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According to the Global Gender Gap report of the World Economic Forum, it will take the world almost a century to reach gender parity. This isn’t such great news given that 50% of the world’s populations are women. This also defeats one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed and signed by world leaders in 2015: to achieve gender equality by 2030. It is clearer that if women are continuously left out from participating and holding key decision making positions gender equality will remain a mirage.
Women deserve equal access to health, education, economic and, most importantly, political decision-making power. Women can and must play an important role in creating better societies in all countries going forward. In the last 10 years, the global gender gap has been reduced only by 4%. Governments all over the world are striving to make progress on gender parity by introducing measures such as new flexible working hours, or adopting gender policies in every sector of the economy. However, a lot of work still needs to be done.
Women deserve equal access to health, education, economic and, most importantly, political decision-making power.
In my country, Nigeria, the Senate voted down a gender equality bill in 2016 and the situation of women remains critical, despite the fact the country has produced many respected women who have been very influential both at national and international levels.
One good example is Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who served two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria and prior to that worked as the Managing Director of World Bank, and another illustrious example is Prof. Remi Sonaiya, who was a former lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in the Osun State; despite the barriers faced by women in politics, she challenged the status quo and became the only female presidential candidate in the 2015 election, where she contested under the umbrella of KOWA party.
Joy Uche Angela Ogwu is a former Foreign Minister of Nigeria and has been the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations in New York since 2008. Amina J. Mohammad resigned from the Nigerian Federal Executive Council on 24 February 2017 to take up her new role as the Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations; prior to this, she already played an important role at international level, serving as the Special Adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on post-2015 development planning.
The list of strong Nigerian women could continue with Amina Mohammed; between 2000 and 2014 she worked with three Nigerian presidents – Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan – as advisor on implementing the Millenium Developement Goals (MDGs), and later served as Minister of Environment. In recognition of her service to the country, she received the National Honours Award of the Order of the Federal Republic in 2006 and was inducted in the Nigerian Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007, and she current serves as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Aisha Jummai Alhassan, popularly known as mama Taraba, could have been Nigeria’s first female governor but was defeated by Darius Ishaku, the governorship candidate of the PDP in the election re-run held on 25th of April 2015. She is presently the Minister of Women Affairs.
Remi Tinubu is currently a Senator of Lagos State and the wife of Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state and the national leader of the All Progressives Congress. Oluremi Tinubu became the First Lady of Lagos State when her husband, Bola Tinubu, was elected as governor in 1999. As first lady, she established the New Era Foundation, dedicated to establishing centers for “all round development of young ones and promote public awareness on environmental health and community service.” Tinubu was one of over 100 senators elected in the 8th assembly in 2015. However, only six of these were women and she was one of them.
Another respected woman in Nigeria is Oby Ezekwesili, who served as Federal Minister of Solid minerals and then as Federal Minister of Education during Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure. She also served as the vice president of the World Bank’s Africa division and one of the strongest advocates of the ‘BringBackOurGirls’ movement.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa has been the chairman of the House Committee on Media and Publicity and the chair of the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs, and was recently appointed Senior Special Assistant on foreign affairs and diaspora by President Muhammadu Buhari.
While these women managed to actively participate in the political life of the country, the electoral system doesn’t quite leave pleasant memoirs to many women in Nigeria given that the system is characterized by bigots and up-ended bourgeois. This behavior was prevalent during the 2015 election in Nigeria when the likes of Akasoba Duke-Abiola, wife of the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, a founding member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was denied by her own party the possibility to run for the 2015 presidential elections. As usual, party members were guided by party codes which give to the so-called ‘god-fathers’ power to decide the nominations for political offices within their parties. This is one of the biggest barriers preventing women from winning party tickets to run for office. The power of the ‘god-fathers’, and the absence of political ‘god-mothers’ is a common issue across political parties in Nigeria. While the All Progressives Peoples Party (APC) and the PDP are the most prominent and influential parties in Nigeria, there are other twenty-six political parties recognized by the Independent National Electoral Commission – (INEC) of Nigeria. These, however, have barely stood a chance to win any of the top positions in the country since the inception of a democratic government in Nigeria in 1999, and women who attempt to join these parties can be almost certain not to occupy any of the key political positions in Nigeria.
There is no reason why women shouldn’t hold the highest decision-making positions in the country; on the contrary, I believe that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, if there be found one. An example? In 2005, 80% of Liberian women came out to vote because they were tired of the patriarchy that brought them into a civil war, and as a result Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman to be elected president of an African country. It represented a fresh start into something new, as they believed a woman would usher them into peace, and that peace they still enjoy today.
In Lagos the case has been quite different. Since the last three administrations the State has since enjoyed female deputies who were running mate with the governorship aspirants, although currently women’s representation in the Lagos State House of Assembly is low, even lower than it was in the last administration. Lagos State was created on 27th May 1967 and is fast becoming a mega city. As a Centre of Excellence and a microcosm of Nigeria, compared to the other 35 states of the federation, Lagos State has enjoyed accelerated growth and development for the past eight years. This could be tied to the fact that a gender-policy was adopted to ensure the election of female deputy governors. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture: in order to attain a sustainable society and achieve the SDGs by 2030, we need to accelerate women’s participation and occupation in decision-making positions, both in Nigeria and globally.
In order to attain a sustainable society and achieve the SDGs by 2030, we need to accelerate women’s participation and occupation in decision-making positions, both in Nigeria and globally.
We may need strategies to increase political ‘god-mothers’ in the Nigeria’s political space with or without the displacement of the current decision makers in order to achieve gender parity for sustainable development. Also, in order to achieve gender equality we will need ‘god-fathers’ sincerely willing to embrace the SDGs and provide the much needed support for women to ascend to decision-making positions in various sectors of politics and economy, including both the legislative and executive arm of the government. Despite the resistance of the patriarchy, I believe that history will demonstrate that in the end we will eventually reach gender equality; so why wait for a century when we can accelerate it now and all enjoy the dividends, including the end of all forms of poverty and a reduction in inequalities that will bring about a cohesive and better society?
[Cover image © UN Women]
Miss Aforfem Afobunor is a certified marketing professional and a social marketing expert with over ten years of professional experience in the marketing of consumer goods, brands and non profits. She advocates for the development and rights of women through partnering and volunteering with organizations committed to mirroring and fostering support of women and girls.
She utilizes both the mass and social media to promote the Sustainable Development Goals, and has earned international recognitions. In November 2016, she was invited to Geneva (Switzerland) by the office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) for the launch of the global campaign “Not Too Young to Run” during the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.
Miss Afobunor continously engages with key stakeholders to proffer solutions that have led to positive impact in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, and utilizes her marketing skills in deploying resources in promoting and advancing the work of NGOs/Civic Societies and other Youth led associations. Besides being a public speaker, she loves sharing ideas, providing solutions, counseling, writing and reading books that builds the spirit, soul and body, and is a consultant to many organizations both home and abroad.
She has received a number of awards but most importantly was rated top 7% of all Nigerian Executives in the Advertising, Marketing & PR Industry in the 2015 publication of the Nigerian Top Executives in the Advertising, Marketing & PR Industry.