COUNTERPOINT By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
This piece was inspired by my mother…a woman whose mastery of the English Language was no more than adequate to communicate with her diverse customers at her petty-trading shop in Iponri, Lagos. My mother was tough, hardworking, thrifty and distrustful of haughty, loudmouthed smooth talkers. She would not condone my truancy or flippancy, and was not afraid to tell any of her children off if they were in the wrong – even in their individual matrimonial homes. Aged and weakened by geriatric issues, my mother would nonetheless stun her grand children with tales of their parents’ misadventures as youngsters with cracking admonitions on why they should be better representations of their uncomfortable parents. No stares or frowns would stop her in her ‘missionary’ crusade to mould the next generation on the path of correctness and good behaviour.
This article is inspired by my wife…in fact, it was her initial suggestion to salute the recent incredible accomplishment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as a signpost of women’s capacity to overcome, anywhere, despite atrocious obstacles strewn their path…by the society (unsubtle euphemism for men!) Though wracked by triple challenges of succeeding in her career, managing the home-front and nurturing her children in the image that she believes would give them the best chance at surviving and excelling in a gruesomely demanding world, she has shown outstanding strength and commitment where brawn and masculinity would have withered. Her remarkable aptitude to run against raging inferno of multifarious obstacles, and her calmness at the vortex of disparaging circumstances make her a formidable pillar at your corner in moments when power fails or confidence wanes.
This write-up is inspired by my children who, before my very own eyes, have transformed from tiddly-diddly tots of the 90s to well-adjusted, professional, high-level women with immensely exciting and confident projections. My girls, firm, funny and first-rate, will never submit to the obnoxious excuse of “it’s a man’s world”. With ardent vigour and admirable tenacity, they will make it clear to any doubters of feminine capacity or adequacy, that you are on a shallow path. Respectful and reserved, their body language reveals a thunderous acrimony with any male-induced complex which their society, wrongly or inadvertently, has erected against the girl-child’s opportunity to excel in her environment, and express her God-given talents as best as she can possibly do.
These statements are inspired by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and South Korea’s Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-Hee, her last-gasp competitor for the position of the Director General of World Trade Organization, WTO, a global financial octopus. Both women stunned the jaded furrowed chambers of bumbling men who must have worked hard to frustrate them, simply because they are women, however educated and accomplished, who want to strive beyond imitating men in the ratified ambience of muscular exertion – international finance!
However, in spite of the intransigence of the USA, then led by President Donald Trump, the heroic woman of immeasurable substance stepped into the WTO building on March 1, 2021 as the first woman, nay the first African, to lead that global entity. Beyond her inspirational ascendancy into that exalted position, the icing for many Africans, particularly Nigerians, is her unrelenting affection and deliberate promotion of the African fabric, and the jaunty slant of her local headgear – in a position that we call “who-cares-?-just-mind-your-own-business” in street parlance.
On Monday, March 8, 2021 the United Nations is likely to roll the drums to celebrate the International Women’s Day, with a special vehicle doing most of the heavy shifting – in order to train the sight and focus of the world on persistent blatant gender inequalities and poor representations of women in several countries’ power structures. The fertile and fervent vehicle is the UN Women, an entity created in July, 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly. The UN Women is formally known as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, which became operational in January 2011. Former two-term president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet (the only woman to rule Chile) was the inaugural Executive Director, and South-African born Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the current Executive Director.
It is perhaps vital at this point to shift space for the full throttle of what the women have in store for the future of the world…starting in a couple of days:
“This year, the theme for International Women’s Day (8 March), “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain.
Women’s full and effective participation and leadership in all areas of life drives progress for everyone. Yet, women are still underrepresented in public life and decision-making, as revealed in the UN Secretary-General’s recent report. Women are Heads of State or Government in 22 countries, and only 24.9 per cent of national parliamentarians are women. At the current rate of progress, gender equality among Heads of Government will take another 130 years.
Women are also at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19, as front-line and health sector workers, as scientists, doctors and caregivers, yet they get paid 11 per cent less globally than their male counterparts. An analysis of COVID-19 task teams from 87 countries found only 3.5 per cent of them had gender parity.
When women lead, we see positive results. Some of the most efficient and exemplary responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were led by women. And women, especially young women, are at the forefront of diverse and inclusive movements online and on the streets for social justice, climate change and equality in all parts of the world. Yet, women under 30 are less than 1 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide.
This is why, this year’s International Women’s Day is a rallying cry for Generation Equality, to act for an equal future for all. The Generation Equality Forum, the most important convening for gender equality investment and actions, kicks off in Mexico City from 29 – 31 March, and culminates in Paris in June 2021. It will draw leaders, visionaries, and activists from around the world, safely on a virtual platform, to push for transformative and lasting change for generations to come.”