BusinessDay

Corporate Nigeria leads gender equality charge as lawmakers dither

From boardrooms to oil fields, the Nigerian public sector is shining brightly as a beacon for gender equality, while lawmakers are vacillating on making laws that will enable more women to participate in politics and the economy.

Last week, lawmakers rejected bills seeking to enhance gender equality but on Monday they rescinded the decision and March is only 10 days old. As they vacillate, corporate Nigeria shines brightly as a beacon for gender equality from boardrooms to greasy oil fields.

Multinationals and local companies are writing deliberate policies that will engender inclusion. From hiring decisions, filling senior management positions to board roles, women especially, who have been traditionally marginalised, are becoming more included.

Local oil company Walter Smith, for example, will not commence the recruitment process until there is an equal number of applications from male and female genders, said the company’s CEO, Chikezie Nwosu in remarks at the maiden edition of the Society for Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Women leadership conference which held in Lagos on Tuesday.

The event with the theme: ‘Breaking the bias – Accelerating Business and Economic Growth Through Inclusion’ was part of the International Women’s Day Celebration of SPE, tagged SPE’s “Women Leadership Lecture Series” WLLS 2022.

Speaker after speaker at the event, from oil and gas to tech companies, highlighted conscious efforts they are making to enhance gender inclusion. Women are not just appointed to ‘traditional’ roles in HR or Accounting, they are engaged in welding and fabrication at oil wells and serve as Chief Financial Officers.

Last August, energy giant Shell named Elohor Aiboni as the Managing Director of its Nigeria deep-water business, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited (SNEPCo). Elohor is the first female to lead a Shell exploration company in the over 60 years of Shell’s operations in Nigeria.

There are currently seven women serving as Managing Directors/CEOs of different Nigerian banks. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe was appointed first female managing director/CEO of Fidelity Bank Nigeria in 2021. Yemisi Edun was appointed in July 2021, the MD of First City Monument Bank (FCMB) Nigeria, the first in the bank’s history.

Bukola Smith succeeded Hamda Ambah in April 2021 as the Managing Director of FSDH Merchant Bank, a subsidiary of the FSDH group.

Read also: Women key in advancing our vision, performance – Leadway Assurance CEO

Mariam Olusanya succeeded Segun Agbaje as MD of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc last year. Ireti Samuel-Ogbu also became the first female MD/CEO of Citibank Nigeria and in the same year, Halima Buba was appointed the new MD/CEO of SunTrust Bank. Tomi Somefun, has been CEO of Unity Bank since 2015.

These women manage banks with a combined market capitalisation of over N1.13trillion according to BusinessDay analysis and with thousands of employees and every day make business decisions affecting the lives of millions of people.

Apart from the financial sector, women in Nigeria have established and are managing successful companies for example, Mo Abudu founded and heads one of the continent’s most successful media organisations.

The success of women in corporate Nigeria has not been replicated in the social and political spheres. While women make up the bulk of the electorate, their representation in parliament and executive positions are few and far between.

Cultural and religious mores have been used as tools to deny gender inclusion in Nigeria and other African societies. Lawmakers have largely stood in the way as women constitute less than 10 percent of lawmakers in Nigeria.

“This is why it has been difficult to press for reforms, we are too few in political office to make the difference,” said Margery Chuba Okadigbo, chairman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Ltd, who gave the keynote address at the conference.

Three critical bills to expand scope of citizenship by registration, affirmative action for women in political party administration and provision for criteria to be an indigene of a state in Nigeria have stalled in the national assembly.

Nigeria has not made progress in repealing laws that discriminate against women. Regulation 127 of the Police Act stipulates that unmarried police officers who get pregnant shall be discharged, and shall not be re-enlisted without the approval of the Inspector General. There is no sanction for an unmarried male police officer who impregnates a woman.

Section 282 (2) of the Penal Code, applicable in northern Nigeria does not recognise spousal rape. Sections 228, 229 and 230 of the Criminal code makes abortion a crime with a sentence of up 14 years both woman and any who helped.

The Nigerian constitution does not confer citizenship to a foreigner who marries a Nigerian woman. Assault and battery charges carry a heavier sentence when a man is the victim (3 years) than when a woman is involved (2 years). The Marriage Act requires only a father’s consent for a woman less than 21 years to be married. When he is not available, then the mother’s consent is sought.

Slow reforms in gender inclusion is having a deleterious impact on society.

“Women’s education and work are critical factors in reducing maternal and child mortality rates. In countries with higher unemployment rates

and less economic opportunities, gender equality has proven to stimulate economic growth,” Aisha Buhari, first of Nigeria in an address at the SPE conference through a representative.

She said that unless women have access to empowerment opportunities that allow them to gain education and join the workforce, many countries will not develop as well as they should.

Citing World Bank studies, Aisha Buhari said that many women around the world are still prevented by law from working in certain jobs; and in many countries, men can legally forbid their wives from working.

“Sadly, even in instances where women work, the gender pay gap means they don’t earn as much as men,” she said.

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