In the year 2008, I co-edited a book, African Women Can Lead, published by Kachifo Limited under its prestige imprint. The book is a collection of essays and presentations made for three editions of the Development and Leadership Institute (DLI)’s “Women in Politics and Leadership” programme. We chose the book’s title after a rigorous debate by the advisory board of the programme. The thrust of the debate then was that more African women should be given chances to lead, as this would help address the prevalent inequalities and empower women to contribute more to advancing society. Recent events in which many Nigerian women are playing critical leadership roles globally, on the basis of merit, have made the book’s title a prophetic choice.
Particularly noteworthy is the recent assumption of the role of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by the former Nigerian Finance minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. This epochal event has again put Nigerian women in the spotlight, alongside their impacts on society and how they can excel when given the opportunity. To be clear, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala did not become the DG of WTO because she is a woman.
The fact that she and South Korean Trade minister, Yoo Myung-hee, who were the last two remaining candidates for the WTO top job, happened to be women, was merely incidental. The world was looking for a capable hand to lead global trade negotiations, and two women came up tops. As such, the Nigerian economist and international development expert, who was a two-time Nigerian Finance minister, Managing Director of World Bank, and a board member of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Twitter, got the exalted position of DG of WTO wholly on merit.
Nigeria is a typical patriarchal society. Ours is a country that has never found a single woman competent enough to be elected as the chief executive of a State. The under-representation of women in political participation, particularly at the topmost levels, gained hold due to the deep-rooted cultural practices inherent in our society, which have existed from the pre-colonial era till date.
However, the return to democratic rule in 1999 has witnessed an increase in women’s political participation in elective and appointive offices in the country. By 2015, the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria was 6.7 per cent, which was far below the global average of 22.5 per cent, the African regional average of 23.4 per cent, and West African sub regional average of 15 per cent.
Nigerian men hold the primary power and predominate in political leadership roles, moral authority, social privilege, and property control. Most Nigerian traditional societies are also patrilineal, meaning that the male lineage inherits property and titles.
Nigerian women face several challenges, the most critical of which is the cultural bias favouring male children, and leading to parents giving more support to male children above the female ones. There is also the problem of domestic violence. In some cultures, it is acceptable for a man to maltreat his wife, purportedly as discipline, in Nigeria. Some Nigerian women are equally traumatised mentally, sexually, physically and emotionally by their husbands, male counterparts, or partners. Our women have faced all manners of violence, from molestation, battery, physical attacks, wife-beating, corporal punishment to rape.
Women are great leaders because studies and experience have shown that they bring unique perspectives from different emotional, cultural, and structural dimensions to drive effective solutions to society’s challenges. They are better than men in balancing professional and personal leadership skills. They exhibit high emotional intelligence…
There are also female child labour, abortion, prostitution, and female genital mutilation problems confronting and potentially limiting the Nigerian woman. There is the hydra-headed problem of child marriage. According to official statistics, 43 per cent of Nigerian girls become married before their 18th birthday and 17 per cent before turning 15. This problem is most prevalent in the northern part of the country, even though these challenges have not stopped women from playing frontline roles or making impact as leaders.
There are certain primary attributes of women, which are essential in leadership. These are what Nigeria loses, as we have refused to give our women ample opportunity to thrive and contribute their quotas to national development. The likes of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, Amina J. Mohammed, Folorunsho Alakija, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Agbani Darego, Genevieve Nnaji and Funke Akindele demonstrate visionary leadership and steadfast dedication to work and the achievement of great results that enabled them to rise to the pinnacle of their professions. Activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Professor Dora Akunyili, Mathematician Professor Grace Alele-Williams and committed physician, Ameyo Adadevoh, all had these qualities before they left for the great beyond.
It has been said that women handle crises better than men. One may argue that childbearing makes them compassionate and patient, as it requires patience to carry a pregnancy for nine months and compassion to deal with little children. A crisis-torn country like Nigeria needs these attributes. Women also show greater empathy than men. Insouciance is not gendered specific, but one can argue that we have more hard-hearted men in our society than women.
Women are great leaders because studies and experience have shown that they bring unique perspectives from different emotional, cultural, and structural dimensions to drive effective solutions to society’s challenges. They are better than men in balancing professional and personal leadership skills. They exhibit high emotional intelligence, are often flexible and lead by example – essential qualities needed in today’s Nigeria. They listen well, and dealing with children probably makes them better at communicating and nurturing people than the menfolk.
Handling the complications of the home makes our women good at multitasking, an attribute needed in Nigeria’s complex socio-economic environment. Women work better in teams, and they prove this by the seamless manner in which they organise events, as we have more women than men as event planners in Nigeria. In Nigeria’s political, social, and economic environment, teamwork is a sine qua non for success.
Our women dream big. They are motivated by challenges. A woman who can defy the odds and rise to the top of her profession in our patriarchal society with its inherent anti-women biases, is capable of being a great leader.
Nigeria can make better progress if the extant National Gender Policy (NGP), which recommends that at least 35 per cent of both elective political and appointive public service positions be reserved for women, is implemented. There should be social reorientation which would emphasise the crucial role that women play in leadership.
In today’s Nigeria, women are grossly underrepresented in politics and other sectors of our body polity. Just three per cent of people elected to public office in 2003 were women. By 2007, that figure increased to about seven per cent, but in 2015, the numbers declined to 5.6 per cent. Before the 2019 elections, women’s representation in the House of Representatives was 5.5 per cent; and 5.8 per cent in the Senate.
The statistics in more developed societies tell better stories of the womenfolk. In the United Kingdom, 19.4 per cent of Members of Parliament and 30.8 per cent of local councillors, are women. Simultaneously, in the United States of America, 12 per cent of governors and 17 per cent of the mayors of the 100 largest American cities are women. America just elected a female Vice President. These numbers may not be ideal, but they are at least encouraging. These results reflect two important facts: A conscious and deliberate programme to have more women play leadership role, as seen in countries like Rwanda, New Zealand and Iceland, or political evolution, leading to the appreciation of the value women can bring to leadership, as seen in the United States of America.
In other sectors of America, women fare a lot better: They constitute 50.8 per cent of the total population, but earn almost 60 per cent of undergraduate degrees and 60 per cent of all master’s degrees. They do reasonably well in law, medical sciences, business administration and management. Women account for 47 per cent of the U.S. labour force and 49 per cent of the college-educated workforce. They account for 52 per cent of the professional-level and middle-management jobs, 45 per cent of associates in the legal field and the medical sector, and comprise 35.5 per cent of all physicians.
The reality is that no society, institution or organisation can presently function effectively without women’s substantial participation in leadership activities. Many statistics show that companies led by women have better financial results. Leadership by women is vital to increase the pace of societal transformation at home and in the workplace. Women create a perspective that brings competition and collaboration to organisations and teams.
Gender realignment in leadership is crucial because more remarkable progress is only made with a diversity of leadership roles. Concerted efforts should be made by the government and non-governmental organisations to increase women’s participation in all facets of our life, in line with the declaration made at the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, which advocated 30 per cent affirmative action for women in all roles.
Nigeria can make better progress if the extant National Gender Policy (NGP), which recommends that at least 35 per cent of both elective political and appointive public service positions be reserved for women, is implemented. There should be social reorientation which would emphasise the crucial role that women play in leadership. All policies and practices, which limit women’s ability to reach a peak in politics and business, should be discarded. It is only in this way that we can give more Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealas to the world.