IWD: Women Bridging Gender Gaps
By Yemisi Suleiman
As we join the rest of the world, on March 8, 2022, to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, with the theme; “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow,” We speak with leading professional women in different fields, on how their organizations are bridging the gender gap for sustainable development.
Eunice Ezeoke….. WISTA bridging gender gap in Maritime
Eunice Ezeoke, Managing Director, Bono Integrated Logistics, has over three decades of experience in the diverse fields of shipping. She is also the President of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA).
WISTA Nigeria has been collaborating with relevant government agencies in the industry, such as the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA; The Nigerian Safety and Maritime Administration, NIMASA; The Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC; The Nigerian Inland Waterways, NIWA; and others, to ensure that this gap is effectively narrowed down. We commend these agencies because we see a good number of women at their top management but we want more.
WISTA carries out strong advocacy with the relevant agencies and organizations, to ensure that focus is on diversity during recruitment, promotions, and remunerations.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant variants have created a new normal of flexibility in the workplace, that has given to better work/life balance for mothers.
WISTA promotes inclusiveness. We do this by giving scholarships to the best female cadet at the Maritime Academy at Oron, and sometimes, even, job placements. WISTA carries out sensitization programs in Secondary Schools to bring awareness to the girl child on the importance and benefits of education and careers.
In higher Institutions, WISTA has mentorship programs to sensitize the undergraduates on the opportunities available out there.
We must not lose sight of cultural barriers that hinder women from optimizing their potential. This goes deeper than government legislation.
Elizabeth Jumoke Eterigho…. Driving gender development
Dr. Elizabeth Jumoke Eterigho is the Deputy Director, Advancement Office, Federal University of Technology, Minna. She is the 17th President of the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN), a “special” division of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) that consists of women from all disciplines of engineering.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap reported that female talent remains one of the most under-utilized business resources. In another report by the same organization in 2020, Nigeria is reported to be a little above 50% in the gender gap, ranking 128 out of 153 countries.
APWEN is determined to break the bias by increasing the number of practicing females at all levels, inspiring young girls into science and engineering by sponsoring competitions and giving awards. We also mentor engineering students through seminars and conferences, in other to retain them in the profession post-graduation.
Over the years, APWEN has made significant strides in encouraging females into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through a scholarship for girls from primary school to university; STEM teachers’ training, placements of young female engineers in relevant industries; capacity building and professional development, as well as coaching and mentoring.
In bridging the gender gap, the Association has carried out specific activities like, “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” – a program for girls in secondary schools,
“Invent It, Build It” (for Primary School girls aged 8-10) to increase the enrollment and retention of girls in schools across the country. The Program me drive is – Creating a revolution of girls that will take up engineering as a career. There is what we call; Shetech2preneur, which is an initiative to bring knowledge and hands-on technical know-how to women and girls from marginalized communities to start, grow and scale their businesses, whether they are non-illiterates or illiterates, school dropouts, physically challenged, students, a start-up, a small business or a professional. This project sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth, and sustainable development.
Kemi Nelson …..Modeling gender inclusivity
Chief (Mrs.) Kemi Nelson, is one of Nigeria’s foremost political amazons, who served as the Lagos State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation from 1999-2003 under the Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Administration. She is currently, the Zonal Women Leader for All Progressive Congress, APC, Southwest.
Although women are more aware of their rights now, the political space is still more patriarchal, but we keep pushing on. You are tagged a trouble maker when you disagree with them on certain issues. Several times, we have taken the men on, when they set up committees or sub-committees, and they are usually all men until we call their attention to it. However, now, we have gone beyond tokenism.
Bridging the gender gap has to be a gradual process, we have to keep reminding the men that, you love your daughters and mothers, why not bring that to bear in the political space? I guess with time, they have come to realize that they need us even more than we need them.
Although the number of women in politics now is still a far cry, it’s better than what we used to have. We are hopeful that we will have more women as we approach the election year, and we hope it will favour more women.
If the gender bill was approved, it would have been fantastic, because with that, if three Senators are coming from a state, one must be a woman, which will give us a comfortable number.
My problem with women is that they are not grounded. You must be able to mobilize, and be known in your constituency. How many of their ward executives or people in their local government can they vow will support them?
Some of our women just come out and say, “I want to be like Mrs. Nelson.” They don’t know what Mrs. Nelson has gone through in the last 30 years in this space. I have gone through a lot, but all that will come in my memoir.
I tell women who look up to me, to improve on my strength and on my shortcomings, so they can come out even better than Kemi Nelson.
Oreoluwa Lesi: Exciting girls with tech careers
Oreoluwa Lesi is a STEM and Gender Specialist with over 20 years of professional experience.
The Social Entrepreneurship consultant is also, the Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC).
When we started, one of our first programs was working with women entrepreneurs, stay at home mothers and demonstrating how they can use technology to support their day-to-day activities, whether in their work, their business, and also, for the community and social empowerment.
After that, we realized that for us to bridge the gender gap, contribute towards closing the gap, we really needed to work with the younger generation, who, are still thinking about what they want to do, and can therefore be guided.
So, we launched our first camp for secondary school girls in 2008 where we introduce girls to technology- computers and how to use them. Over the years, we have graduated from just showing them how to use technology, to actually, creating their own technology or invention, writing programs, learning how to create applications, creating websites, graphic design, robotics, and those kinds of activities.
We have continued with the technology career talks where we get women working in Tech, to talk about their career journey. It is really inspiring for the girls and it is the part that really sticks with them. Today, whatever you are doing, even as a journalist, you have to understand how to leverage technology.
Arc Mobolaji Adeniyi … giving women pride of place in Architecture
Arc Mobolaji Adeniyi is a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), and she is currently the second vice president of the Institute. She is CEO and Principal Partner at Mobolaji Adeniyi and Associates.
Architecture is a male-dominated profession, but, this has not deterred the women in proving their worth, both in public and private life. We have many women who have distinguished themselves in the profession; but in the past 62 years of our existence, we have had only one female president, although this may not sound too good, it’s still something to be proud of. The Nigerian Bar Association has not had one, the Nigerian Institute of Engineers has also not had one. So, in that sense, I believe the NIA has shown its inclusiveness in putting women in leadership positions.
Right now, interestingly, I happen to be the first vice president and the third vice president is also a woman! It means, within the next few years, we would have had three female vice presidents. I think that says a lot for how the organisation is ensuring that women are given their pride of place in the profession. But like many other professions, women have to work extra hard to prove that they are as good as their male counterparts.
At a point, the NIA was dominated by men. However, as good a platform as the NIA was, the women still felt they needed a platform for which they could express themselves as females, in the male-dominated profession, because there are many challenges that were peculiar to women that were not being addressed by the NIA. So, we fought for the establishment of FAN, which is the Female Architects of Nigeria. This is the platform that we have used to mentor our young ladies, encourage them, and enable them to see that they can succeed and excel as Architects.
We go to schools for career talks, to get girls go into architecture. In my office, I also ensure that I always have females taken in as IT students and youth copers, and they are able to work and practice as Architects.
Our organisation is very particular about encouraging women to fully participate in governance in the institute, as well as do very well in their chosen fields, and to break the glass ceiling.