By Abiemwense Moru
It is a day set aside by the UN to bring issues that affect women and girls to the front burner and raise global consciousness on such matters so as to proffer possible solutions to them.
The day is also an opportunity for women and girls to raise their voices and remind the world about their contributions and the different roles they play toward nation building, and ask that they should be seen as partners in progress and should be carried along.
The 2022 IWD which has “Break the Bias” as its theme, is, therefore, aimed at shedding the suffocating stereotypes, stigmas and discrimination that has kept women and girls worldwide from succeeding and realising their full potential.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said on Monday in a message to mark the day that “the world cannot emerge from the pandemic with the clock spinning backwards on gender equality”.
Guterres, who highlighted womens’ contributions to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, hailed the ideas, innovations and activism that are changing the world for the better, and welcomed more women leaders across all walks of life.
However, as the UN chief pointed out, women and girls frequently bear the brunt of the consequences of vices bedevilling societies.
He said this included girls and women being shut out of schools and workplaces, rising poverty and violence, while women are seen doing the vast majority of the world’s unpaid but essential care work.
To remedy the situation, Guterres called for guaranteed quality education for every girl, massive investments in women’s training and decent work, effective action to end Gender-Based Violence, and universal health care.
Other measures recommended by the UN chief include gender quotas that could result in the world benefitting from more women leaders.
The old adage that says “if you train a woman, you train a nation” is therefore worth mentioning because a woman who is trained will step down the knowledge to her children, the family, community and the society as a whole.
When women are trained and empowered, they will be able to contribute meaningfully in all areas of endeavours.
In Nigeria and some parts of Africa, many women are relegated to the background in the scheme of things, while some are seen as threats by their male counterparts because they feel the women want to be equal with them.
The agitation for equality, therefore, did not go down well with many societies as women have always been known to be at home as wives and home makers and not to be seen as breadwinners, even when they do the work and put food on the table.
However, women want to be part of any progress toward shaping and developing the world
for a peaceful and rewarding existence.
According to Dr Eleanor Nwadinobi, the President of Medical Women International Association, men must respect and not discriminate against the other half of the world.
She said “this is because it starts right from the womb. There should be zero tolerance for cultures that practice sex selection and female infanticide.
“Son preference is another harmful practice alongside harmful practices like Female Genital Mutilation, early marriage, prevention of girl-child education, as well as harmful widowhood practices which are threats to women development.
“These discriminatory and violent acts against women do not allow them to attain their full potential.
“A woman who is provided the enabling environment to thrive is an invaluable asset and should not be seen as a threat to men.”
On accommodating women in the Constitution, Nwadinobi says women have a right to be integral part of the constitution and should not seek to be accommodated.
“Women are the constitution. The constitution is a constitution for the people and women are part of the people. There is a Chinese proverb that says women hold up half the sky. Infact, women hold up the whole of the sky because they produce every human being that holds up the sky.
“It is shameful that in the Nigerian Senate today out of 109 Senators, there are only seven women. It is also embarrassing to note that there are 19 states in Nigeria with no women in the state legislature.”
Nwadinobi recalled the giant strides of women who are making relevant contributions to Nigeria and the world at large.
According to her, there are many Nigerian women in the past and in the present who are well-known.
“Like Queen Amina of Zaria, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Dora Akunyili, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Amina Mohammed, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and several others.
“Our women’s hall of fame should also include the countless number of women who are holding the fabric of our communities and families together and are not celebrated and recognised.”
On whether women are helping themselves enough or working together to achieve their common goals, she said “women are more and more bonding together. Women are mobilising and convening, supporting one another in solidarity and sisterhood.
“We have some great examples like the existing Isusu Saving Schemes and the yearly August meetings.
“These practices can be better harnessed and structured and even institutionalised for advocacy, lobbying and forming strategic movements,” she said.
Nwadinobi also stressed that like any other group of individuals, there may be differences and disagreements “but sadly, society does not grant the grace to women as they do to men when they have any disagreements.
“That is part of the bias that needs to be broken.”
On what the women can do to achieve their potential, she said women could organise and improve on their strategy, as well as document their strengths and harness their collective talents.
She advised men not to see women as threats but partners in progress, and endeavour to break the bias.
“Men need to remove that thick screen that causes them not to see women as humans first of all and equal partners in progress.
