Discussions at the recently held first summit of the Forum for Wives of Ondo State Officials, was centred on women as irreversible social change agents and the need to drive gender equality, improve family health and to support the move towards women empowerment. Mary Nnah writes
“As a child, I was told that life is a race, but as I grew older, it dawned on me that the female folk have more hurdles on their track. As a child, I was told everyone has a choice to make, but as I grew older, I discovered that women had their choices made by men. We should not speak in public; we must not aspire; we dare not dream; we cannot compete.
“These debasing statements are well articulated in our cultural practices, and it is very wrong. Our potentials, they say, is no potential. They say we are born to be subjects, and as subjects we should forever be. The greatest error of mankind is the idea that men and women are no equal.”
The above statement set off the speech delivered by wife of Ondo State Governor, Chief Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu at the very first summit organised by the Forum for Wives of Ondo State Officials (FOWOSO), which held recently at the Arcade, Igbatoro Road, Akure, Ondo State.
Akeredolu who said the underage marriage of girl-child, incest and rape were some of the factors that contributed to the economic quagmire the nation finds itself today as women who are supposed to contribute to the nation’s development have been confined to the kitchen. She stressed that women were excluded from some professions, adding however that women should not be discriminated against as a result of their sex.
Making a Case for Women
Rhetorically, she said: “You, who say women can’t be warriors, have you not heard of Queen Moremi of Ile -Ife, or are you unaware of the exploits of Queen Amina of Zaria? And who said women can’t handle science? Have you not heard that the mathematical calculations that made it possible for any human being to land on the moon was solved by Katherine Johnson, an African-American woman? Who also said that women can’t be wealthy? Maybe you are yet to meet Folorunsho Alakija or Oprah Winfrey. Who said women can’t lead a nation?”
Still speaking further with the force that could wake a woman with the deep desire to aspire to achieve greatness in life, Akeredolu said: “You should learn from Angela Merkel, Theresa May and more recently, Ethiopian President, Sahle-Work Zewde. To say women can’t, is the most demeaning thing to say”.
Emphatically, she said it was clear that it is to no one’s benefit to suppress the abilities of women by denying them education, marrying them off against their will and confining them to the kitchen, adding that nations should invest significantly in their human resources, female and male alike, without bias. “Everyone must be allowed to unleash their potentials without preference to any particular gender.
“How do we expect to develop if women, who make up more than half of the entire population are restricted to kitchen duties and child rearing only and are then expected to, like serfs, totally depend on their husband for every need. It is simple economics – a high dependency ratio automatically results to stalled development. Knowing this, I have dedicated my life to driving gender equality, not because I love the female folk more, but because I seek the growth and advancement of humanity as a whole,” she added.
She therefore said that the nation cannot develop without investment, not only in education but in girl-child as women contribute to the economic development of the country.
Stressing further, the Ondo First Lady said: “Women can and should fully participate in engineering the development of our beloved country, Nigeria. Although, the older women have lost many years to silence and passiveness towards national development, I believe it’s not too late for them to get involved.”
It was as a result of this mind-set that she initiated the coming together of women in Ondo State and indeed, they have succeeded in building an army of resolute change makers who have ignited the cause of women empowerment for socio-economic development in Ondo State.
Already, these l women under the FOWOSO platform have impacted the lives of thousands of Ondo State women within one year, through skill acquisition, empowerment and health awareness programmes. The FOWOSO Women are actually proving to the world that women can drive economic growth in any nation.
“Everyone should note that Ondo Women are now limitless, we are unstoppable. Whether the male folk want us to participate in developmental process or not, we will participate. Even if we are not invited to the policy table, like Meghan Markel said, we will get our chairs and squeeze it in somewhere. That time is no more where women will wait to be called before joining the conversation, the FOWOSO women are joining the conversation uninvited and it has been profitable to everyone”, Akeredolu said further.
While expressing joy that Fowoso is having its first anniversary, Akeredolu said it was worthy of note that the forum has been able to build women who would make a change in the socio economic development of the state.
FOWOSO, she revealed, has provoked a social change for the protection of every child, for the empowerment of every woman and for the development of Ondo State, adding, “We started this laudable cause and it is gaining global attention and trust. We acknowledge the support of a number of men who unlike others, decided to be regarded as “He For She.”
“That is, men who believe in the remarkable and limitless abilities of women and are doing all they can to ensure these abilities are maximised, without any equivocation, I make bold to say that my husband is “Numero Uno, He For She.”
“The pursuit of gender equality is definitely daunting, many rocks of stereotypes are particularly exacting, but when more men join us, we are further Strengthened to prevail quickly. But whatever the case, we shall prevail.”
Clamour for More Representation
The first FOWOSO Summit also had in attendance state governors, first ladies, World Bank personnel, and other stakeholders from public, private organisations, traditional rulers and heads of religious organisations who praised Akeredolu on her giant strides in grassroots women and youth empowerment through FOWOSO.
The Executive Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, congratulated Mrs Akeredolu and appreciated the Ondo State Governor for his massive support for FOWOSO.
He described women as essential change agents who are capable of making positive social change if given the opportunity in their chosen professions. The governor said majority of “irreversible social change agents” are women who carry “the burden of success of a man”, adding that the society is replete with women who are “active change agents” that can make a difference in governance and other spheres of human endeavours.
Fayemi was of the opinion that there was a low representation of women in government, and so appealed for a representative number of women in governance who, according to him, will make a huge difference as active change agents.
Unlocking Hidden Potentials
Senior Health Specialist, World Bank, Liberia, Dr Munirat Ogunlayi who spoke on the summit’s theme, “Unlocking Hidden Potentials in Girls and Women: A Task for All,” enumerated the factors responsible for hiding potentials in women to include poverty, sociocultural norms, abuse, religion, amongst others and their implications to the society, while proffering measures to unlock the hidden potentials of women through sound education, leadership development and mentoring, equal opportunities, enabling environment, and governmental support, to mention a few.
Highlights of the event included parades and march-past by women of different LGAs within Ondo State, cancer awareness displays and raffle draws, which had lucky winners, go home with over several sewing machines, hair dryers, generators and many other valuable items that could be used in generating income for their livelihood.
In just within one year of its existence, FOWOSO has given succour to many women in the state mostly in the area of empowerment, breast cancer control and early detection, liberation from poverty and host of others.