having recognized this fact, the president should use the remaining part of his tenure to put in place institutional framework to break the barriers that hamper women development.
The time for action is now. It has become necessary to move from rhetoric to more concrete actions targeted at uplifting women from poverty, misery, unemployment and political exclusion and economic deprivation. Let’s resolve to use the occasion of this year’s IWD to ensure that our women would no longer be victims of rape, incest, ritual killings, and murder in a BRT bus as witnessed in Lagos and other parts of the country.