“They need to break away from toxic masculinities and have confidence in themselves without feeling that only through abuse of power, privilege and violence that they can reign supreme.
“A true man is one who values mutual respect for women and understands that investing in joint assets of men and women yields joint progress.”
Nwadinobi also spoke on how appropriate the theme of the 2022 IWD — Break the Bias” is, describing it as “apt”.
Similarly, Dr Morenike Ukpong, the Dean, Faculty of Dentistry, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said “the theme of this year’s IWD is apt.”
According to her, the power of the theme is its ability to draw a consciousness to the conscious and unconscious bias that can make it difficult for women to be at parity with men.
“It gives women the safe space to speak openly about gender inequality as it affects women.
“Personally, I will like to draw attention to the conscious and unconscious bias in the academia that gives the edge to males most of the time.
“Speaking out on the need to ‘break the bias’ is also speaking up to raise consciousness about these biases that limit women development,” she said.
For women to avoid being seen as threats to men, she says it is ironical for any assumption that men see or perceive women as threat.
According to her, there is a deep seated perception of women as the weaker sex that can’t be a threat.
“There are however concerns that the attention given to women and women issues are ‘undue’. This perception may be the concern as the attention will gradually push societies to address inequality.
“For patriarchal societies and individuals with paternalistic tendencies, the desire to want to hold on to the current practice may inform the feeling of being threatened by women, otherwise the evidences are numerous on the need for gender parity as a way to improve the growth, development, wellness and wellbeing of women.”
On whether women help themselves enough to achieve their common goals, she aid “yes, women organise to help themselves. I am currently undertaking a study to answer this question.
“However, my perspective is that women are less able to help other women climb up the ladder of success because of the same obstacles they face climbing up the ladder.
“The few who work hard against all odds to make it to the top are also challenged in creating new paths that can help improve women’s pathway up because they do not know how.
“The many pathways to the top are drawn by men for men. Women climb these men supportive pathways and truly do not know what a women supportive pathway is.
“This is because they have not been socialised to think and work and act for women. Creating those pathways for women therefore become challenging.
“I am aware of some of these pathways because of my work with woman for three years, who continue to challenge these norms opening. I learnt from that and therefore, I am able to use that methodology.
“The management of the COVID-19 pandemic is an example of the successes women can bring to the political spheres. The most successful nations were those led by women.
“I will encourage that both men and women continue to learn about ‘why’ gender parity is important and how to create such gender equal and friendly environment in the home, community and at the national level.
“Individuals also have to and understand that they are not superior or inferior. I think this is the way to go to remove any perceived discomfort with having females as peers,” Ukpong maintained.
Also, An NGO, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), has advocated for more equitable and inclusive future for women to attain their potential and contribute meaningfully to the society.
The Advocacy and Marketing Manager of the association, Mr Steve Aborisade, quoted the Country Programme Director, AHF Nigeria, Dr Echey Ijezie, as saying in a statement that “the IWD is an avenue to celebrate women who have made impact to ‘Break the Bias’ of issues holding them back from reaching their full potential.
“The foundation ensures we prioritise women and especially indigent clients by providing palliatives to bridge the impact of COVID-19 on their wellbeing.’’
On IWD celebration in Nigeria, Ijezie said, the foundation would be working with exceptional mentor mothers in Kogi to accelerate progress in paediatric HIV diagnoses and treatment.
“This is in recognition of the stop gap role that mentor mothers and indeed expert clients play in bridging the unmet need for children and adolescent antiretroviral therapy.
“Our hope is to tackle identified barriers to pediatric testing and treatment while scaling up the effort of these women as they break the bias and ensure a HIV-free world for women and their children,’’ Ijezie added.
Also, Terri Ford, the Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy AH, said the foundation must work more than ever to ensure women got all they needed to succeed.
“Now, more than ever, we must work to ‘Break the Bias’, to ensure women have all they need to succeed, including equal access to healthcare, education and employment.’’
He noted that while the effects of COVID-19 may have subsided in several wealthy countries, the pandemic is still creating hardships disproportionately for women, particularly in developing countries.
According to Ford, the foundation will be celebrating and highlighting the achievements of strong and successful women globally.
“The inspiring stories of their personal journeys epitomise how they have worked to “Break the Bias,” overcome obstacles while empowering others along the way.