It is my profound hope and belief that we have converged here to articulate our voices and scale up our advocacy and strategic plans-of-action towards readdressing the skewed societal, male dominated and driven government and development trajectory in our respective nations.
I am therefore sincerely pleased to speak on the need for Policy Options To Accelerate Bridging The Gender Gap In Africa. It is important to develop and establish policies that would most certainly bridge the gender gap that has continued to widen despite some concerted efforts to shrink it over the years. Policy options available to us must be steeped in Education, Equity and Peace-building that put into consideration our socio-political and economic realities.
First among equals, Education. Broad-based education would enable the girl-child and eventually woman, to have choice, give her the right to choose, the opportunity to excel and soar. That kind of education can only be achieved through an all encompassing strategy that includes advocacy towards creating awareness on the importance of educating the girl-child and woman for equitable society.
Unless the woman knows her rights in all ramifications in every book and laws, she will continue to be downgraded. It is important for society as a whole to appreciate that gender is not about equality per se but that it is about equity and this is the message we need to reiterate and disseminate.
The second is Equity. In most African societies, it is a fallacy of sorts to emphasize equality instead of equity. Equity will give you the support to demand for equal opportunities, equity will give you the grounds to choose and have a choice. This is where I believe our policy focus should be.
Women and our children are usually the direct and indirect victims of mis-governance and poor leadership. Hence, we should not wait until we are crushed by policies of state made by men, some of who have little or no regards for our involvement in policy-making and execution. How do we reverse this trend? Exposure and education for the girl-child and woman. And of course, the boy-child because an empowered girl saddled with an uneducated boy or man, is doomed.
The third is Peace-building: Women should be carried along in peace building. Women can no doubt bring new understanding of a conflict, and with it, insights into the causes and possible solutions. Women as survivors of conflict, as witnesses to violence, as mediators to ending persistent disputes, as guardians of their social community mores and providers for their family when a conflict is raging, all have huge contributions towards breaking the vicious cycle of conflict.
UN Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative rightly reaffirms that women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in peace processes and political solutions is essential for effective peacekeeping. Warts and all, there is no denying that majority of leadership experts agree that women are just as capable of being in business, government, political leadership and peace building as men. They are perceived as indistinguishable from their male peers in terms of leadership qualities such as intelligence and capacity for innovation. On other qualities – honesty, fairness, compassion and willingness to negotiate- most fair-minded people actually judge women as superior to men.
It is inclusive to note here that women make up 25 per cent of the United States Senate and 23 per cent of the House, though they comprise almost 51 per cent of the U.S. population and female CEOs are just 6.6 per cent of all Fortune 500 CEOs. It is sad to say that in business, the higher the position the fewer women you see, that’s not good enough.
Despite the Equal Pay Act in 1970, replaced by the Equality Act in 2010, women still earn about 20 per cent less than men in the United Kingdom (UK), today.
It just shows that the challenge of women’s parity in business and politics is not essentially peculiar to us and is not an African thing but a global challenge that we have to grapple with. But with education, equity and involvement of women in peace-building, we can bridge the gap and reverse this trend. Whatever we choose to be can only come to be if we make education, equity and peace-building the cornerstone and focal point of any policy aimed at bridging the gender-gap.
While thinking globally, we must act locally to dismantle all barriers to the ascendancy of women in board and corporate appointments and vigorously work on other economic empowerment and mentoring programmes that will engender gender equality, eradicate poverty and promote inclusive socio-economic growth. No nation will become great when more than half of her population ends up only in the kitchen or gets disproportionately discriminated against in the higher echelon of corporate management and political governance.
I find it intriguing when men are on the dining table eating, and we, women, who prepare the sumptuous dishes, allow the leftovers to be thrust to us when we were the ones who ‘suffer’ in the kitchen and laid the table for men. Our women should know that the decision on whether there will be meat or not is seldom, if ever, taken in the kitchen. They are taken in either the living room or the bedroom where we have equal power as men, if not more than men.
Therefore, we must all stand up to be counted. Or is it that we are expecting that men, in their kindness, will do all these struggles alone, win or capture power and toss it at us? Do we think that our political space is different from the boardrooms and business empires where many of us have been playing? We should realize that to achieve any modicum of success in any sphere is not easy.
The progress and development of any nation, I must say, is equal to the quality of women in that society. This is because they are mothers, sisters, lovers, builders and pro-creators by divine design. Thus, women represent a tool for positive change, depending on how we are treated and the levels of opportunities given to us to actualize our potentials. Women themselves must be ready to roll up their sleeves, to mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the next phase of the liberation struggles, which is to mount the saddle of economic and political leadership in our respective nations toward improving our general wellbeing and collective humanity.
From our clans, villages, hamlets, schools, churches, mosques and in the traditional settings, they must be identified and promoted to take on leadership in business, government and politics. To the end our girls must be supported, encouraged and aided to confidently speak up for themselves in every setting and allow total optimization of their innate and God-given and human-nurtured potentials.
Certainly, we cannot bequeath this gender burden to our present daughters and the next generation. Therefore, we must do all we can to find mutual acceptance and strive for general empowerment in the quest for gender equity in the development trajectory of our various countries.
And despite our gender, we, as women , are wired to do a great deal of multi-tasking at both the home-front and in our various roles in human endeavours. All of us here in Africa and globally, should agree and emulate Queen Elizabeth I, who had passionately posited that; “I know I have a body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, of a King of England, for that matter.”
Thank you for your kind attention and have a great deliberation.
Address delivered by Senator Binta Masi Garba at the just concluded African Woman Conference in Morocco.