In a recently concluded two day event, UN WOMEN in partnership with WIMBIZ, organised a roundtable dialogue with female CEOs, board chairpersons and members on collaborating to end structural barriers and discriminatory practices that hold back progress on gender equality and empowerment. Associate Editor, KEMI AJUMOBI hosted day one of the programme and writes. Excerpts
The UN Women in collaboration with WIMBIZ, recently had a round table dialogue with female CEOs and board members and chairpersons in Lagos Nigeria.
The UN Women as a global entity is dedicated to promoting the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. In Nigeria, they support the government at local and state levels to develop and implement laws and policies that promote equal opportunity and the right of women and girls.
They also work to ensure gender equality is mainstreamed across UN agencies in Nigeria to accelerate the country’s development and improve humanitarian response.
At UN Women, they tackle the underlying structural barriers and discriminatory practices that hold back progress on gender equality.
Holding the two day event was one of the processes put in place to promote these courses.
In her welcome remarks, Executive Director, WIMBIZ, Hansatu Adegbite, shared on the goals of WIMBIZ and the vision of the organisation being a catalyst of change. She recognised the contribution of the founders and celebrated the consistency of the organisation in promoting and supporting courses on women. She appreciated the UN Women for their collaboration and initiative to have the event, and enjoined participants to be part of the vision to make the programme a success.
In her goodwill message, Founder/CEO, The Chair Centre Group, Co-Founder, WIMBIZ, Ibukun Awosika thanked the UN for collaborating with WIMBIZ on the initiative. She shared reasons why Nigerian women have over the years been on top of their game. She described them as smart, beautiful, purposeful and equipped with the capacity to take on the world.
“Women are key to the success of Nigeria. They require courage to change the world against all odds. The UN should support Nigerian women locally and globally” she emphasized.
For the UN Women Country Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Beatrice Eyong, Africa will go forward if Nigeria takes the lead. “We have seen the calibre of women Nigeria has produced and it is evidenced in the people in this room. Nigeria has produced some of the most intelligent and powerful women in the world for instance, in the UN, the second person after the Secretary General is a Nigerian woman.”
“If you look at the WTO, it is same. We can go on. It tells you of the perception we have about the Nigerian woman and the private sector is very important for us, as it produces goods and services necessary for the achievement or the SDGs.” Beatrice said.
According to her, it is important as it also produces employment for both men and women. She said the second reason is that, it creates opportunity to promote gender equality and empowerment, and that is evident in different companies, because there are companies that donate millions of dollars for this course, just by the contribution from the private sector.
Sadly, as revealed in her speech, the statistics for gender equality and empowerment as seen from a recent study that has just come up from ECOWAS, Nigeria was compared with other ECOWAS countries, and as far as gender equality is concerned, it was highlighted in red, which means the representation is low.
“It is why we decided from the UN office to sit together to see what we can do. Our plan is to see how, together, we can collaborate with the private sector to see how the SDGs can be achieved, and identify with those who are committed and believe like we do that if SDG5 is not achieved, we cannot achieve SDGs.” Beatrice stated.
On UN’s specific objectives, they look forward to working with Nigerian women as a whole, with enterprises that can enable the rural women benefit within the agricultural value chain, especially because of the negative effect of the war in Ukraine.
“Sometimes, the war may seem far from you, but you will soon realize the effect it will have on you in your own house. We need to partner because partnership in collaboration with the private sector is important.” Eyong insists.
The UN Women look forward to alignment with Nigerian female CEOs and board members on women economic empowerment, spotlight initiatives, women political participation, peace and security, humanitarian actions and buying raw materials from rural women and protective materials from women owned SMEs.
UN Women believe that the only way to achieve transformational results for gender equality and women’s empowerment is with and through partners, and ensuring that commitments are backed by sustainable financing and accountability.
Therefore, “In this context, deepening and expanding partnerships and influencing the actions and financing of other actors are cornerstones of UN Women’s Strategic Plan.” Chukwuemeka Onyimadu, UN Women National Economist, said.
Beatrice Eyong – UN Women Country Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS
This story is a true life story about a girl I met. She is 16 years old. At 16, she was already married, divorced with one child, with no skill, no primary education, nothing. I will share her story because it is going to bring out the key issues.
Her name is Tabella. She dropped out of school at 13 to marry. She was forced to marry an old man who could be her father and as time went on, she became pregnant, and her dream of becoming a nurse went away because she wasn’t given another choice but marriage. This continues till date. She was faced with issues of rape, beating and all kinds of things that you can imagine. Because it was too early, she had Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF), which is a life destroyer. The same man who married her asked her to leave and till date, she is living with it. She also has a child, but they have both been abandoned. No skill, nothing. It became worse when her father died. Neither her mother nor herself could inherit anything because they are females. The baby passed on. Her life doesn’t have to be this way. We need adequate gender responsive actions.
There are six areas of development needed. First is education. You see that we have issues on gender and education. 10 million girls in Nigeria are out of school, that is about 60% of the 18.5 million out of school children in Nigeria. We can’t build a nation with such huge percentage of people that are dropping out of school.
In terms of the economy, 44 million women (including Tabella’s mother) are living under the poverty line in Nigeria. It means they cannot earn $1.
In agriculture, we realize that women work in 80% of the agricultural land along the value chains, but they own only10% of land.
