Buhari’s Ministerial List: How things are getting worse for Nigerian women, By Adeshola Komolafe
The door to the hospital burst open and a man rushed into the waiting area screaming for the doctors and nurses. His screams for help shattered the serenity of the morning, but it was enough to get the entire hospital staff rushing out to know what the matter was.
Through the man’s screams, the hospital staff were able to gather that he had a wife in labour waiting out in the car. En masse, they rushed out to help the woman who was screaming even louder than her husband. With the man screaming for help and his wife screaming in pain and the hospital staff screaming for calm, the whole place was rowdy enough to wake the dead in the hospital’s mortuary.
The screaming ceased for a bit as the woman was stretchered into a private ward, where the hospital staff quickly arranged her in the proper position to push. Then she began to scream again as labour pains wracked her body. She pleaded for the doctor and nurses to do something, anything to ease the pain. But her husband was screaming something else. “We don’t want an epidural,” he shouted. “Doctor, please we don’t want an epidural.”
At last the female attending physician could not take it anymore. “Sir,” she said, pulling the man aside angrily, “do you know what an epidural is?”
“What? Of course, I am educated,” said the man. “It is a pain relief.”
“Have you ever been pregnant?
“No, what do you mean?”
“Have you ever had labour pains?”
“What kind of question is that?” asked the man. “My wife is in there in pains—”
“Exactly,” said the doctor. “The woman in there is in pains, she wants and needs an epidural. Stop saying “we” don’t want an epidural. You are not the one in labour!”
Even in such matters fundamental to womanhood, men lead in the conversations and make most of the decisions. They decide the number of children a woman should have. They decide if the birthing process should be caesarean or natural. They decide the hospital. Men decide the number of hours a woman should work, if she must work, and what type of work suits a woman. Men tell women how to be women. It is easy for them because they occupy all the relevant leadership positions.
It is baffling that most men do not realize how disrespectful and just how wrong it is when they attempt to run a woman’s life. Unfortunately, many women feel it is the way things ought to be. They prefer to be “taken care of’ and have decisions made on their behalf by men. But no man can champion the cause of women better than a woman. That men empathise or sympathise with women has nothing to do with the actual understanding of what it is to be a woman.
What is implied by this male desire to take decisions for women is that women are incapable of taking care of themselves. A woman may be good as deputy, but never the leader, never the company head.
Many profess that the situation has improved for us as women, and that women are now being accorded fairer treatment than before. But closer inspection seems to indicate that not much has changed. There have been more noise, perhaps, more lip service, more promises, but real improvement has not been recorded. Just a few months ago, Adamawa State Governor, Bindow Jibrilla, appointed a man, in the person of Aliyu Tola, as the State’s Commissioner for Women Affairs. If such gender biased appointments could still be made in 2015, then we might in fact be retrogressing.
The previous administration under Goodluck Jonathan increased political participation for women from 10% in 2011 to 34% by 2013. Out of his 42 ministers, Goodluck Jonathan had 13 women, and out of 18 Special Advisers he had 4 women. In the current administration, out of the 21 ministerial nominees submitted by President Buhari to the senate, only three are women.
During his campaign, President Buhari promised to implement the National Gender Policy, which allocates 35 percent of appointive positions for women. The president promised to “Adopt special measures, quotas and mechanisms for achieving minimum critical threshold of women in political offices, party organs and public life by pursuing 35% affirmative action in favour of women to bridge gender gaps in political representation in both elective and appointive posts at all levels by 2015.”
Sixteen more ministerial nominees would be submitted to the senate, but if the number of female ministers remain at three, then President Buhari would have fallen far short of the 35% affirmative action he promised.
That we are canvassing for more leadership roles is not because we love to pull rank. It is because it is in our best interest as women that we lead ourselves and represent ourselves. Our concerns and challenges as women are better handled by us. Having more women in leadership roles in both public and private sectors is critical if we must bridge the wide gender gap and achieve the goal of equal and fair treatment.
But we need to be ready. It is easier for us to clamour and campaign for more political representation in both elective and appointive posts than to actually be ready for the roles when they open up. Can our qualifications match and contend with that of the men in any sphere? Are we able to challenge patriarchy on the strength of our qualifications? It is unfortunate but true that for us to triumph over patriarchy and scale the bias attending equal opportunity for leadership roles, we would need to be at least 10 times better than our male counterparts. But we can do it. More women are trouncing their male counterparts in terms of qualification. Such women cannot be denied their merits or rights. We need to become such women.
Adeshola Komolafe is the CEO of Media Insight. She tweets from the handle @deshola