• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Promoting gender equity for inclusion

Promoting gender equity for inclusion

The 2024 International Women’s Day (IWD), themed Inspire Inclusion, presents another opportunity for a more critical look at the issue of gender equity in all spheres of life: in the workplace (public and private), in education, in healthcare delivery, in the economy, in governance, etc. It is an opportunity to go beyond the mouthing of slogans, the delivery of fine speeches, and reaching resolutions at conferences—resolutions that almost never get implemented—which, sadly, have remained regular features of the annual commemoration over the years.

The theme of this year’s edition of the event implies a deliberate effort to promote inclusion, which, in my view, can only come about through the recognition of equity as a necessary ingredient of development. A deliberate policy of inclusion whereby everyone can aspire to any height in their chosen fields of endeavour, regardless of gender, colour, race, religion, and ethnicity, must be encouraged.

We haven’t seen this deliberateness in Nigeria, especially in governance. Indeed, if any proof was needed to show that the country has not shown commitment to inclusion in governance, the outcome of the 2023 general election is perhaps the best of that proof. In a 109-member Senate, there are only three women (2.7 percent), while the 360-member House of Representatives has only 17 women (4.7 percent). In a 469-member National Assembly, women account for a paltry 4.2 percent.

The executive arm of the government has not fared any better. In a cabinet of 47 members, there are only nine female ministers. This was not significantly different from the situation under the current president’s predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, where there were only six women in a 44-member cabinet.

The situation is not any different in political leadership at the state level, where women are considered good enough but only for the tokenism of the office of deputy governor, not state governor, despite the fact that the country has hundreds of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s and Amina Mohammed’s who are as qualified as men and have what it takes to hold that office.

As we mark another IWD, there is a need to make more than a passionate mention of the issues of inclusion and gender equity. Today, gender bias against women poses perhaps one of the greatest human rights challenges around the world, especially in Africa, where issues of culture, beliefs, and religion have contributed in no small measure to stifling development on the continent.

In Nigeria, there must be a deliberate policy of inclusion, especially in the public sector, particularly governance. The private sector has shown commitment to upholding the principle of gender equity, especially in appointments to key offices. This is evident in the key and strategic positions women hold in almost all sub-sectors of the economy: manufacturing, financial sector, ICT, tourism and hospitality, real estate, marketing communications, etc. We see such appointments in academia as well.

It bears mentioning that such appointments have not come with special consideration for the women that hold them simply on account of gender, as a special favour, but strictly on merit. Access Holdings Plc recently announced the appointment of Ms Bolaji Agbede as successor to Herbert Wigwe, its ex-Group Chief Executive Officer, not because there was a deliberate effort to favour women but probably because she happened to be the most qualified for the position. The appointment is a fine demonstration of a policy of inclusion in the workplace.

The hospitality industry is an area where women are making their mark, both as employees, entrepreneurs, and leaders, but we need more. We have women like Rita Opiah, the first female general manager of the Radisson Hotel Group in Nigeria; Mrs Justina Ovat, who held the position of general manager of the Tinapa Lakeside Hotel before establishing the Backhouse Lounge in Calabar and is the current President of the Women in Hospitality in Nigeria (WIHIN); Adedoyin Fabikun, Managing Partner, Vertiline Synergy Limited; hospitality consultants; and many others.

It is important that women who have made their mark in the hospitality industry pass on their knowledge and skills to younger ones as a way of encouraging and actually facilitating female growth in the industry, both in employment and in entrepreneurship. Many hotels have executive chefs who are doing commendable jobs mentoring younger chefs, but how many of these executives in Nigerian top hotels are female? We have a very low quota of women seeking such careers in the hospitality industry in the country, and it is definitely not due to a lack of skill in this area.

Nigeria needs increased mentoring from successful female hospitality practitioners like Rita Opiah and Hilda Baci to enable women to hold leadership positions in the industry. Radisson Hotel Group is creating more opportunities for women in leadership, with 32 percent of women currently in leadership positions. A strong commitment is being made to increase these numbers, especially in upper-level management.

The government must create equal opportunities for every citizen to grow, regardless of gender. It is generally agreed that education is the bedrock of development in any society. Equal access to educational opportunities would enable female children to choose career paths early in life, with the result of having citizens who are knowledgeable, with expertise in diverse fields, and ultimately of benefit to the country.

Thankfully, almost all the states in the country have domesticated the Child Rights Act, which considers education a fundamental human right, among other rights. This is a call to the government at all levels to give priority attention to the education of the girl child by coming out with policies that eliminate cultural, religious, and systemic barriers that have stood against women’s development for ages.

Nigeria’s economic system appears to be disproportionately structured against women, even at the lowest level. There is, therefore, an urgent need for a paradigm shift to a green economy, which would encourage greater women’s participation in the country’s development process.

Women are today more educated, exposed, enlightened, and equipped than they were about three decades ago. Now is the time to give them what is due to them based on their educational attainment and expertise, for the sake of equity.

 

Yemi Oyekanmi is the District Marketing and Communications Manager, Nigeria, Radisson Hotel Group.