Int’l Women’s Day: When Patriarchal Leadership Is No Longer In Vogue
By – Josephine Agbonkhese
Tomorrow, March 8, 2021, Nigeria will join the rest of the world to celebrate the annual International Women’s Day. A day set aside to celebrate women and examine progress made in specific spheres.
This year’s global theme, “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World,” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future, and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indeed, the exemplary efforts of women at curtailing the pandemic, as well as its effects on livelihoods since its emergence, has been nothing short of classic. Most spectacular is the exemplary leadership style of women heads of countries which, above everything, ridiculed the perceived superiority or supremacy of male leadership.
Of all the countries reported and proven to have done well in tackling the pandemic, women-led countries came first even when the US, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, UK, Spain, Italy and others were still foundering. The unrivalled truthfulness of Germany’s Angela Merkel, as well as her transparent leadership style, for example, prepared her people’s minds and, accordingly, the effort resulted in the lowest of COVID-19 cases and death in the entire developed world, for many months.
Heads of Government in Denmark (Mette Frederiksen), Ethiopia (Sahle-Work Zewde), Finland (Sanna Marin), Iceland (Katrín Jakobsdóttir), New Zealand (Jacinda Ardern) and Slovakia (Zuzana Čaputová) have also been widely recognised for the rapidity, decisiveness and effectiveness of their national response to COVID-19, as well as the compassionate communication of fact-based public health information.
Meanwhile, from the onset, the acclaimed Giant of Africa was also confused as to how best to tackle the pandemic. Recall Nigeria did not institute border closure and mandatory institutional quarantine and testing for international returnees to the country, until much later— March 23, 2020, precisely. This is not to mention the ignorance expressed by a state governor on the existence of COVID-19, almost one year after the virus entered Nigeria and in spite of the many evidences and deaths recorded; thereby slowing down decision-making as far as COVID-19 is concerned in that state.
This, again, brings to bare the dire need for more women leaders, in all facets of our national life.
Currently, women constitute a meagre 4.17 per cent of those elected into public office in Nigeria. This is despite five national elections that have been held in the country since 1999. Yet, only a handful of women have ever held public office and the figures have also continued to decline.
In 2003, just three percent of people elected to public office in 2003 were women. By 2007, that figure increased to about seven per cent, but declined in 2015 to 5.6 percent.
This is a strange state of affairs, given that Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and elsewhere on the continent, significant gains have been made in this area. For example, four of the world’s top 10 countries in terms of women’s political representation in parliament, can be found in sub-Saharan Africa: Rwanda, Seychelles, Senegal and South Africa.
The consequences of this imbalance, however, can be clearly seen in all areas of our national life— from security breakdown to lack of transparency, indecisiveness in leadership, lack of commitment to citizen’s welfare and the founding economy.
This imbalance is most pronounced when men are left to debate and legislate on matters concerning the development and livelihoods of women and girls.
A classical example was when in March 2016, a female senator for Ekiti South, Abiodun Olujimi, presented a bill— the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill— seeking gender equality and women empowerment, as well as the protection of women’s land rights, an end to gender discrimination in education and employment, and an end to gender-based violence.
However, that bill was thrown out by a number of male senators in 2016 and again in 2018 on religious and cultural grounds. The same bill was re-introduced in 2019 and though it scaled second reading, only God knows its fate.
The role of women in progressive decision-making cannot be undermined. Even the world recognises this and has embraced women-led leadership. As we mark this year’s International Women’s Day tomorrow, it is important to reflect on how best to address the gender-imbalance in leadership in Nigeria.
If the World Trade Organisation, WTO, could, at a trying economic time such as this, entrust in the hands of a woman its leadership, in person of Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, then we too must discard, as a matter of urgency, our patriarchal notion of leadership which has only succeeded in robbing us of true progress since 1960.