The clamour for increased representation of women in key roles in the public and private sector in Nigeria is as old as the troubled republic. It dates back to a time when the key positions women were vying for was on the voting queue. Sustained agitation by formidable political activists like Hajiya Gambo Sawaba will eventually see Northern women gain the right to vote in 1976, 25 years after their southern counterparts did.
The years have seen the conversation on women’s place in Nigeria’s polity expand, shrink and expand some more. In all this pendulum-swing trajectory, one thing has remained key to the struggle – the energising visibility of women who made their mark despite crippling policies and social attitudes to women in highly placed roles.
Jane Egerton-Idehen is one such woman.
A Nigerian-based telecommunication executive with over 17 years of experience in the Nigerian, Liberian and Ghanaian telecommunications markets, Jane has been vocal about the advancement of women and gender equality in the workplace.
Her insight on the past 5-10 years with regards to women’s place in the polity is concise and right on the mark.
“While we have seen Nigerian women take leadership roles in finance, banking, literacy, entertainment etc, both on the local and global stage, [still] in so many ways there is much to be done,” she said in a recent interview series spotlighting women breaking boundaries by YNaija.
“Until women and girls in rural areas feel empowered and have gender equality, it is still work in progress. Our ability to empower more women will determine how fast we can foster equitable economic growth and long term stability in the country.”
We achieve little or nothing when we are okay with gloating over the microscopic wins we have achieved in the fight for gender equality in urban areas alone.
It is still the present-day reality of millions of Nigerian women and girls that their access to opportunities is limited and their lives are endangered, often in the very urban spaces we are so proud of.
Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, the undergraduate student who was raped and murdered while reading in her church in Edo is a case in point. She is far from the only case too.
The full picture of the sorry state of women’s rights in Nigeria can be daunting even for the determined. Jane explains that keeping her gaze on posterity keeps her going.
“I am hopeful that we can move the needle a bit, and as we keep doing that we make it better for the generation after us,” she said.
“The belief that the more we educate people about the importance of having more women participate in leadership, in the formal and informal sector, the more we can create a hopeful future for our children.”
Celebrating days like International Women’s Day brings attention to this discussion, and Ms Egerton agrees that this is key to bringing more awareness to the issue of women’s place in the polity. We can do more, however.
In fact …
“We need to do more. We need more men to drive this agenda,” she posits.
“Women are more than homemakers. They are not subordinate to men. So we should educate our children starting from the homes. We should not limit the girl child.”
Yet, it is one thing to want to see these changes, it is another thing to bring awareness to this need year on year, and a whole other thing to see this awareness translate into action by all relevant stakeholders.
Ms Egerton didn’t mince words on what exactly is needed beyond awareness.
“We want to see policies that support this, we need the government pushing a more aggressive agenda, we need civil societies working as allies to educate the population and hold the government accountable for this.”
The conversation on equality and women’s place in the polity can be said to be simmering at the moment, thanks to the sustained agitation – especially online – by women’s rights advocates. The private sector has been responsive, at least, in their admittance that a problem exists with the lack of female representation in the workforce. Not so much the public sector.
“We see very few women in leadership, government and politics. We have very few women in politics and government leadership within the country. We need to do more there, for a country that has almost 50% of its population being women we need better representation at the levels of government.”
It is not rocket science. That an untapped potential remains wasting in the Nigerian women demographic is an unassailable truth. Women don’t claw their way up the social ladder through blood and tears on the back of incompetence, yet when push comes to shove, their qualification is tossed in the bin so less qualified men are ‘buddied’ into the door leaving them with a slammed door in their way.
Some of the women profiled in this interview series demolished the door to claim a seat at the table. Perhaps we need to borrow a leaf out of their book.
Watch the other women in the video: