BusinessDay

Nigerian women are capable of rewriting their stories- Nkechi Ali-Balogun

NKECHI ALI-BALOGUN, the Principal Consultant/CEO of NECCI Consulting, with over 20 years of experience in PR and training consultancy bares her mind with CHARLES OGWO on issues touching on women’s inclusion in Nigeria. Excerpts:

Recently, you seem to disagree with the present approach of achieving gender equality when you said that women should redesign their own story and narrative, please expatiate on this?

I don’t think it would be completely true to say that I disagree with the present approach to achieving gender equality considering the antecedents of women and then the kind of challenges that women face when it comes to gender equality.

Beyond the 35percent affirmation women also have come of age. They have all it takes and can actually fight for inclusion based on merit. So they are not asking for hand-outs from the men, because they have come a long way and have achieved so much and have come this far, not because of anything that men give them but based on their tenacity and hard work.

They have fought, they have conquered and they keep fighting. So yes, they are re-designing their own stories and talking about gender equality, we have a critical mass of women who have social sensibilities, a strong fighting spirit, and who are also academically qualified to rewrite the cause of women.

So I don’t see women as a gender waiting for men to give them equality. I see women being able to balance their role in the house and the height they want to achieve in their careers. They can do it!

That is what I meant by them re-designing their own story and narrative. Women have the capacity both in terms of emotional intelligence, awareness, flexibility, and leadership, they have the capacity to rewrite their own stories and take on the men in areas where they think they have been challenged.

So it is just for the women to rise up and come up with an agenda for women’s inclusion. I must add that the agitation for equality by women does not and can never challenge the headship of the man because this is their main fear.

The man continues to be the head but must work side by side with the woman. We can do this thing together. Collectively we can achieve more. Bigger is better. Look around us, I wouldn’t say the men have not done well so far, but see how far they have led us and I think a feminine touch would bring about the magic of the Nigerian dream.

What is really your position and view on various campaigns for gender equality in Nigeria?

My views about various campaigns for gender equality in Nigeria are very simple. I totally support the campaigns and I commend very highly the efforts of the women who are at the forefront of fighting for women.

I must tell you that it is not easy and neither will the campaigns yield results immediately. My attitude is that we must be patient; we must not lose hope or allow anybody to intimidate us. The fight for gender equality has always been a very complex one and we are not so naive to think that we would get it on a platter of gold.

At the same time, women have a lot of weapons to use, so we must go back to the drawing board and identify the key stakeholders in this campaign. We must start the fight from the inside and then we can take it out to the schools, market women, we can involve various women catalyst groups. The men are our husbands, sons, brothers etc, so we can achieve a lot by fighting from the inside.

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I think it’s also time for all women associations to come together as a group or rather one large pack with the same agenda and then come up with strategies that they all believe in so that they will be fighting with a sense of cohesion, knowing that this fight is for the benefit of every woman.

I think that before long women will get what they want because I see that the men and even the society are becoming tired. A recent poll showed that 85percent of Nigerians are ready for a female president. What does this tell you? The women are gradually winning.

Q: We have not been able to remove this misogynistic behaviour towards women, the man still believes he is superior to the woman which is not true.

In the last 30 years or so, the society including more parents have embraced equal training of their children in different fields, therefore, what would you attribute to the wide gap in diversity in workplaces?

You may be right, in the last 30 years, parents have embraced equal training for their children in various fields. We have female lawyers, doctors, engineers, psychologists, etc.

However, there is a gap in the orientation; of the mind, of values; we have not been able to teach the boy-child that the girl-child is equal to him.

We have not been able to remove this misogynistic behaviour towards women, the man still believes he is superior to the woman which is not true.

Until we are able to re-orientate our children at home beginning from how we view our girl and boy child, and the way our fathers treat our daughters in terms of inheritance, behaviour, and expectations; this diversity will continue to be there. The woman has an inner strength that no man can compete with.

She is a mother, a career woman an administrator, a manager, and a woman who functions in various other capacities, and yet never breaks down. The woman is naturally made to multi-task, an asset that gives her an edge over the male gender.

Hardly do you see any woman that got a stroke in the office? Until we eradicate male chauvinism and stop the discrimination against female employees, we may not be able to remove the gap in diversity in workplaces completely.

I think we should come to a stage where whoever does the job must be somebody who is qualified to do the job. Not because the person is a male or a female, but because the person is qualified to do the job. That way, the wide gap in diversity in workplaces will be narrowed.

To what extent do you think equality has been achieved in the Nigerian environment? Is there any country that has achieved equality instead of equity? Is equality achievable at all in the Nigerian setting?

Either way, you look at it, it is achievable. Yes, it’s achievable in every environment. Again the Nigerian woman is a respecter of tradition, very close to God and she knows the patriarchal rules but we are not fighting that.

God created the man and the woman equal and we are not bigger or more knowledgeable than God. In His wisdom, He has placed the man as the head in the home.

Every man should realize the woman is equal to him, but for structure and crisis-free leadership in homes, and not in market places, God has given man the headship.

Rwanda is a good example of a country in Africa where equity is practiced, so gender equity is achievable.

How can PR be used to create an understanding of this campaign, especially in Nigeria?

The role of PR is to raise awareness through various media, carry out training and promote understanding for the public to know the basic purposes and principles of gender equality.

PR can facilitate various initiatives for a gender-equal society, especially in the areas of planning, research, sensitisation, etc.

PR could also be handy when it comes to counseling during a crisis; in fighting a cause like this, there will always be conflicts, and the best person to manage this is the PR practitioner. So, yes, we have a great role to play!

Campaigns by NGOs in support of diversity inclusion appear assuasive, pitifully, and beggarly than competitive and merit-based, do you agree?

I would not want you to trivialize the efforts of the women fighting for inclusion and gender equality. It is like you’re saying that the era where people were clamouring for the end of the slave trade was beggarly and assuasive.

At every point in time, the woman has a hurdle impeding on her quest to be heard and be a part of the body polity. It is tradition, marriage, religion, or one form of social norm, she must align with to become who she wants to become.

Let us also look at the misogynistic attitude of men towards women, and the patriarchal system we have in Nigeria and African society. Faced with these challenges, the only way to make sure that this happens is to make a demand. That demand is not beggarly, assuasive or pitiful.

What future does the campaign for diversity inclusion hold for Nigeria?

The future of the campaign for diversity inclusion and gender equality is very bright because I see the emergence of much-focused women who understand the issues coming together as a front to agitate for inclusion, and that is very encouraging.

Besides, businesses, governments, and agencies are now more aware and are beginning to adopt a mindset that allows them to include women in everything they do. I see a woman becoming a President in Nigeria or even a Vice- President.

As organisations or marketplaces continue to recognise the place of women, of course, the future becomes brighter. I see a Nigeria where women will be playing major roles in setting global standards for other African countries.

Finally, I see a critical mass of women who are highly educated forging ahead and you cannot continue to ignore them. You must not also forget that they have a vote. With their number and with their votes, the women have a good place in the future.

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