How Empowering Women In Nigeria Can Change Everything

The Nigerian woman has proved to be more than a mere bench-warming spectator even in the midst – of the male-dominated congregation. Many examples abound for us to see even here in this state. Women have proved their strength and competence in our societies in all spheres even in male dominated professions but the rise of women to lead several professional male dominated environments gives us hope and their achievement is a pointer to the capability of the Nigerian woman. Three of such male dominated professions – the – Nigerian Medical Association, the Nigerian Bar Association and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria – have been led by female presidents.

These feats according to an accomplished, professional, Chief Mrs. Bola Kuforiji Olubi, apart from testifying to the resilience, determination and unyielding “spirit” of women, cast in bold relief two useful and challenging facts. These are firstly, that leadership traits are not genetically acquired and – have nothing to do with gender. Women can effectively participate in policy making and governance, if given the chance. They can hold their own in very difficult and stressful situations and can do as well, if not better, than men.

Secondly, that men admire and respect women who wield power whether it be economic or political. This fact dismantles the confusing and misleading notion that successful women are abhorred and constitute a threat to the society and especially to their husbands and associates.

The steady advancement of women in contributing to the nation’s socio-economic development and their progressive prominence in the national scheme of affairs have, to a large extent, impacted on the Federal Government; and the Government has responded positively in many ways
Mrs. Maryam Babangida was active in the promotion of women-related issues and interests during her husbands’s tenure as President. During this period the Better Life for Rural Women Programme was established for the purpose of empowering women economically and socially.

The subsequent creation of the National Commission for Women and a ministerial portfolio for Women Affairs provide additional avenues for the promotion of women-related issues and the enhancement of the role of women in national deveopment by way of a statutory body and a Ministry.

At this juncture it is pertinent to pose a number of vital questions: Are these achievements, with an ever present spectre of tokenism hovering over the potential of the future Nigerian women, far-reaching enough? Can they translate into permanent structures that will guarantee the desired equitable society in terms of gender relations? Can they be used as yardsticks for measuring the latent calibre of the future Nigerian woman and her placement within the national scheme? To avoid succumbing to a narrow political scope, the foregoing questions are juxtaposed on the assertions of Professor Ali Mazrui in his 1991 Guardian Lecture titled, ‘The Black women and the problem of gender: Trials, Triumphs and Challenges” where he sought to establish a distinction between political visibility or centring and political empowerment. To him, the greater proportion of positive developments for women in Nigeria can be classified as “the politics of centring or liberation.” His words in part:
“A woman can be at the Centre without being empowered, a woman can be Liberated without being either centred or empowered…. The strategy of redemption needs to go beyond liberation and beyond centring towards genuine power-sharing between the two halves of the Black world, male and female ….in real life, motherhood leaves the African women at the center but not necessarily in power (Mazrui, 1991). .”

It is only in redressing the obfuscation of centering without empowerment in the various domains involving women that issues inherent in the answer to the foregoing questions and the path leading to the emergence of the future Nigerian woman could be addressed.
Beyond politics, the broad domains involving women of various classes are agriculture, urban work – place, the law, and education. Women contribute tremendously to agricultural output but unfortunately they hardly, benefited from agricultural incentives and innovation because of economic suppression and social and traditional practices which undermine the constitutional provisions on the equality of men and women. Ignorance had hitherto been adduced as the reason for the lack of women participation in agricultural programmes and projects, but research has shown that gender discrimination, more than anything else, has been responsible for this situation.

For instance, Ayu cites the 1987 research work of Nema Ngur which shows that in a study of 40 women and men in Pella village in Gombia Local Government Area of the former Gongola State, inspite of the high level of awareness of the benefits of adopting agricultural innovations, only men benefited from government loans and were members of co-operatives et cetera.

A separate investigation carried out by Ayu in 1992 amongst the Berom women of Plateau State, shows that all of the 600 women interviewed were aware and desired the benefits of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and tractors but none of them had direct access to it. They had to get such inputs through their husbands who do not get enough of such and must satisfy the needs of their own farms, first. In the same study, it was discovered that none of the women had benefited from government loans because their husbands would either not approve or when they do, would take the money from them. Again, the land tenure system permits women only limited (sometimes none at all) ) access to land ownership and use – an anomaly which the Land Use Decree has not been able to correct. But much more fundamental, according to Ayu, is the problem of implementation of women in specific programmes as a result of communication gap between “the women and programme officials in relation to the programme, an input that could be of benefit to them.”

To correct these anomalies, Ayu rightly suggests that gender analysis be made a standard tool of economic analysis, and of project design and monitoring. There should also be improvements on women’s access to basic economic resources such as land (as owners), labour-saving machines (such as tractors), food processing machines, financial capital and other agricultural innovations such as improved seedlings, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers et cetera. To ensure proper utility of these facilities, technical services as well as market information should be made available to women farmers among others. It boils down to the need for the education of the rural women.

The success of a lot of women both at home and careers have helped in debunking the widely held notions about the ability of working women to fulfill their maternal roles as pointed out by Dr. (Mrs) V. N. Arene, in a paper titled: ‘The Nigerian Women in the Workplace.” Her words: There is no validated research that professional housewives bring up children better than professional service ladies. The children of working women certainly do no less well than the children of pure housewives. On the contrary, it is to be expected that happy and fulfilled professional career women and mothers will apply the benefits of their knowledge, their vast exposure, more balanced judgment, in educating their children and running their homes. They will also be a greater inspiration to their children (Arene, 1993).

The foregoing submissions of Dr. Arene corroborate an earlier assertion by Chief (Mrs) Kuforiji that women need not shed filial commitments in search of professional glory and makes attractive her list of “strategies for winning” for women all of which would be the abiding principle of the future Nigerian woman.

In sum, she believes that women must adjust mentality for winning because the frustration of the past led to many of them pegging their aspiration low. They should grant themselves intellectual liberation and cast away timidity while expressing informed and enlightened boldness and confidence. Furthermore, rather than depend on the use of feminine attraction, she believes that women should be able to match aspiration with ability, ambition with qualification; and be informed while exploiting legitimate opportunities to foster their career potentials.

– Tessy T. Gusim
Carefronting – Nigeria.