Inclusivity: A Case For Women by Doris Ochei PhD
By Trek Africa Newspaper
Dr. Doris Amaka Ochei
“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored”.
This well-known and unimpeachable quotation above are the thoughts of Sheryl Sandberg, the famous American technology executive, writer and philanthropist. Sandberg is also on Forbes billionaires’ list, and she is a very good example of an empowered woman who knows what she wants, where she is headed and what she deserves. One of the greatest things about this extraordinary woman is that she is not defined by her gender, her past errors, her environment or what society expects from her. That is why she will remain a high flyer and an archetype of every conscious woman who wants to leave a mark in her profession and life. I strongly believe that Sandberg’s remarkable life journey presents valuable lessons for every woman, irrespective of age or social status.
I have followed Sandberg’s career trajectory since 2012 when she was elected to Facebook’s board of directors and I think every woman must read the story of her trials and triumphs. As a matter of fact, she is one of the inspiring women who is changing the world for the better with her engaging writing style and philanthropy. She is also making considerable impact in the global technology sector with her ingenuity and courage. Today, her ideas and achievements are resonating with many people, and it is now absolutely clear that the world needs more women like Sandberg in leadership positions as never before. That is also why the call for greater gender equality and equity is becoming louder and deafening everywhere.
But how can a patriarchal world, accused repeatedly of consciously or unconsciously excluding women from top leadership positions in public life, close a widening gender gap at this period in history? Is it possible to create a world without discrimination and gender bias?
The truth is that women are very critical to nation building. For humanity to grow and blossom, women must be respected, included, loved and cared for. Any country or system that wants to achieve long-term and sustainable development goals must look in the direction of women because they are the engine room of creativity, innovation, sustainability and progress. For me, the scariest part is that when a system deliberately excludes women from the scheme of things, that system also inadvertently discounts the unique and innate talents women deploy in raising children and providing stability in homes. As a matter of fact, it is a disservice to humanity when women are denied equal chances of participating in politics and public life. This exclusion is also counterproductive to global advancement given that females are generally believed to be more proactive, ingenious, productive and efficient in resource management.
Without a doubt, women, with their distinctive nature and orientation, contribute immensely to the growth and development of every society anywhere and everywhere. However, aside their traditional roles as mothers and caretakers who provide support in many innumerable ways, women are also educators, caregivers, farmers, managers, entrepreneurs and above all, the glue of our society. So, a country that ignores them, does so at her peril. Women are so important to the extent that humanity and history are all on their side based on everyone’s common experiences and realities.
The question then is: how, when and at what point do we draw the line? Political, social, cultural or financial exclusion of any gender is not only harmful to society but also unacceptable in this age and time. I believe that humanity can actually do better in a world that has been reduced to a single community due to technological advancement and progress in learning and knowledge. For me, and I think I am speaking the mind of many women, the starting point as things now stand, is appreciation, support and understanding, that is the only way to create that gender harmony and sereneness that the world urgently needs.
I must say that over the years, we have had women of impact, especially in public service in Nigeria. Names that readily come to mind are uncontestable and far too many to be exhausted in one single opinion piece. But we remember Patricia Olubunmi Etteh who functioned as the 10th Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives; Amina Jane Mohammed, the British Nigerian diplomat who currently serves as Deputy Secretary-General at the United Nations; Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, the great jurist who became Nigeria’s first Female Chief Justice; Zulu Sofola, Africa’s first female professor of Theatre Arts and Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, an extraordinary woman who died so that we can live. Adadevoh’s courageous intervention significantly addressed the broader spread of the Ebola virus in Nigeria. There are also Nike Akande, Nigeria’s first female Minister of Industry; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the International Development Expert and Director-General of the World Trade Organization, WTO; Dora Akunyili, the patriot who fought tirelessly to reduce counterfeit drugs in Nigeria; Osonye Tess Onwueme, scholar, playwright, poet and gender avocate and Oby Ezekwesili, an International Policy Expert and former Minister of Education. The list is endless, in spite of the challenges women face every day in pursuit of their dreams.
Who still remembers the Aba Women Riots of 1929? This rebellion by women against economic and social oppressions under the colonial administration, I must say, changed Nigeria’s history forever. That struggle, in its entirety, was championed by women. So, the women are here; and it is already too late in the day to escape this reality. Happily, our menfolk are in recognition of this fact and many of them are doing everything possible in driving this agenda for recognition and equality. Though the journey is still long and winding but all men and women of goodwill must join hands. I must stress that no one should lose hope because success is on the horizon. Who would have thought some years ago that women would attain all these enviable heights today! That is all the more reason for everyone to continue to remain faithful and optimistic about a great future, even when our reality seems bleak.
Let us not forget in a hurry that the Beijing Conference of 1995 where many countries made commitment towards improving and recognizing the status of women wherever they are found, shone a searchlight on improving the participation of women at all levels of decision-making. Today, 28 years after that conference in China, the journey is far from over. But have women made progress? Yes! Are they on course? Yes! Is there hope? Your guess is as good as mine. However, as they say, the room for improvement is the biggest room, that is why men and women must unite and work together for a world of inclusivity that cares for everyone irrespective of gender or social status.
So, as we work and hope for an inclusive society, we must thank men who proudly stand up every day in the workplace and corridors of power for inclusion and gender equality. Without them, the advocacy so far, and even the modest success recorded, would have remained a mirage. So, we thank our menfolk as we look forward to further collaboration. And for women, there could not have been a better time to rise and break all the obstacles holding them back from attaining their goals. Yes, the journey has begun, and that is the good news.
Dr. Ochei, a Business Development Coach and Gender Advocate writes from Lagos.