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Chevening, Nigeria and the gender equality question

Chevening, Nigeria and the gender equality question
October 25
08:49 2017

On Saturday, I sat in a hall alongside 1,699 Chevening scholars from 140 countries of the world. It was an immense feeling. This bunch was full of lawyers, doctors, policy wonks, software engineers, journalists and of course leaders across all fields of study.

Sometime in 2016, 65,000 people from across these 140 nations of the world had applied for the Chevening scholarship for the 2017/2018 academic year. Of these lot, only 1,700 made it to the the finish line to be called Chevening scholars. I was plesantly surprised when Joanna Roper, UK foreign office special envoy on gender equality, said 53 percent of scholars for 2017 are female.

For 2017, there are at least 102 more women than they are men, who qualified to be Chevening scholars from across the world, putting the numbers at 799 men and 901 women for the year 2017.

Come home to Nigeria: Over 6,000 people applied, and at the end of the selection process, only 43 made the final cut. Of these group 13 were ladies and 30 were men. So less than one in three scholars from Nigeria for 2017 is female. The British High Commission in Nigeria has not been particularly happy about this, considering its immense interest in encouraging women to the top of the ladder across various fields.

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Laure Beaufils, the deputy British high commissioner in Nigeria, said at the Chevening Nigeria pre-departure briefing in Lagos, that she is hopeful that more ladies will apply for the 2018/2019 academic year, considering the low numbers recorded in 2017.

Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, repeated the same need to get more women into the programme.

IS THIS NATION STATE AFFECTING FEMALE ASPIRATION?

In Nigeria today, only five women are in the President’s ministerial cabinet. Of these five, three of them are junior ministers, while the last two lead the ministry of finance, and as you would expect; the ministry of women affairs. In the national assembly, only five percent of 469 legislators are women. In fact, only seven of 109 elected senators are in the Bukola Saraki-led eight assembly.

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Speaking at the security council briefing on “Peace and Security in Africa,” Matthew Rycroft, the permanent representative of UK to the UN, said it was unacceptable to have five percent female representation in Nigeria’s parliament.

“It’s unacceptable that women continue to be so poorly represented in formal governance and peace processes when time after time studies show that women’s participation in these processes aids their ultimate success,” he had said.

“In Nigeria, for instance, women’s participation in the House of Representatives and Senate has fallen since 2011; it now stands at around five per cent.”

A few weeks ago, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Aishah Ahmed to replace Sarah Alade as the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Barely 24 hours after, social media was buzzing with questions about her qualifications. Ours seem to be a society where we consider women as incompetent or underserving of some positions — no matter how hard they worked to get there. Even when a woman works twice as hard as her male counterpart, society still seem to regard the man as better than the woman, and this has to stop!

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Clearly, we have a problem on our hands. In this same Africa, Rwanda has 64 percent of its parliament as women — the highest anywhere in the world. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the average share of women in parliament rose from 22.6 percent at the end of 2015 to 23.3 percent at the end of 2016 —6.5 percent higher than the global average a decade ago.

Are women effective in parliament? The Ecuadorian example has shown that to be the case. According to UK guardian, the record shows that in Ecuador, women have been more likely than men to introduce bills on education, health and the environment.

By law, in Ecuador and Bolivia, at least 50 percent of candidates put forward by parties must be women, else candidate lists will be rejected by the electoral commission. Do you wonder why these nations are moving in leaps and bounds?

It is sad for women not to be well represented in leadership in Nigeria, but even worse is the fact that the patriachal system seems to be affecting the aspirations of young girls and women. More young girls are out of school in Nigeria, than any other country in the world.

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200 YEARS TO ACHIEVE GENDER EQUALITY IN NIGERIA?

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), economic gender equality will not be achieved across the globe for another 170 years. The Global Gender Gap report suggests that based on current projections, the world will need nearly two centuries to bridge the equality gap. This means it would not happen in my lifetime, and if my children are fortunate enough, there’s a slight chance it would happen in theirs or be deferred till the arrival of my grandchildren.

The case for equality is worse in Nigeria than the global average; if the global average for women in parliament is 23.3 percent and in Nigeria, it is five percent, you can imagine how much we are behind the rest of the world! It may take well over 200 years for Nigeria to attain economic gender equality.

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I simply do not want to leave this kind of world for my children. We simply cannot wait 200 years to have this equality. We, as a people, who understand the role women can play in development must rise to the occassion and speak, act, and lead a changing world.

We may not be able to change this tonight, but we can change this tomorrow. It is about two weeks to the end of the Chevening application process for 2018/2019. I encourage more females to apply, let us have more female leader in the works, and soon we would change the narrative around female leadership in Nigeria.

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