Our Women Have Been Caged In ‘the Other Room’ Again!, By Banji Ojewale
Buhari needs to revise the ministerial list and bring in more women. The states are not faring better. For instance, in Oyo, only one female has been mentioned in a 14-member team sent to the lawmakers. We need far more of them to reflect our multi-gender strength and corral this for development.
There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. — Kofi Annan (1938-2018) former United Nations secretary-general.
Nigeria is not picking durable lessons from events around her, from countries whose equal-gender institutions are speeding them to achievements. We (or is it our leaders?) appear to be running with others in this global village in the race against time, yet we are rooted to the same spot, when other nations in the competition have moved on to destinations where we can’t even sight their tail lights, while squinting into the distance. One of the big factors that have winged their traction for meteoric moves is the preponderant or balanced presence of their women in government at the top, not on the periphery of political office, government and bureaucracy. They invest enormously in the fair sex to enlist them for work for the state and its people, the same way they press the male into national assignment; gender constitutes no stumbling block in these places. Their women can conquer the peak to even become the head of government and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
But in Nigeria, we say we aren’t ready for a female president. Why spend on them, when at the end of the day the place of the woman is the kitchen? Our president has put our women where he believes they belong: ‘the other room’. They are baby factories. They are to be given in marriage at an early age, at the pleasure of the parents. Not for school. They are to be housewives, protected from the wear and tear of the toil of the streets. Why? Because we misunderstand the Scriptures’ portrayal of women as the ‘weaker vessel’. So why would you waste precious resources on what we have decided would be chattels in the long run? Are they not weaklings, incapable of lateral thinking?
Weaker vessel who wouldn’t know the nuances of governance? Who wouldn’t in numerous cases outdo the menfolk if offered the opportunity to perform, with a level playing ground? Weaker vessel who would not be able to go to the moon as did the man who landed on that planet 50 years ago? Elsewhere, the people are not as backward, besotted, bewitched and befuddled as to be circumscribed in their relationship with women.
Why are there only seven women in a list of 43, at a time the world is realising that society needs the full utilisation of all its human capital to survive? An inhibiting and miserly 16.3 per cent! It implies that we are still in the prehistoric age, unworthy of today and unprepared for the future…
In 2015, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formed the first gender-balanced cabinet in the country’s history. There were fifteen women in the cabinet of thirty. This historic feat set two scholars to work. What would be the effect of such ‘large-scale’ invasion of the masculine no-go areas by these weaker vessels? Professor Carles Muntaner of University of Toronto and his colleague, Assistant Professor Edwin Ng of University of Waterloo, wrote as part of their findings: “Canada’s gender-equal cabinet vaulted the country from 20th to fifth in terms of percentage of women in ministerial positions… Also…research has shown that women in government tend to work in more collaborative and bipartisan ways and employ more democratic leadership style compared to men’s autocratic style. Women are also more effective at building coalitions and reaching consensus…When we tested government spending as a mediating factor, we found that women in government in Canada have reduced mortality rates by triggering…specific types of health-producing expenditures… Women spend more on health and education.”
Here in Africa, two of the continent’s fastest growing nations, Ethiopia and Rwanda, are also drawing from the inexhaustible well the womenfolk dig when they are drawn into power in their great numbers. In Ethiopia, 50 per cent of the cabinet are women, with strategic portfolios including defence falling into their laps in a severely patriarchal culture. In Rwanda, the 26-seat cabinet also has half of them. Its parliament is 68 per cent of the so-termed weaker vessels. But in both countries the drafting of women to the frontline of political theatre has helped to push their societies to dizzying masculine heights unexplored when it was a male-centric show in the past. For instance a World Economic Forum has published a survey by the International Monetary Fund putting Ethiopia as the “fastest growing economy in sub-Saharan Africa”. This is attributed to new policies worked out by a “government no longer dominated by a few to the exclusion of a productive sector”. It’s the same fairy-tale picture in Rwanda. Paul Kagame’s government has tapped into vast resources of a critical wing of the country, women, to build a society now the envy of most of Africa after the 1994 genocidal war against the Tutsi ethnic group pulverised Rwanda.
Socialist Cuba remains an abiding example of a country whose women have been empowered to assert their place in every area of the society, side by side the men: government, military, education, medicine, administration etc. In the 70s and 80s, many Africans were alarmed to see young Cuban women soldiers and doctors storm our continent to join us in the liberation struggle in Southern Africa.
The gender distortion in governance that denies our women, apolitical technocrats, youth and those with disabilities, their say in the affairs of the nation is responsible for our poor showing and inability to run Nigeria at the elemental speed necessary to liberate our people from the deprivation we have been sentenced to.
These countries would have lost the battle for survival without the full participation of their women, as Nigeria has repeatedly lost it with its misogynist policy which has bared its fangs again in the proposed cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Why are there only seven women in a list of 43, at a time the world is realising that society needs the full utilisation of all its human capital to survive? An inhibiting and miserly 16.3 per cent! It implies that we are still in the prehistoric age, unworthy of today and unprepared for the future where all others, including smaller nations like Rwanda and Ethiopia, are heading.
Buhari needs to revise the ministerial list and bring in more women. The states are not faring better. For instance, in Oyo, only one female has been mentioned in a 14-member team sent to the lawmakers. We need far more of them to reflect our multi-gender strength and corral this for development. They will give the nation the thinking of the age that is moving those accommodating them to the real next level. The gender distortion in governance that denies our women, apolitical technocrats, youth and those with disabilities, their say in the affairs of the nation is responsible for our poor showing and inability to run Nigeria at the elemental speed necessary to liberate our people from the deprivation we have been sentenced to. Building the nation shouldn’t be in the hands of male politicians alone. You build a rickety halfway society if you leave the women and the youth out of the project. The maxim is: Little returns to you if you send forth little of your vast potential into the field.
Banji Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State.