Women around the world have had to live with various challenges over the decades – challenges that will often inhibit their mental, physical, educational, economic, and in some cases spiritual growth. This explains why some generally lag behind in many indices of human development. In Nigeria, women face many challenges that could constitute setbacks to their overall development; the reason gender inequality has remained a thorny issue for a long time. They face challenges that without a doubt deny them equal opportunity for socio-economic and political advancement alongside their male counterparts.
But it has not all been a sorry tale for the Nigerian women.
For many of them, gender disparity has not been a handicap. Examples abound across the country of women who have risen above gender challenges to achieve heights that were hitherto considered unrealistic for women. These women are to be found in the professions, the academia, entrepreneurship, etc. One does not need to look further to find Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who just became the first woman and first African to be appointed Director General of the World Trade Organization or even Kamila Harris the now Vice President of the United States of America. Without doubt, that development is set to have tremendous impact on the Nigerian girl-child who would now believe that she can attain any height or achieve any goal in life. Worthy of mention also is Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the UN.
At Soulcomms Limited, one of Nigeria’s leading strategic communications and engagement companies, are five career women in key positions– among the best professionals in the industry – who reflect the efforts made by Nigerian women to overcome gender-based challenges to excel in their different fields. Their contribution to creating awareness for this year’s edition finds expression in the strategic roles they play in driving the success of a company that has proved its mettle in the nation’s marketing communications industry through execution of high profile campaigns that have made many top local and international brands household names in the country.
At the head of the team is Mojisola Saka who, as Chief Operating Officer, wears many caps. She is the team leader, entrepreneur, business driver, mentor, conceiver, thinker, manager, as well as administrator. All these attributes have enabled her to drive, with an enviable level of professionalism, the successes Soulcomms has recorded over the years: “I have often posited that the woman is an embodiment of grace, strength, vision, resilience, courage, determination, focus, entrepreneurship…and I could go on”, says Mojisola.
Without a doubt, Mojisola is a conceiver, thinker, doer, manager and all of that too. I almost forgot she is a mother, teacher, student, team leader, team member, mentor, mentee, wife, nurse, administrator and all. The WorldBank’s data reports women to be 49.584 per cent of the world’s population. Thus, if the family is the smallest unit of the society, then one can infer that the woman is the anchor and single most important piece that make the family which morphs into society.
Ever wondered how she balances these charge? How she is able to compartmentalize and manage all these roles and its responsibilities without dropping or mixing up the balls? The answer may not be too far off. She’s a super human and a wonder woman. And at Soulcomms, we have been privileged to have some of such women in our organization. These women are our wonder women. They have successfully integrated their many roles and responsibilities to supporting the business’ success over the years. And with each passing year even as they grow in age, advance their career and wear many more caps, their resilience has been second to none. For sure, they can never be referred to as regular but are our source of strength and progress”.
For those who know and understand the pressure of a Marcomms Consulting Agency especially in a VUCA period, every day, especially the International Women’s Day, calls for celebrating these Wonder Women. And so, I choose to celebrate the master strategist and super skilled juggler. According to Mojisola, “I choose to celebrate the one who by natural default deals with every odd yet is the single most critical piece for sustainable societal development and life. I choose to celebrate women like me who juggle every kind of ball and still break the glass ceiling. I choose to challenge the ‘quietness’ in celebrating women for all their unending personal sacrifices towards a better family and society”.
On her side, Yemi Oyekanmi- Manager, Strategic Communications and Engagement, attributes gender inequality in Nigeria to the patriarchal nature of the society where male dominance is part of the culture. This, she explains, “is a system of social stratification and differentiation on the basis of sex, which provides material advantages to males while simultaneously placing severe constraints on the roles and activities of females (Stacey 1993; Kramarae 1992; Lerner 1986) purports”.
