The Need to Advance the Education, Careers, and Leadership Potentials of Women in Nigeria
The theme for this year's International Women's Day - Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future In A Covid-19 World, is a loud clarion call to citizens of every country to laud the wonderful efforts by women and girls in forging a more equitable future, as the stage is set for recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic. It is a recognition of the need for the holistic and effective participation of women across all strata of leadership and service, bearing in mind the current equity gaps that weigh heavily against them.
Since the International Women's Day emerged from decades of struggles for women's emancipation and became an official United Nations annual event on the 8th of March 1975, it has represented a celebration of the milestone women have achieved in society and a day of protests to raise awareness about persisting inequality between the genders. The advent of the Coronavirus pandemic has opened hitherto unpredicted vistas in this regard, with the United Nations speculating that the viral scourge could erase over 25 years of increasing gender equality. The pandemic has, once again, relegated women in unprecedented numbers to the home front where they are saddled with overwhelming chores and caregiver roles. These have taken heavy tolls on education and employment opportunities for women and girls.
The role of women in the global onslaught against Covid-19, either as frontline health specialists or as home caregivers where they bear the burden of unpaid work, has gone largely unappreciated, with reports of embarrassing pay disparities between them and their male counterparts. The United Nations states that from a study across Covid-19 task teams in 87 countries, only 3.5 percent had gender pay parity. This is most unfortunate, considering that women, since the pandemic made its deathly appearance, have exhibited efficient and exemplary leadership in global efforts to curb its spread.
Young women and girls have been at the forefront of online and physical advocacy initiatives to draw the world's attention to issues of social justice, equality, and climate change occasioned or worsened by the pandemic. Women represent about 57 percent of the health workforce in Africa, with only 28 percent of them as doctors - ironically, a gross under representation at senior healthcare positions.
The National Association of Seadogs is mindful and appreciative of the giant strides made by women across the globe, even in the face of increasing inequality. We are, however, in line with our time-tested raison d'être as a social advocacy and humanitarian organisation, worried by the current and future fate of women and girls, especially on the African continent. The consequential disruption of educational and health systems has impacted heavily on women and girls across the continent. Overstretched healthcare capacities have meant that much-needed resources are being diverted from essential sexual and reproductive health services to combat the pandemic, thereby creating increased numbers of vulnerable women and girls in remote and urban centres. Such a sharp decline in service delivery, as is being witnessed now, leads to gory maternal and infant mortality statistics.
Disruptions, and sometimes outright stoppages, in the education sector have worsened an already precarious situation in a country like Nigeria where one out of every five out-of-school children in the world resides. Girl child education is worse hit by this phenomenon which, in recent times, took an even more dangerous turn with mass abductions of schoolgirls by armed terrorists. Extended periods of absence from school have encouraged dropping out of school, risky sexual behaviour, unplanned pregnancies, and as poverty deepens, have led to a steep spike in domestic violence, especially against women and girls.
As the world marks this epoch-making event today, we call for sober reflection among all stakeholders in a renewed bid to advance the education, careers, and leadership potentials of women and girls in Nigeria and the world. Deliberate actions must be urgently initiated to create safe and conducive environments for the female gender to thrive in and compete in a just and equitable manner.
Governments at all levels, non-governmental organisations, corporate organisations, and individuals must ensure that the noble objectives encapsulated in the theme for this year's commemoration of the International Women's Day are pursued with increased vigour and commitment in order to move the world closer to gender equity. It is a day to be reminded that every woman and girl should be encouraged to maximise all innate and acquired potentials to aspire to the heights of the Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealas and Kamala Harrises of this world.