Monday, 22 April 2013

Article: Realities Facing Women, Their Imprints and Travails


Late Mrs. Funmilayo Olayinka


(Tribute To Mrs. Funmilayo Olayinka)

By Salihu Moh. Lukman

One of the messages of Frederick Engels' book, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, of 1884, was that women face direct challenge from dominantly held beliefs about God-ordained biological, physical, intellectual and moral inferior status. Across all human societies, this is perceived as timeless and unchangeable. It simply means that women have to take a backseat, live at the pleasure of men and restricted to the home front handling menial responsibilities of being cooks, housekeepers and mothers. Anything outside these could be defended as male preserves.

Irrespective of ideological, religious and any other worldview, this is real and in very fundamental ways define the credentials of every successful woman in career, business and politics. This is partly because by nature, career, business and politics are competitive and the dogma about inferior status would support men as the natural winners of any competition involving men and women. The reality therefore is that for any woman to be successful in career, business or politics, it is indisputably a recognition of exceptionally enduring skills and high courage.

The life and times of Mrs. Funmilayo Olayinka (1960 - 2013) will no doubt bear the imprint of her enduring skills as a successful career banker rising to senior management positions in UBA and Ecobank and high courage as a victorious politician who won her election as Deputy Governor of Ekiti State against all odds. Both as a banker and politician, she would have competed with men for the positions she held. Her ability to win these positions must have been a product of first and foremost her credentials.

Often times, these are presented in very ordinary terms that hardly captures the true challenges and how individual women would have applied themselves exceptionally. Some accounts deliberately attempts to present them as beneficiaries of male generousities based on theses that highlighted how their spouses might have been tolerant or weak or how other male colleagues or associates would have supported and nurture them. These are defensively male biased theses. The truth is that no one win a competition simply based on love just like no war is won based on proclamation of support.

Our women in career, business and politics are combatants that are daily redefining human societies and moving us closer to a space guaranteeing equal opportunities for both men and women. This necessarily require re-interpretation of religious and customary beliefs that favours men. In many respects, it means also that men accept or respect new realities that permits women to aspire beyond the menial responsibilities. In fact, it is the acceptance or respect by men to new realities that is the foundation for success of most women in career, business and politics. Many women's career ambition get terminated on account of the inability to win this primary recognition and/or respect.

Why is it difficult for men to accept or respect new realities that permits women to aspire beyond menial responsibilities? It is often a reflection of crudity with hardly any rational basis beyond the need to represent women as private properties of the men. It is simply about the power of men to control women. In the expression of that power, it is mainly about ensuring that the status of women does not over shadow that of the men. In other words, women must not enjoy higher rewards and privileges than men.

Experience has shown that families become more prosperous if women, just like men, are allowed to access opportunities equally. The Nigerian context, especially since the 1980s following the emergence of harsh economic realities that diminished the earning capacities of men and with it diminished capacities to enjoy the monopoly of being bread-winners, has shown that women can shoulder more responsibilities beyond menial ones. On accounts of poor incomes of male spouses, most Nigerian families are being catered by women. There lies what can be regarded as the contemporary paradox. While in the face of limited opportunities, men are willing to accommodate a situation in which women handle more than menial responsibilities, such a situation must not alter the power equation between men and women.

The sub-text in the life of every successful women in career, business and politics therefore is the capacity to navigate this hard pitch of life. It is a dominated life, characterised by patriarchy, injustice, oppression and prejudices of all sorts. It is a life in which success for women in any one particular situation represents a major shift in human endeavour and therefore to the extent of the shift producing new boundaries of relationships between men and women, which inclusively expand the scope for human competition.

Mrs. Olayinka was no doubt a successful career woman and politician. One doesn't need to know her closely to discern her accomplishments. Although, in the contemporary Nigerian situation, high placed government officials always enjoy glowing tributes, this tribute to Mrs. Olayinka is more on account of recognition of her contributions in terms of redefining our societies as spaces guaranteeing increasing measure of opportunities for both men and women.

Therefore as we celebrate the accomplishments of Mrs. Olayinka, we must not lose sight of the fact that the so-called God-ordained challenges facing women are still very pronounced, notwithstanding achievements of many illustrious Nigerian women. A good pointer is the revelation contained in the British Council Gender in Nigeria Report 2012 to the effect that women occupy fewer than 30% of all posts in Nigerian public sector and only 17% of senior positions. The report further shows that women run only 20% of enterprises in the formal sector in Nigeria.

Wide range of factors have been highlighted to entrench the challenges facing women. They include barriers and workplace discriminatory practices. In particular, the Gender in Nigeria Report 2012, identified that "pay gap between male and female bank managers is significant." Being a successful bank manager, this report meant that Mrs. Olayinka must have endured discriminatory practice of lower pay as compared to her male counterparts. Her success as a banker is definitely an indication of her capacity to persevere and overcome these barriers and discrimination. Her transition from a banker to a politician must have been a mark of her capacity to access opportunities. No doubt, her victory in politics leading to her emergence as Deputy Governor reflects her disposition for teamwork. As Deputy Governor, she has been credited with many of the accomplishments of the Fayemi administration, which demonstrates her leadership and managerial credentials.

Perseverance, capacity to overcome barriers and demonstration of excellence are the imprints of every successful woman. Behind these imprints are harsh unfavourable conditions which signify the travails of Nigerian women. Often characterised by disturbing statistics, these travails are underlined by high maternal mortality, high infant mortality, high poverty levels high unemployment rate and declining primary education enrollment which according to the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai one in every six out-of-school children in the world is a Nigeria.

