We felicitate all mothers, wives and daughters all over the globe as they celebrate this year’s International Day of Women. The annual celebration of women brings into sharp focus the imperatives of fostering and preserving the rights of the female gender and ultimately the need for the attainment of a gender-equal world. For ages, women in different parts of the world have had to struggle to claim their rights from the male-dominated civil authorities. The prejudices, fixations and attitudes of the male folk towards women and girls’ rights were at some point really very appalling. It took unrelenting struggles, protests, civil disobedience and even revolutions across many countries of the world for some of those rights to be gained. Even in some of the countries that are today regarded as civilised, the abridgement of civic rights was rampant as late as the 20th century. For instance, in Soviet Union, women did not gain suffrage and could not participate in political leadership recruitment until 1917. And that did not come to them on a platter.
Mass strikes by garment workers who ignored orders to the contrary and left their work in several factories to protest in the streets for ‘bread and peace’ paid off. Though there had been earlier attempts in other parts of the Western world to protest all forms of discrimination against women, the protest of March 8, 1917 in Soviet Russia marked a significant turning point for women in Russia and in many communist countries. The unrest culminated in the abdication of the throne by then Emperor of Russia, Nicolas II and the provisional government that came on board thereafter granted Russian women the right to vote. Thus, March 8 became a national holiday in Soviet Union and it was being celebrated predominantly by socialist countries until it was adopted by the United Nations in 1975. Gladly, in many countries, March 8 has moved significantly away from the celebration of the attainment of the liberty to exercise civic responsibilities to the celebration of women and girls’ social, economic, cultural and political achievements.
Nonetheless, while prejudices and primordial considerations that used to hold women back from the scheme of things have virtually disappeared in the civilised world, the same cannot be said of the developing world, especially a country like Nigeria where cultural, religious and even seemingly popular societal expectations tend to favour the derogation of the responsibilities and rights of women and girls. Yet it is axiomatic that no society grows by ignoring women. The multifaceted roles of women as home makers, mothers, wives and economic actors are so significant to the evolution of functional families that a society ignores them at its own peril. Sadly, women subject themselves to horrible things in the overall interest of their families and the society. It is tantamount to inability to recognise ‘enlightened self interest’ when some men, especially those in the advocacy, behave as if they are doing women a favour. In reality, they are only helping themselves.
It will not be totally out of place to surmise that women’s empowerment has not yet started in this clime: women and men have been largely unserious. This is not to say that no progress has been made but such advancement has been so minuscule that it amounts to nothing in the long run. For instance, the Beijing affirmative action advocates 35 per cent of appointments in government for women but the best women have ever got in this country was under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan and it was no way near the recommended mark. Today, there still exist many homes in the country where investment in girl child education is regarded as unworthy. Yet there are ample examples in the global space regarding the superlative exploits of educated women in the economic and even political spheres. Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and so on are important female world personalities that serve as eloquent testimonies that virile leadership even at the world stage is by no means gender-specific. We have brought these lingering challenges to the fore instead of limiting our contribution to the hollow ritual of congratulatory messages to underscore the fact that much still needs to be done to rescue women from the labyrinth of hopelessness.
The theme of this year’s celebration: ‘Balance for Better’ is quite apt. The theme recognises that achieving a gender–equal world requires shared responsibility by all through collective action aimed at gender balance in all facets of human endeavour: boardroom, government, employees and so on. We urge Nigerian women to do much more to find their own purpose and be at the centre of solutions to their challenges in spite of the myriad of factors that tend to impose limitations on them. They must harness their power in the political, economic and social fronts. The male gender too has a duty to give necessary concessions officially, in order to facilitate quick achievement of a gender-balanced society where the limitless potential of women and girls can be maximised.