It was Bill Gates, on a visit to Saudi Arabia,that said that when almost half of the nation’s work force is covered away due to cultural /religious reasons, that nation then cannot complain of underdevelopment. He was saying this to the Saudi government in view of the discriminative laws against women in that country. The same can be said for a country with great potentials like Nigeria. A country where half of the population is female, yet, are denied many opportunities simply based on their gender. Even if the male population has an output of 80%, it goes without saying that less than fifty percent of the entire population is being productive.
In case you’re wondering where this is coming from, Nigeria, according to UNDP has the highest number of out-of-school children, most of them being female. And these population of girls are not only in the northern part of Nigeria but also, in the Niger-Delta region where girls as young as thirteen years of age are tending pregnancies or nursing babies. A clear case of children nursing children. In these instances, as also observed in the northern parts, the consequences of teenage pregnancies go beyond economic disadvantages. Health challenges are rife, emotional instabilities and other domestic problems arise. A woman that grew up in this instance is hardly self-sufficient. She is therefore subject to cycles of abuse, political disempowerment and overall, a life of poverty. This is how systemic poverty becomes generational to the point where the children born into those sordid states see little or no worth to their lives.
It goes without saying that the issue of prostitution, female trafficking and sexual exploitations are a real menace to the country not just at a national level but also internationally. You see Nigerian ladies in European countries and the first thing that comes to mind is “commercial sex workers” even when they are not.
Nigerian university campuses are another kettle of fish altogether where girls compete for the highest bidders to whom their bodies are given. It all boils down to the worth they have in themselves. In every progressive society, women are made to understand their uniqueness and worth. They are classified as inferior human beings but partners in progress with their men. In these progressive societies, the issues of women empowerment go beyond spasmodic and ad hoc projects targeted at women. They are not communities where women’s involvement in politics are mostly relegated to being women leaders of political parties; donning patterned Ankara materials and singing the high praises of the male contestants with colourful dances to boot. No! They are societies where women leaders are those contesting for elections alongside their male counterparts. They are places where women feel worthwhile enough to juggle their domestic duties alongside high flying careers without one disrupting the other. When women are free to make such serious work-life balances and are supported at every strata of society, development is ushered in with tangible advancements.
As we celebrated World’s Women’s Day on the 8th March, we need to go down memory lane to recollect how far women have come in our world and public spaces. That brings me to the suffragette where women in the UK had to resort to violent outbursts before they were given the chance to vote and be actively involved within the political landscape. The likes of Emmeline Pankhurst who led the rights of women to vote; albeit via militant means of arson and breaking windows come to mind. This was a woman dedicated to a cause and became a trailblazer in issues pertaining to women’s rights. As widely condemned as her methods were, there is no doubt that the world ascribes a lot to this woman who was recognised by TIME MAGAZINE as one of the most influential people of the 20th century.
Beyond voting and political rights, the efforts of the suffragettes, led by Mrs Pankhurst, extend to women’s working and career rights. It was her daughter, Christabel, in the wake of the Second World War and under the German threat that urged Britain to keep men at the battle frontline but for the country to keep going, for women to get into the harvest and carry on with the industries. That was the start of the industrial revolution that saw women working in factories and industries just like men. That started the issue of re-negotiating women’s wages to reflect the abilities that they had in them and to bring out their capabilities. Half a century later and beyond, women are now heading corporations, governments, start-up companies and speak with confidence on issues important to their lives. Truly, women have indeed come a long way in the world that we live in.
Nonetheless, a lot more still need to be done, by both men and women to ensure that girls in both rural and urban areas are given equal access to education and personal developments. We must shun all arguments and views that suggest that women are less capable intellectually. Or that certain tasks or career fields should be to the exclusion of females. We now have female aircraft pilots, oil rig engineers, telecommunications professionals and political bigwigs. Our daughters must not be disadvantaged by not being exposed to the same intellectually rigorous exercises that their brothers are exposed and neither should they be talked out of their ambitions and great dreams.
The former Vice-President of the World Bank was a Nigerian woman and she has proven beyond all reasonable doubts that the sky is only the start for those who are willing to work hard and pay the price for success. Celebrating Women’s Day should be a time for thoughtful reflections, careful projections and conscientious progressions as far as issues of health, education, domestic violence, financial stability, political involvements, career –domestic balance and inheritance issues that affect all women in Nigeria, are concerned.
To every woman reading, HAPPY WOMEN’s DAY once again!!
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