With estimated 80.2 million representing 49% of the population of Nigeria and against the background of appalling welfare conditions in the country, women are made to shoulder more responsibilities than any group. This begs the question about the extent to which individual successes of women should be celebrated. Perhaps, herein lies the big political question - is there a correlation between the fact of low participation of Nigerian women and the poor state of welfare conditions of citizens in the country?

Attempts to answer this question could only underline the primacy of politics and why participation is critical to improvement in citizens' welfare conditions. This is one area that Mrs. Olayinka demonstrated good understanding when she argued that "everywhere you go, you play politics. If you are married and if you have more than a child, you must be a good politician to survive. We play politics everywhere - at home, even at workplace." The logic being that politics is mainly about influencing our actions.

To what extent could we correlate poor conditions to low participation of women in virtually all fields? Some research findings argue that in situations where resources are to be allocated, allocation is more effective and efficient, and ultimately produces superior human development outcomes where women are represented. Pursuant to this argument, the British Council Gender in Nigeria Report 2012 argued that "men and women allocate resources differently, and that women tend to favour a redistributive agenda, and to spend more on children's education, social services and health".

Certainly, there will be strong counter arguments against deliberate policies promoting women participation. Such counter arguments could hardly dispute women bias for redistributive agenda in favour of education, social services and health. Given a political context therefore, disposition to issues of women participation are defining progressive credentials of a political party. This is particularly important for us in Nigeria today given that our leading opposition parties represented by Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Okorocha-led All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) have decided to merge into a progressive party, All Progressives Congress (APC).

For the APC to qualify as a progressive party, it has to come with strong commitment to promoting the participation of women in politics and economy. The degree to which the party, APC, expresses commitment to women participation as provided in the provisions of its constitution and manifesto may confirm or question the party's claim to promoting free education and improved healthcare delivery services. This is because limited participation of women in the structures of the party and government could be interpreted to mean weak commitment to increased or efficient and effective management of resources allocated to education and health.

Given that Mrs. Olayinka was a leading member of the ACN, one of the parties merging to form the APC, should Nigerians expect that at the minimum ACN leadership would commit themselves to issues of women participation and based on that therefore ensure that APC offers higher opportunities for women in the party structures and in APC governments? In any event, was the success of Mrs. Olayinka's political accomplishment a reflection of ACN commitment to providing opportunities for women participation in politics?

With women emerging as Deputy Governors in five out of six states controlled by the ACN, the political success of Mrs. Olayinka leading to her emergence as a Deputy Governor may no doubt be a reflection of ACN's liberal disposition to women participation in politics. Whether this liberal disposition translate into a strong commitment to take on board issues of women participation as priorities for the merger negotiations is a different matter entirely, which may not be taken as given. In some ways, given entrenched male dominated prejudices, prioritising issues of women participation in the structures of APC may have to depend on the degree to which women structures both with the merging parties and outside engage the merger process.

The reality is that women structures within the merging parties are weak. Partly, on account of the weaknesses of women structures, participation in party structures as candidates for elections and invariably at different levels of government is low. In virtually, all the parties, women constitute less than 1% of the leadership. In 2007, women were only 6% of candidates. In 2011, it was 9.1%.

Beyond weakness is the reality of low quality representation by the few women that are successful in Nigerian politics. Most of our successful women have no relationship with women organisations as a result of which they lack any form of loyalty to women issues. Conversely, many of our women organisations hardly support the emergence of women politicians. In most cases, women organisations establish links with women politicians only after they emerged as potential party candidates for elections.

It is however important to note that, even in the face of this weak relationship between politicians and organised groups, more than any group, women have a better score sheet. In the face of this reality therefore, it could be argued that women have a brighter prospect of making stronger impact in Nigerian politics. If one is to deduce from this, it then means that the fastest way to Nigeria's democratic development is through strengthening women structures both within political parties and in wider society.

Where will APC stand in relation to attempts to respond to this reality? Will APC be indifferent to the task of strengthening structures for women participation or will it adopt a proactively progressive position providing wider spaces and opportunities for women participation in politics and government at all levels? Is APC going to actively engage platforms of Nigerian women organisations as part of its broader strategy of recruiting quality women politicians or will it continue with currently implied untargeted patronising recruitment approach? Are women organisations going to continue with current framework of weak relationship with women politicians or will there be new initiative aimed at engagement to influence the emergence of quality women candidates for elective positions?

Answers to these questions will define the nature of tributes to Mrs. Olayinka. In all, Nigerians will expect the tribute of the ACN leadership, in particular, to bear strong commitment to increased participation of women in the structures of APC in particular and governments at all levels general. For Governor Fayemi, Ekiti State government and the people of the state, the death of Mrs. Olayinka must not translate in lower participation of women in the politics of Ekiti State in anyway.

The people of Ekiti State and the nation at large are hugely indebted to the husband and children of Mrs. Olayinka. Mrs. Olayinka's career and political successes represented high measure of family sacrifices. Her strength and capacity to persevere was a testimony of the high quality support she enjoyed from the family. Olayinkas, thank you.

May the spirit of Mrs. Olayinka challenge political parties and the nation to expand the spaces for women participation in politics. Rest in peace Funmilayo!

(Lukman Can Be Reached On: smlukman@gmail.com)

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