This system ignores the invaluable contributions women make to national development. “Female contribution to the social and economic development of societies is also more than half as compared to that of men by virtue of their roles in the productive and reproductive spheres”, says Yemi, quoting Makama Godiya Allanana. “Yet, female participation in formal and informal structures and processes wherein decisions regarding the use of societal resources generated by both men and women are made remains insignificant”.
The situation is not helped by the attitude of the international community that has continuously paid lip service to the issue of gender equality, despite several pronouncements and conventions that are designed supposedly to advance the cause of women. An example is the Affirmative Action that came out as a product of the Beijing Women Conference of 1985, which has remained largely on paper in many countries of the world.
One of the challenges the girl child faces in Nigeria is lack of access to education, especially in some areas, specifically, families where education of females is still not considered a worthwhile venture, because of the age-old stereotype of the woman’s place being in the kitchen. Lack of access to education could also be as a result of cultural factors, like what obtains in some sections of the country where child marriage robs female children of the opportunity of acquiring education.
There is glaring gender disparity in almost every facet of the national life, and in many cases, this accounts for the lack of sufficient opportunities for advancement women in face in the country. In educational institutions, especially at the tertiary level, sex-for-marks is a growing phenomenon. At the workplace, a woman must perform almost two times the amount of work a man does to be considered for promotion.
The officer cadre in military and para-military services is almost always the exclusive preserve of men. Despite the growing involvement of women in politics and the fact that they constitute the higher percentage of registered voters in the country, women are not considered for elective political office beyond the position of deputy governor that is usually handed out as a token. And in the legislative houses at the state and federal levels, women do not constitute up to 10 per cent of lawmakers at any given time.
“The continued calls, reforms and struggles are all geared toward sufficiency in the representation of more women in Nigeria’s workforce”, says Yemi Oyekanmi. “Although it is said that women are now increasingly partaking in the workforce such that roles of male breadwinner and female homemaker are disappearing, ‘the patriarchal system such as seen in Nigeria remains a strong culture of male dominance and women continue to be subjugated” (human resource management international digest, vol. 27 No.7, pp.9-11)’. Thus, in Nigeria, the patriarchal system still forms a barrier to achieving a good work-life balance and advancement for women”.
Yemi is optimistic: “This year, 2021, I truly believe that women indeed belong in all places where decisions are being made and as such, I choose to challenge all forms of discrimination against women and I urge you to do same”.
Uyiosa Aigbe, Executive, Strategic Communications, considers the Coronavirus pandemic that swept across the world in 2020 as having increased the challenges women in Nigeria face, as indeed women around the world do.
“The world was going at a wonderful pace with everyone up and doing with their daily lives and businesses”, Uyiosa said. “However, the breakout of Covid-19 disrupted everyone’s basic/daily activities. To contain and control the spread of the virus, government around the world issued a total lockdown in their various countries, which in most cases had a psychological, emotional, mental and physical impact on the people”.
Research showed that female workers appear to have been more easily laid off in the various lockdowns around the world than their male counterparts, while those still in employment are faced with mental health, stress and emotional challenges arising from uncertainties about how to manage career and family responsibilities, especially for working mothers.
The study also found that women had increased rate of low mental health status by 3.96 per cent during the lockdown. This was caused by factors such as inflexibility at work; the feeling of having to be available at work at all times or being negatively judged because of the extra burden of carrying domestic responsibilities, which led to permanent fear of job loss, etc
There is also the issue of domestic violence, including rape, which increased astronomically all over the country during the lockdown of last year.
Uyiosa quotes a United Nation’s report as saying, “The emotional impact of the pandemic is disproportionately falling on women’s shoulders in most countries. Increases in unpaid care and domestic work, job and income loss, and the effects of the lockdown on gender-based violence are among the factors that may be contributing to higher rates of stress and anxiety among women”.
The Soulcomms “Wonder Women Campaign” is the organization’s initiative to celebrate and support female practitioners in the Marketing and Communications sector as they integrate corporate duties with balancing other personal responsibilities.