Diplomats Celebrate Outstanding Nigerian Women

To celebrate the 2023 the International Women’s Day, diplomatic missions and delegations from across America, Europe and Africa recently converged on the expansive garden of the United States Consular-General’s residence in Ikoyi, Lagos, to honour and celebrate women who are champions of women’s leadership and gender equality in Nigeria. At the well-attended awards’ gala, the Chief Host and United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms. Mary Beth Leonard applauded the awardees for their ability to draw support for women through accelerated actions towards gender equality, writes Funke Olaode

It was a women’s affairs when on Saturday February 18th, 2023, dignitaries, mostly women from the public and the private sectors, politicians, captains of industry and members of diplomatic missions of Australia, Democratic Republic of Congo, The European Union, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States in partnership with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment Women (UN Women) and the United Nations Development Porgramme (UNDP) collaborated to celebrate outstanding Nigerian women who have made huge contributions to their female counterparts.

The evening of glamour was held at the United States Consular-General’s Residence in ikoyi, Lagos. Following the success of the inaugural edition of the International Women’s Day Awards Gala of 2022, the women diplomats came together again in 2023 to celebrate their own during this second edition. Donning glittering native attires, the female diplomats let their hair down as they mingled freely as one man orchestral serenaded all invited guests.
The Awards Gala 2023 celebrates and recognizes champions in promoting women’s leadership and gender equality in Nigeria whilst providing inspiration for accelerated actions toward this mandate. The 2023 edition also placed emphasis on the importance of male allies in advancing gender equality by recognizing contributions of key male allies through the newly introduced HeForShe Award.

Among the dignitaries at the event were Chief Host and the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms. Mary Beth Leonard; Charge d’ Affaires, Australian High Commission to Nigeria, Ms. Leann Johnston; Head European Union Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ambassador Samuela Isopi; U.S. Consul General, Will Stevens; German Ambassador to Nigeria, Annett Gunther; Congolese Ambassador to Nigeria, Pascaline Gerengbo; French Ambassador to Nigeria, Emmanuelle Blatmann; British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ms. Catriona Laing; UN Women Representative to Nigeria and Ecowas, Ms. Beatrice Eyong and The Resident Representative of UNDP, Mr. Muhamed Yahya.

Leading the Nigerian guests were Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen; former minister, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili; Chairman, The Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Mr. Niyi Yusuf; Senator Florence Ita-Giwa; Wife of Kwara State Governor, Mrs. Folake AbdulRazaq; Former First Lady of Ekiti State, Mrs. Bisi Fayemi; former top executive at MTN, Mrs. Amina Oyagbola amongst other.
Speaking to journalists, Amb. Beth Leonard said it began as the brainchild of several of the females’ diplomatic missions in Nigeria. UK, US, Germany, France, European Union and this year we were joined by Australian and the Republic of the Congo: “The idea was that as women in diplomatic positions to come together and celebrate prominent Nigerian women who have contributed to ideals and gender equality in Nigeria. Not only that to really highlight the work that they do and what can be done to promote women in this country.

Speaking further, Amb. Beth Leonard said, “We feel in celebrating these role models, others can aspire to what they want to achieve in their careers whether in politics, technology, arts etc. So, we are here again tonight to recognize those who are doing their best to promote gender equality in Nigeria.”
On the role being played by the international community to promote gender equality, the US Envoy said, “Most of our embassies have gender equality and women’s inclusion as a permanent role in their diplomatic missions. For instance, in the US mission, we have African Women Entrepreneur, Young African Leaders Initiatives which objective is to come together to horn their ideas, to figure out how to network and see their visions being achieved. In education and business women have always been at the centre because half of the population of Nigeria is so important to the success of Nigeria. No country will succeed without contributions of both genders.”

On the elections, she said every Nigerian has a crucial role to play as individuals: “United States doesn’t have a special candidate we only support the process. We want peaceful elections so one can have confidence in the results.”
On her take on women and politics and their participation and out of school children particularly girls, she noted that women’s participation in politics had gone backwards.
“And for all Nigerians voters whether they are men or women, it is not about casting their votes; it is about when someone is in the office think of what you wanted from them, when they get to the office demand what you want and remind them of the pledges you wanted them to make and hold them to account.
“I can tell you that United States Agency for International Development looks at that areas too. Some states are involved and engaged to ensure that girls stay in school,” Amb. Leonard said.

Keynote speaker at the event and former minster, Dr. Obi Ezekwesili gave kudos to the diplomatic chiefs for the initiative: “Celebrating Nigerian women who are shaping industries in all spheres gladdened my heart. In an evening like this it is an opportunity to let our hair down. I am always excited when the issues affecting women are raised. For many decades, the issues of women participation in politics have been on the front burner. Gender inclusion is important for national development. Therefore, policy evidence is necessary in order to foster gender equity. Gender equality and inclusion are not free gifts and that is why policies that support gender equality and inclusion should be focused on. She believes ‘it will spur us from evidence to action.’

She congratulated and commended all the women Ambassadors that put this year’s programme together, praising their power of collaboration. “Outstanding women become role models in the society. Women have a lot to contribute to the development of their nation. And society that identifies the barriers that can stand as impediment against women such as social cultural norms, finance will help women advancement as they begin to flourish.”
The highlight of the ceremony was the presentation of awards. Amongst the recipients was Priscilla Iyari, a young private sector leader and brand marketing manager of Quickteller who won the Private Sector Award.
Digital innovation ad Technology Gender Equality went to Ms. Aisha Tofa, Founder of Startup Kano Hub, a technology incubation hub based in Kano.
Grassroots and Civil Society went to Aisha Zannah, an Outreach Volunteer and girl child activist from Maiduguri.

Leadership and Governance award was won by Grace Alache Jerru, Founder and Executive Director of Inclusive Friends Association.
Prince Clem Agba won the HEforSHE category. Agba is a the current Minister of State for Budget and National Planning who has shown commitment to the prioritization of gender issues by working towards attaining of a gender-responsive national budget and gender inclusive national planning processes.
Media and Culture award went to Kemi Adetiba , an acclaimed Nigerian film maker, music video director, and television producer and director.

Receiving Lifetime Achievement Award was Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen who is renowned as a longstanding advocate of the inclusion of women in political leadershio and governance. In her speech she said, “I feel humbled this evening. I dedicate this award to all women. Tonight, I appreciate our women Ambassadors who have always supported issues affecting women. The world will be a better place when both genders work together in harmony.”
Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Nigerian lawyer, activist and founder of Women Advocates Research and Documentation and Womanifestos, a coalition of over 400 women’s right groups won Outstanding Leader award. She dedicated the award to all women who have been sexually assaulted. “No women no Nation. We have moved from agonising to organizing. We won’t stop as we continue to advocate for women’s right in Nigeria.”

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