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Are women just women? | The Nation

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By Nnedinso Ogaziechi

In trying to evaluate the impact of leadership without gender parity either nationally or internationally in any sphere of influence, we tend to ignore the historical details about the sociological make up of each segment of the global community, the Africans, the Americans, Asians, Europeans, Middle Easterners and other groups bound together by geography, culture and possibly language.

Of all the groups above, Africans have a unique history due to the influence of colonialism and slavery spanning centuries. Some western historians often distort facts to suit the warped narrative that Africa has no history and was waiting to be discovered by some Christopher Columbus and some other strangers to Africa.

However, it is a known fact that Africa had its system of leadership and economic lives before the slavery and colonial periods. It is in line with the exploitative intent of the colonialists that the leadership style of Africans became corrupted with the mono system of governance structure of the Europeans where only the men led and their women were grouped with children as minors. Conversely though, Africans practiced a dual leadership structure that was very inclusive of women and that is why Africa had the queens Inzinga of Congo, the Moremis, Aminas, the Idias of Benin, the Margaret Ekpos, the Funmilayo Ransome Kutis  etc.

The Roundtable conversation had the privilege of chatting with a veteran development specialist, a strong gender rights advocate, an author and diplomat amongst other global roles she had to play at various times of her thirty-five year career in public service, Madam Regina Amadi-Njoku.  Having worked with global bodies like the World Bank as Project Coordinator  and acted as Regional Program Director of West Africa  for the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) now, UN Women and retired as the first African Woman regional Director for Africa at the International Labour Organization (ILO) with the rank of the United Nations Assistant Secretary General (UNASG) amongst other national and international work experiences, Regina Amadi-Njoku decided to come back to the country to contribute to the leadership development processes of Nigeria with a view to correcting certain erroneous narratives about gender and leadership at both family, community, regional, national and global levels nationally and internationally.

She said that one thing she discovered as she moved from national to international service  is that the barriers are the same  but felt or expressed differently. Having worked at the national level before going international, she had the usual experiences peculiar to women at the work place. No matter how qualified or competent a woman is as a leader, ‘she is still a woman’ and that comes with a cocktail of bizarre experiences often very condescending from some men.

Men often discountenance women’s leadership qualities,  positions and titles while the men try very hard to stamp their ‘authority’ in a sense that merely tells you, ‘no matter your qualifications and competences, I will tolerate you if you are ready to dance to my tune’. Sometimes, the overt and veiled sexual harassment of women can be overwhelming and most young ladies often elect to go start of small businesses to just do their thing and save themselves from the clutches of misogynists at the work place.

She observed from private and professional experiences that sexual harassment is a tool men often use to psychologically intimidate women. There are no role models for most young ladies because sometimes, their own mothers are the first to go into the public sector.  It is not therefore surprising that most African women are coerced into becoming housewives like European women whose governance structure did not accommodate women. They don’t have the sphere of the experience of power like the African women.

So the idea of excluding women from leadership is not traditionally African because African women traditionally took up leadership. She recalled how late President Nixon challenged a woman by asking her what she was doing in the work place. So the woman faces intimidation from the males and often betrayals from fellow women not in leadership. Women can excel in leadership but the odds against them are huge. There are often no firewalls and no mentorship and leadership is not about you or titles, it is about what you can take out from yourself to make a place better for others, your ability to inspire, to motivate others to pursue a higher mission along with you while believing in you.

The mission of making the lives of others better is what leadership is about and women have a lot of that inner motivation to nurture and care for others.  Women are born with more leadership qualities than men as they  nurturers.  Women get people out of sticky situations because they have better followership and patience. In many cultures like in Igbo land, when there is crisis, women are often the arbitrators or spiritual guides that the communities consult for solutions.

Women lead very well in uncertainty, in conflict situations because they are good at bringing people together. Amadi-Njoku believes that Africans must retrace their steps to the pristine times where both men and women played complimentary leadership roles. The Nigerian woman for instance has three identities; daughter of, wife of, and mother to A or B. For each of the situations, the woman has defined leadership roles but diminished by the colonial masters that tried to obliterate the leadership structure of their colonies because their women had no roles in leadership traditionally.

