The International Women’s Day was celebrated last week with a great deal of hope and optimism. It was made even more real by the arrival of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s latest shining example of the high achieving woman who was recently invested as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). She had arrived to pay a courtesy call on President Muhammadu Buhari, to express her appreciation for the solid support given her by the Buhari administration, and to exchange ideas with the government and its officials on how Nigeria’s economy could benefit from world trade.
Precisely three months ago, another high achieving Nigerian woman, Mrs.Amina Mohammed, arrived for a solidarity visit to West Africa and the Sahel. She is United Nation’s Deputy Secretary-General. She also used the opportunity to launch in Nigeria the UN Women Global Generation Equality Campaign to promote socio-economic recovery, gender equality, intergenerational leadership, resilience climate action as well as the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable.
Mrs. Arunma Oteh, OON, is the Treasurer and the Vice President of the World Bank after her eventful, tumultuous stint and exposure of corruption at the National Assembly when she was the Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. These women are a testimony that Nigerian women can hold their own with the best in the world, and are global performers. They are but a sliver of thousands of Nigerian women in all callings all over the world who are daily performing vital functions that give meaning to our country. Where would the Nigerian economy be without the Nigerian woman in our farms? Where would our education be without women in our schools, or commerce in our markets and above all, life in our homes?
This year’s theme is to “choose to challenge.” Women wish to create a challenged world and by so doing create an alert world so as to take responsibility for “our actions and inactions.” They are mustering everyone to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality while seeking out and celebrating women’s achievements in all schemes of life. The hope is that collectively we can all create an inclusive world in which no one feels marginalised, cheated or mistreated because the women are sure, the challenge will beget change.
The International Women’s Day was initially, ironically, promoted by the Socialist Party of America in 1909. It was declared in remembrance of a major strike by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Today, the Socialist Party barely exists in the US and, indeed, socialism is like a swear word in America except to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party which grudgingly accepts that socialism is not all evil.Yet the progress of women has been phenomenal in the last 120 years. In January, US President Joe Biden signed two new executive orders to ensure gender equality on policy and education.
Although some of the discriminatory practices against women and girls still persist, most of those archaic practices have been abolished in most places or are frowned at. Female genital mutilation is barely practised anywhere and in some states of Nigeria are statutorily banned. Women can now own property and act as surety in legal proceedings and the education of girls is one of the newest great discoveries. Indeed, in many states, the number of girls in high school exceeds the number for the boys. Worldwide, the number of female Ph.D students seems to outnumber the males. Women are venturing into fields previously considered the preserve for the boys in engineering, science and technology and medicine. Indeed, COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the brunt of the burden on the frontlines was borne by the women, not only as physicians but nurses, laboratory and hospital staff.
There is great optimism that gender equity would be achieved by the year 2030, for though the world has made unprecedented advances, no country has yet achieved gender equality. The legal restrictions worldwide have kept at least 2.7 billion women from accessing the same choice of jobs as men. Less than 25 per cent of the world’s parliamentarians were women as at 2019. One in three women experience gender-based violence still. Nearly 60 per cent of women around the world work in the informal sector economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty. Women earn 23 per cent less than men globally. One in three women had experienced physical or sexual violence and 200 million women and girls have suffered genital mutilation.
The achievements of women are considerable, but a great deal more needs to be done. First Lady Aisha Buhari has been a key voice calling for women empowerment and more appointments and to free women from age-old biases. Women remain the bedrock of the Nigerian society and they deserve appreciation and recognition.