March 8 is the International Women’s Day (IWD). It is a global event celebrated across the world every year since 1914. It is a day set aside to uphold the achievements of women all over the world with the aim of encouraging and promoting gender equality in society. Nevertheless, International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975 and by December 1977, UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.[i]
Ever since then, the IWD has been consistently celebrated on March 8 under different themes and slogans. Although, the origin of the struggle was traced to 1908 when women in work places were oppressed, made to work longer hours with less pay or no adequate compensation. Women were also denied the right to vote. Overtime, they could no longer take the inequality, they started speaking out and demanding for better conditions of service and started campaigning for change, leading to when “a group of about 15,000 women representing the Socialist Party of America marched into New York City, demanding better working hours, pay and the right to vote”[ii]
As a woman, I join the international community in celebrating the 2022 International Women’s Day on the theme Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow, with the slogan #breakthebias. It is no longer news that women constitute about 50% of the world population, yet gender inequality against women has been around in communities and institutions from ages past. This trend has continued in some employment spaces both formal and informal sectors, and in most Nigeria communities such as those in Abuja.
The traditional institutions, administered according to chiefdoms, are the closest institutions to the people at the grassroot. Collins Dictionary explains Chiefdom as “a graded social group led by a chief; the office or position of a chief”[iii]. A close look into the 17 chiefdoms in Abuja reveals that women are not considered in the membership of the cabinets. What is mostly obtainable is that women have a spokesperson known as the Magajia, who is not a member of the cabinet. In some cases, the said spokesperson is the wife of the Chief who uses her discretion to talk to her husband (the Chief) on matters tabled by women.
From interactions with staff of some Chiefdoms in Abuja, it was noted that only two chiefdoms have included at least a woman as part of their cabinet. This is just 11.7% of the 17 Chiefdoms with numerous Districts. The efforts of the two chiefdoms are commendable and it should be noted that the appointment of women directly into the cabinet enhances development on one hand and fosters speedy dispute resolution or decision making on the other hand.
At workplaces, women are sometimes unconsciously discriminated against in employment, promotion, and services consideration. “Bias at work can appear just about anywhere, but most often in recruiting, screening, performance reviews and feedback, coaching and development, and promotions.”[iv] A situation whereby a woman is turned down for employment because the employer feels she would not be able to sacrifice her personal time at home as a woman. It is worse for married women.
From personal experience, I have attended a job interview where I was asked if I was married and how many kids I had and what their age range was. The interviewer further said that the organization did not want a woman who was married. Another discrimination faced by women in work place is on the basis of age. I once received a job offer letter that was withdrawn on the basis of my age, being a woman above 30 years. In all these, the question I asked was, if I were to be a man, would my marital status or age be used against me? There was also a case of Justina Salami who was employed on a certain salary level. Two years later, a man was employed by the same company, with the same qualification, in the same position, with the same job description, but he was placed on a higher salary.
Invariably, some workplaces in the 21st century are still primitive to realize that men and women should be assessed based on their capacity/ability not on their gender. Also, if the leadership and rulership of the Chiefdoms in Abuja or their counterparts elsewhere do not have provision for or does not consider women in its political process, it means there is still a lot more to do in achieving gender equality in the society.
Although the exclusion of women is blamed on culture and religion, it should be noted that not much would be achieved if women are not considered important to participate in official platforms where matters of concern are deliberated. This is not to say that effort towards achieving gender equality is not yielding positive fruits at all but it’s very slow. Elsewhere in Plateau state, the appointment of women into chiefdom was celebrated recently (the appointment of Nda Nkek)[v]
This year’s IWD centers around breaking the bias, chiefdoms in the Federal Capital Territory should take the lead, be deliberate and intentional in breaking these biases militating against giving women more opportunity in their democratic processes. It is high time they started by recognizing the numerous contributions of women and girls in community development, peace building, and security. Also, it is high time women are allowed to be part of chiefdoms cabinet as to discuss their matters directly by themselves where it matters most and receive feedback directly too.
Decisions should not be discussed for them by others who may not represent the real women’s view. It’s important to contribute to building a sustainable tomorrow by doing the right things today. By doing so those coming behind can learn and improve on the legacies for a greater tomorrow. There is a need for culture and tradition to make room for balanced inclusion, while women on their own should always speak out and demand to be part of the system.
As women celebrate the IWD on March 8, women and girls should endeavor to make decorations around their offices, schools, homes or at least wear a touch of purple, green and white in solidarity to celebrate womanhood. Purple signifies justice and dignity; Green-hope and White represents purity[vi]. Justice we seek and justice we shall get. Women should not lose hope in the struggle.
I am proud to be a Woman, Daughter, Sister, Aunty and Mother!
Happy celebration to all women!
Written by Ogechi Obialo-Isuma – Gender Officer; HipCity Innovation Centre Abuja. An organization with a mission to reduce inequalities in Nigeria and for the promotion of the rights of the original inhabitants of Abuja.