You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2021 03 08Article 420979

Opinions of Monday, 8 March 2021

Columnist: Chioma Ejide

IWD: Challenging the norm, reaping the benefit

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations, ‘Choose to Challenge’, strikes at the heart of gender inequality and what must be done to correct it. The theme speaks to deliberateness, decisiveness, and most importantly, it is a call to act.

To achieve gender equality, women have a responsibility to not only celebrate themselves but also challenge societal inequalities. We cannot abhor gender discrimination in our minds and yet fail to act to correct it. The Irish proverb, ‘You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind’, best puts the need to act in perspective.

For all of America’s vaunted gender equity posture, no woman has ever attained the country’s highest political office in its over 200 years’ history. Certainly, it is not for a lack of capable women. And that never looked like changing until women stopped waiting for the men to help them ‘elevate their game’ and started taking actions themselves. Lately, when American women started challenging for the highest political offices, the results have been staggering. Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives in the US history and just recently, the country had its first female vice-president in Kamala Harris. If this trajectory continues, the US will soon have a female president. That is what action as opposed to platitudes could do.

Our own Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is another great example of what is possible when we act. She recently became the first female to be elected the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation by vying with men for the position.

Often, we see women who have chosen to challenge the norm come off the better for it as well as helping society to a better place. The Igbo inheritance custom disenfranchises the female child. The male child takes all; it is almost an anathema for a father to bequeath a daughter with an inheritance. The female child is believed to have been settled – or will be settled – when she married and took on another surname (nwanyi bu ama onye ozo – roughly translated to mean ‘the female child belongs to another family’). In the event that a deceased left only female children, it is often the case that the inheritance passes to his male relatives. This practice had subsisted for centuries until Gladys Ada Ukeje challenged it in court and won, up to the Supreme Court.

In Ghana in 2018, Grace Fosu and Thelma Hammond, who challenged their dismissal from the Ghana National Fire Service for getting pregnant less than three years into their employment, won the case against the state. Their dismissal was hinged upon a GNFS regulation that prohibits servicewomen from getting pregnant within the first three years of their employment.” When these gallant Ghanaian women were dismissed for going against the regulation, they could easily have moved on with their lives but they chose to challenge a law they believed was discriminatory and underserved women. Today, Ghanaian servicewomen are free from the obnoxious regulation. Interestingly, a Nigerian policewoman, Corporal Omolola Olajide, was in January dismissed for a similar offence. She was said to have contravened Section 124 of the Nigeria Police Act and Regulations.

If we go way back in history, there is no shortage of women like Pelosi, Kamala, Okonjo-Iweala, Gladys, Grace and Thelma. Today, society talks with a sense of gratitude and indebtedness of the exploits of Mary Slessor, Moremi, Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa, Grace Alele Williams, and others.

As we celebrate the International Women’s Day, we all must resolve to act to change the narrative about women. We must challenge deep-rooted biases against women and ensure that society achieves gender equity sooner rather than later.

A good place to start will be the home front. And one area that requires urgent action is education for the girl-child. Education liberates the mind and helps engender an egalitarian society. Unfortunately, many of our girls are today not getting the education they deserve. And parents and society are complicit in this. Nigeria is said to have the highest number of out-of-school children at 14 million, with girls making up over 60% of that figure.

The girl-child is particularly disadvantaged because of some untenable cultural norms and practices. For instance, the girl-child education is considered to be of little value. This perception unconsciously drives how parents treat the girl-child in the home. The female child is often bogged down with too many house chores compared to the male child, in the name of training her for her future role as a wife, mother, and homemaker. This tends to affect her school performances.

We must all speak against these unfair practices. And most importantly, as parents, we must seek to adopt a new approach to raising our girl-child, one that is non-discriminatory.

Join our Newsletter