In terms of gender imbalances, we realize that there is disparity even in salaries. Women earn only N7,700 for the same job that the man is earning N10,000, and only 34% of women have bank accounts.
A recent study that ECOWAS has done, which has been validated by all the governments in ECOWAS and done in March 2022 (they just validated it in June, so it’s the most recent statistics we have) shows that in Nigeria, 860 women die per 100,000 births and the North East is topping the list with 1,500 deaths per 100,000 births. If you calculate that with the seven million children that are born in Nigeria every year, you have thousands of women who are losing their lives. Then we have 20,000 of VVF cases occurring every year so, 20,000 of those girls are falling into that category yearly.
On early marriage, like Tabella, 40% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday, and one in four have been a victim of sexual violence. 25% of married women in Nigeria have experienced some form of spousal domestic violence at all levels, and 64% of women have experienced one or more instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. This is something we’ll be talking about now because sexual harassment is also prominent in the workplace.
In terms of governance, we have only 3.8% of women in elective posts nationally and in states, only 16% of appointments, and women hold only 20% of executive positions in Nigeria.
On traditions, we still have harmful traditional practices despite all that has been done. Only 10% of Nigerian women own land because people say women cannot own land. Also, 20% of Nigerian women between15 to 19 have been circumcised. Furthermore, a 2017 report shows that 43% of Nigerian men think that sometimes, it is good for women to be beaten.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF WE SIT AND DO NOTHING?
If nothing is done about it, we are still going to have higher maternal and child mortality, unfavourable policies and laws, women will still not have their voice, there will be millions of people falling into poverty, harmful traditional practices will continue, forced marriages, widowhood practices, female genital mutilation, biased inheritance laws and then we are still going to have increased violence against women and girls, and even the percentage we know now is still smaller than the real thing because women don’t report. There will also be lower GDP. The World Bank did the study in 2000 that said that countries that don’t take gender equality and women’s empowerment seriously will face more poverty, more deaths, more malnourishment and more instances where people don’t have access to services.
Founder/CEO The Chair Centre Group, Co-Founder, WIMBIZ
Having the audacity to believe it is possible for women to find their way and space, we the founders of WIMBIZ believed in ourselves, in our friends and generations to come that it was worth the sacrifice and time to build.
We are not where we want to be but we are glad for the progress made. A few of us have managed to chair organisations that were never chaired by women and though it wasn’t easy, the girls have fought a good fight and they have stood and are changing the game. That is what is key.
For any country to progress, you cannot undermine 50 per cent of your population, it doesn’t matter how hard the other 50 per cent works, you will always underperform. In the case of Nigeria, where you also have amazing women, (because the Nigerian woman is everything you can dream of) she is smart, beautiful, fashionable, driven, purposeful and has the capacity to take on the world without fear, that is not a tool you leave at home when you are building leadership and so, for a country that needs help, women are key to the success of Nigeria.
Do we have the system to guarantee that they get there? No! We don’t because there is still so much power held in the hands of men and also because as women as well, we are still learning. There isn’t enough understanding of the power of the togetherness of women. A lot of women have come to the understanding, but we are still so far away from it. Understanding the power of the collaborative, where women are concerned, knowing that there are women who sit in various offices representing the generations of women behind, knowing that they are holding office and accounting for others therefore, they must add value to the process of building the equity that we seek for women. That is a process that is still on-going, and WIMBIZ as a vehicle serves as part of that tool. Many other vehicles are emerging around in order to bring the silos power of women into a common power through which we can create the super power that women need to change things around.
I have sat at tables and to make things work, you need the diversity of the voice, the integrity of women, the patience they bring to the table, their courage to change things and their ability to influence and influence positively, against all odds, because when men play, they always play to the house because they do not want to ruffle feathers, they do not want to play outside of the table however, when you need change, you must have the courage to play outside of the table or challenge it. That is the strength women bring to the table.
It is embarrassing that in 2023, we are going to vote again, and there will not be a female at least, a vice presidential candidate. It’s an insult to how far Nigerian women have come. The reasons that the system will think the women are not critical enough is because women are playing in silos. The day we decide that we’re critical, and we want to play the critical power in a united form, we will change things.
So, if there’s any help that UN Women will participate in, it’s in being a voice from the global view, but also being a local instigator of encouraging, building, empowering and moving the women who have the capacity, strength and the interest to be able to participate.
One other thing, if we leave all the political power on the table, we cannot have the economic power because ultimately, political destroys economic power and that is why I have to salute the likes of Adeola Azeez and those who have gone to the table of politics.
We must find a way for all of us to play. If we’re not competing, we must be funding, we need to find out how to do it, and when women themselves are being pushed or attacked, women must understand what our place is, and then how to rise to work together to protect her. That’s something else we must all learn how to do.
As Chairman of First Bank, every time I said to myself, “To hell with this”, I remembered I wasn’t sitting for myself, and therefore chose to sit to continue, because, if it took 123 years for me to show up as the first female, you can imagine what it would cost not to make use of it to fight for the right things for the women.
So, wherever you sit, look behind you, how has it benefited other women constructively because sometimes, you can’t do what your friends want, but you must do what is strategically effective and positive for building the power of getting women to the table, and this isn’t a women’s issue, It’s a national issue and an economic issue.
We do it not just because we want to get women to the table, but because you need women at the table in the interest of the nation and the development of our economy. And as mothers of the nation, we must fight the united way, and that’s what this is all about.