IWD: Why Nigerian Girls Need New Role Models

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L-R: Executive Head of Content, MultiChoice Nigeria, Busola Tejumola; Managing Director, MultiChoice Nigeria, John Ugbe; Executive Head of Corporate Affairs, MultiChoice Nigeria, Caroline Oghuma

Every March 8, women all over the world celebrate International Women’s Day; a day set apart to mark the historic leaps and milestones achieved by women in diverse backgrounds. It is a time when women can punch their fists in the air and proclaim ‘Girl Power’ or ‘Women Rule the World. Vanessa Obioha reports

Each of these mantras rings true in this era where the campaign for better representation of women continues to gain traction globally. The US Congress last year recorded 20.6 percent representation of women indicating that women hold 110 seats out of the 535 seats in the Congress.

Women like former US Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, are becoming role models for younger girls.

Back then, every girl wanted to be like Britney Spears or other superheroes depicted in films and comics.

Nowadays, that narrative has changed as women are taking charge in various fields apart from the entertainment industry.

In Nigeria, the narrative is quite different as most girls are exposed to celebrities in the showbiz industry.

To be sure, there are Nigerian women who occupy leadership roles in politics and business but their feats rarely receive the spotlight their counterparts in the entertainment industry do. Thus, the average Nigerian girl is mainly exposed to role models who are easily accessible on their smartphones; those who inspire them to pursue a certain kind of lifestyle.

Generally, every child be it male or female has role models they look up to. At inception, the family plays that pivotal role in shaping the girl child mindset. The mother is often looked upon as the first role model for a female child. It is through her maternal role that the girl child learns to aspire from and inspire her community, but in cases where the mothers are trapped in a gender and cultural prison, the child’s next option is education.

Education seemingly has its conundrums. The good old days when the Nigerian education system was laudable are now resting in the annals of history. Today, poor remuneration, unworkable curriculum, untrained teachers and inadequate educational facilities deprive the younger generation from learning history and the required knowledge needed to enhance nation building. While the declining quality of education has sparked public discourse as the country continue to record a large percentage of brain drain, the little or no availability of education to the female child in the northern region due to gender inequalities and cultural differences is very worrisome. According to a report published in Education Policy and Data Centre’s website, more than 50% of young women aged 15-24 years in the northern region have no access to formal education.

The onus now falls on the mass media to educate and inspire these young girls. As the fourth estate of the realm, the media contributes to the overall development of the society, not only by being a watchdog but as well as setting agenda roles for the public. This influential power helps the society to groom leaders that can effectively contribute to nation building.

But in a technologically driven society, the media finds itself competing with social media platforms to publish breaking news and attract advertisers.

Arguably, the Nigerian media is lagging in the reportage of women achieving milestones in other sectors. So much concentration is often given to women in the entertainment industry such that other sectors pale in comparison. Whereas, there are women who are shattering glass ceilings in the banking, engineering, science, politics and other sectors. Why are these women underreported? Why is the media also not reporting on blue chip companies that are giving women leadership roles? More importantly, why is the media not reminding us of the great women who laid the foundation for others to follow.?

Women like the late Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the politician, women’s right activist and mother of the Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, or the admirable Igbo women in Aba who fought the Warrant Chiefs for limiting the roles of women in government. What about the bravura of Queen Amina of Zaria who became the first queen in a male-dominated society?

Nevertheless, the overwhelming influence women bring to businesses and companies cannot be overstated. Which is why companies like MultiChoice Nigeria are steadfast in their mission to give women equal opportunities in leadership positions. For instance, the customer care and experience, customer value management, channels, content, and corporate affairs departments for MultiChoice are headed by women. There is also Ibidunni Ighodalo, an event planner and interior designer who is a source of inspiration to many women in that field.

In the banking industry, the revered Ibukun Awosika who currently sits as the Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria is an exemplary role model. In the legal department, senior lawyer Folake Solanke leads the trail as the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and of course, there is Joanna Maduka, the first female engineer in Nigeria.

Our young girls today need to be told about these women who are pioneers in these fields. They need to be reminded that life does not start and end on social media. They should be able to recognise that beyond showbiz, there are a whole lot of opportunities in other fields. We need our young girls to be astronauts, or technology executives like Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.

If we need to see our girls breaking barriers and ruling the world in the future, we need to provide new role models for them. And the time is now.