The Nigerian Bar Association’s Women’s Forum last Wednesday, at a well attended virtual conference, celebrated the 2021 International Women’s Day around the theme ‘Pathways to Diversity Challenging Blindspot and Powering Up for Inclusion’.
The conference which was declared open by the former Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, also had in attendance the First Ladies of Taraba and Imo States.
In her opening address, Ezekwesili brought to the fore the plight of women nationwide, and the untenable reasons why the gender inequality gap keeps widening. With less than 30% of women in government and the legislature, Ezekwesili believes the narration has to change. That old nuances about women being homemakers with the attendant challenges, have to change.
Dr. Ezekwesili asked male dominated law firms, how many female partners they have in their firms with equal positions. She said female Lawyers should no longer be comfortable playing the second fiddle to men, in the profession.
With verifiable statistics, Ezekwesili drew attention to the fact that statics show that in the past decade, the ratio of female Lawyers called to the Nigerian Bar, is almost at par with that of men. She however, wonders how the gap widens progressively when both go into practice.
The Chairperson of the Conference Planning Committee, Mrs. Chinyere Okorocha, told the august gathering that the significance of the International Women’s Day wasn’t lost on Nigerian female Lawyers being part the global move to strategically shore up the female gender in the profession.
She said: ‘We are here today to celebrate the labours of our heroes past. Our very arrival on the scene is predicated on the fight fought by very brave women, against a system that prejudiced them simply on the basis of their gender. Now, as a new era emerges, and with some of these issues behind us, we have new challenging blindspots to address, and the need for female Lawyers to power up and press for female inclusion at all levels, is now more critical than ever before. Today, in line with the International Women’s Day theme, we choose to challenge the narrative that Female Lawyers are “gentlemen in skirts”…. We refuse to be stereotyped based on our gender, and we aspire for equality at all levels of the Bench and at the Bar.
There continue to be issues of leadership inclusion for female Lawyers, whether in private or public capacities, sexual harassment is a continuing concern, career growth and achieving a work life balance that enables us thrive and not just survive, are all issues that must be addressed to ensure that the narrative changes’.
In his goodwill message, the NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata said: ‘For me, the most interesting event to look forward to is the training scheduled for day two for young female Lawyers, on the women empowerment principles gender gap analysis tool. I have always said that we have not scratched the surface in terms of the role that the legal profession in Nigerian can play in, and for the Nigerian economy. This is why I continue to espouse the view that, relative to our population, we do not have too many Lawyers in Nigeria. We just have too many of our Lawyers concentrated in the same geographical area, and crowded in the same practice area. I have therefore, made it a cardinal policy of my administration to emphasise on the opening up of new frontiers of practice for our Lawyers. To achieve this, we must devote significant time and resources to the training and retraining of our Lawyers, especially the female Lawyers.
‘There is a well-known African Proverb that says, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But, if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” Permit me to add to that by saying that the enlightenment of our female Lawyers, especially the young ones l, is the key to the instatement of the modern legal profession that we all dream all.
‘As I said during the campaign period, my administration will work tirelessly to achieve inclusiveness within the Bar. It is not a one-day journey, but one which requires hard work and dedication; one which must be achieved. I also promised to support the NBA-WF, in the quest to establish a sexual harassment policy for the legal profession in Nigeria. I wish to use this occasion, to restate that promise’.
To the excitement of all attendees, Akpata promised to disburse within the next few weeks, the takeoff grants earmarked for the NBA Women’s Forum when it was created slightly over a year ago.
The Chair of the Forum Professor Oluyemisi Bamgbose, SAN showed apparent elation at the outflow of enthusiasm exhibited by Lawyers since the inception of the forum, and promised to ensure the forum meticulously carries out its mandate, and fulfils the purpose for which it was created.