by Opeyemi Oriniowo
The 2017 international women’s day (IWD) celebration has come and gone but not without leaving its fair share of big talks, jamborees, camaraderie and conundrums; at least from the perspective of a young man carving a path in Africa’s social sector of complex problems.
Over the past week and in the spirit of commemorating the IWD 2017, I found myself packed into rooms full of women and very few men, which in itself is not a problem for me except for some awkward inquisitive stares questioning your attendance or sometimes outright indignation by some participants who request that the men present be excused before they ask a question or make a contribution.
One of such requests was made by a woman sitting not so far from me during the panellist session on ‘Politics and Women Organising’ as a sub-event of the summit organised by Women’s Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC ). I perfectly understand that women need privacy, but how much privacy are you trying to get out of an open event aimed at getting more women in public office?
In all fairness, the awkwardness was quelled by so many other women who disagreed with the request to excusing the men present and in fact, the chief organiser of the event, Dr. Abiola Akiode came outside to apologise to us for the marginalisation.
In my brief moment of social exclusion, I got talking to another gentleman who shared my predicament and you can almost guess that our conversation was along the lines of unnecessarily justifying why we were at the event. I got to know he had done a lot of work in the social sector and had recently set up his own NGO focusing on youth and women empowerment, and had accompanied Moremi Ojudu who was representing the youth on the panel that had influential women like Ms. Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, Ms. Kemi Nelson, and Ms. Ada Agina-Ude on the same panel.
I had to come up with a decent profile for myself, so I told how I am a development practitioner focusing on poverty and inequality, and how resolute I am in my conviction that addressing gender inequality has a significant domino effect on all the other variables in the human development index. I also did not fail to add that I am an Advisor and Assistant to the event’s Guest Lecturer, Her Excellency, Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi. So it made sense for me to be there since I was being mentored by a pan-African feminist.
My point in the above narration is that, did we have to be all of that before we could see social and economic sense in a more equitable society, as against feeling out of place or a betrayal to the men’s club?
Or maybe it is the women that are fuelling the lack of a sizeable number or perhaps all men in the women’s empowerment movement beyond the lip service by their counter-productive ‘Us against them’ approach.
In general terms, I understand that men are incentivised not to see patriarchy because the benefit accrues to them. Quite frankly, I agree it not easy for people to see beneath their privilege. However, we can be assured that we can’t achieve much if we turn women’s rights into a battle of the sexes. The school of feminism I belong to is that which is not interested in replacing patriarchy with matriarchy. Like the saying goes,’ If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together’. We must be strategic in our quest and sensitive in our glamour. We must not exhaust ourselves in winning a fight that will result in us losing the battle. It might also be interesting to note that the first principle in the ‘Art of War’ as written many centuries ago by Sun Tzu and recently broken down by Mark McNeilly in his book ‘Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare’ priorities ‘Winning All without Fighting’ as the key strategy; which translates to achieving the objective without destroying it.
Another key insight that was thrown up last week at the session hinged on ‘the Role of Professionals in Ensuring Qualitative Women’s Leadership in Private and Public Sectors’. It was a well-organized session with a decent dose of big talks and insightful perspectives on how career women could navigate the murky waters of corporate politics.
The key issue I want to emphasise is the salient need for appropriate gender messaging in achieving women’s empowerment. The session had a powerful line-up of speakers which included Professor Chioma Agomo (Former Dean of the faculty of Law, University of Lagos), Ms. Toyin Ojo (President of the Association of Professional Women Bankers Nigeria) and Ms. Folake Onabolu (First Female Forensic Accountant and President of Society of Women Accountant in Nigeria).
While Ms Toyin Ojo was giving her presentation, she listed procreation and the attendant nursing of offsprings as a major limitation women faced in attaining leadership position in the corporate world. Her exposition on this area seemed to be resigned to the acceptance of the concept of procreation as a nature inflicted affliction that can only be overcome by an uncommon grace. I was glad when Ms Sola Salako (Consumer Right Advocate) during the Q and A, attempted to add some perspective to the narrative by opining that women should view and defend procreation in economic and social terms. She reckoned that the continuity of all corporate organisations in Nigeria as well as the nation state itself rests on the shoulders of women and as such should be viewed and measured in terms of its economic and social benefit to the nation.
Unfortunately, Professor Chioma Agomo had the final say on the issue and she disagreed with Ms Salako’s contribution. She said she considered the approach to be inherently blackmailing of men. Her understanding was that women should have children for the love and affection that comes with having children and not embark upon endless procreation without the means to nurture them.
As much as I try to reason along with Prof, especially on the importance of planned parenthood and the need for it to be premised on the economic realities of the parent; I cannot help but find the most of her argument not fit for purpose and slightly digressing from the context of ‘ensuring and advancing qualitative women’s leadership in the private and public sectors’.
Nigeria women’s movement needs to develop and adopt progressive messaging tools that are not at cross purposes. Like a successful politician, we must focus on our strengths, understand our crowd at every given time and speak in the language they understand.
Most importantly, the empowerment of women’s movement must not lose legitimacy through the lack of sensitivity to the class structures and social stratification that different women find themselves. As we try to advance the role of women for its social and economic benefits to nation building, our approach must be grounded in the realisation that women belong to various social stratum and face different problems. The International women’s day must be beyond the celebration of the few women who have broken the glass ceiling. Beyond the jamborees and the camaraderie, we must retain the space as an avenue to give voice to the voiceless.
Happy International Women’s Day, let us do more!