She believes that men with integrity are often the best persons to push a woman higher and provide a firewall as she grows in service. There are male and female sides of leadership because a father and a mother play different roles. A mother imbues you with the nurturing values, the compassionate and organizational qualities while the father provides the support and validation of the girl child.

Amadi-Njoku remembers her valued mentor, late Francesca Emmanuel, a former super Perm. Sec. who was her god mother who took her under her wings to direct and nurture. Another man, late Alhaji Durosinmi-Etti was a co-shepherd with late Madam Emmanuel who was hands on guiding and directing her through the rough edges.

Some of the odds against Nigerian women for instance are many factors bothering on culture and history. As a woman, you are expected to be a wife and a mother possibly under the man, in the office, you are often seen primarily as a woman who must culturally remain so even when you are as qualified if not more qualified than the men. So you might just be expected to nurture the men at that level and be ‘wifely’ to your boss even as you are expected to still be a western performer at the work place. It is as challenging as it is blurred lines for the woman.

The woman still has to avoid wifely duties at the office so as to avoid sexual harassment and still struggle to remain a good wife that will not carry her western ‘official’ tags to the home so as not to intimidate the man.

At the international level, it’s tricky too, in Africa, you are battling with being a woman, in the office, you are not fighting as black but as a woman who most times ought not to be seen let alone aspire to lead. At the international level, you are fighting as a woman, a black and a colonial subject – three strikes. At this point you begin to appreciate fathers that have been hands on in instilling confidence in their daughters as those are the only support system when faced with the huddles of being black, a colonial subject and a woman.

Traditionally, when leadership crises happen, women are called up, think of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher , Germany’s Angela Merkel,  Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, Israel’s Golda Meir, India’s Indirah Ghandi , Liberia’s Ellen Sirleaf Johnson and many other women leaders co-opted in times of crises and how well they have managed national crises. Twenty eight of the more than thirty women that came into power globally came during the time of crisis and did or still doing well. A popular British journalist once said, “…when it gets hot, men run to mothers”.  Women’s leadership endures and is very constructive unlike the men that stoke embers of war most times.

Women are not just ‘women’ in the derogatory description as men give just so they monopolize leadership. Men weaponize situations, women humanize. Conflicts, Covid and other human crises need women in leadership to sort things as can be seen with the six best countries in the handling of the pandemic being led by women in Taiwan, Iceland, Germany, New Zealand, South Korea etc.

Iran, China, America, Russia on the other hand are led by men and no gainsaying what the world is getting from those. Nigeria cannot progress until they admit women fully into leadership and not the tokenism we have now. In Nigeria now, the South of the country seems ready with women but the North seems tied to the aprons of culture and religion in ways that have encumbered women and the poverty there is on a global scale. The North is presently in power and given the culture of women exclusion, there seems to be no reprieve any time soon.

The Aba women riot of 1929 included more than two thousand women from across Nigeria even though some narratives often credit only Igbo women. The negotiation for independence at Lancaster England had three women nominated by fellow women, Sawaba from the North, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti from West and Margaret Ekpo from the Eastern region. The implication is that women exclusion at the level we have it now is a post-colonial post-independence male construct and we can see the result as Nigerian retains the unenviable trophy of the poverty capital of the world.

The elite women equally have part of the blame because the rural women are very active but the female elite often collude with men for their own selfish gains but the men often treat them with scorn knowing that power and votes lie with the rural women who are more politically active. The real issues lie with women coming together and working for the good of families, communities and country while the men realize that the mistakes of the past can be corrected and leadership shared as before for a more prosperous African continent. Women are not just women, they are imbued with equal leadership and cerebral capacity like the men. Women however have to stand and be counted as winning cannot solve the problems of exclusion. Brain and brawn must be deployed by all women, elite and rural.

  • Our dialogue continues…

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