Last week when Meryl Streep won her third Academy Award, she cemented herself as the greatest actress that ever lived. What gladdened me with her win was the fact she won the Oscar for playing a role that depicted the life of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a women who defied the odds of her chauvanistic society to reach the top of her game. At no other time is the symbol of a strong Iron Lady playing an Iron Lady in the Movie Iron Lady more apt than tomorrow when we celebrate the International Woman’s Day.
Not only have I always believed women could do just about anything men do, I have always known that they have the potential of doing it better. The only exception to this rule might be regarding activities that require the use of physical strength, but even that is questionable these days as women are venturing more into the muscle field; mechanics, construction and self defence amongst others. I am also a firm believer that if women were able to participate in the area of leadership more often, many of the world’s conflicts may likely not exist.
While men are stronger, women tend to be more thoughtful in the decisions they make and the job of a leader requires that thoughtlessness rather than physical strength. In the few countries where women were given the chance to become governors and presidents, they have always recorded great success. This is not surprising considering the fact that in general every day life, a woman takes on much responsibility and takes care of the day to day things that affect other people’s lives. She is a better conflict mediator than her male counterpart, possesses passion, commitment, and is, for the most part, fair and loyal.
Throughout her adult life, a woman develops the skill of listening, negotiating and achieving consensus through her management of relationships within the family; abilities which would be extremely useful in a leadership position. They have to accommodate the very conflicting needs of their children, and their husband so they actually learn to listen, prioritise and to deal with problems as they emerge. This trait would be a positive characteristic if applied in governance. Females are on the whole more conscientious than males and as studies have proven, better adapted to sustained periods of hard work. In-fact in a recent scientific journal I read that the intelligence of a child is inherited from mothers not fathers. It exists in a gene carried on the X chromosome of which the woman carries 2 while men carry only one.
If women were leaders in war torn areas, conflicts may likely not exist or would have been extinguished in the shortest possible time. Due to a woman’s maternal instincts, women understand children’s needs and would not be as quick as men to start wars because they wouldn’t send their children to war.
Even though participation of women in leadership roles is extremely low; there have been some models of enlightened power. In their careers women such as Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first Sri Lankan woman president, Benazir Bhutto and Kim Campbell have offered the world lessons on challenging the status quo to augment the mission and worth of gender. Had biases and barriers impeded them, the world would have been bereft of their alternative flavour and visionary thinking. These women were exceptional in their leadership role and their ability to negotiate what is the heavy duty of all women; their domestic and familial obligations while stepping into a male arena was quite rare.
The reality of any woman who has lived and achieved success is that of daunting barriers. Despite the fact that women comprise way over 50% of the world’s population, they continue to be under represented as elected officials, voters, entrepreneurs, political leaders and academics. Tools that support increased participation of women in civic, academic, political and societal leadership are lacking or are few all over the world. But regardless of these barriers, women are equal to the task and have the same potential as men so long as a woman is willing to endure the perseverance necessary.
Of all the challenges women in leadership face, tradition and culture is the most restricting. This can clearly be seen in the society we live in here in Nigeria. For as long as anyone could remember, the Nigerian culture, no matter the tribe, has always dictated a woman’s role primarily as house wife, mother; a being whose sole job is to look after the heirs, home and husband. For the majority of women that do work, their pay is usually lower than that of a man and they are perceived as being too ambitious or even regarded as being rebellious. It is common to hear whispers about working wives such as; “of course, if her husband had any control over her he wouldn’t allow her to be in an office”. The lack of encouragement leaves women vulnerable especially in the event of a divorce or the death of the husband.
What we see and hear as children forms what we perceive as normal and possible. I remember coming across an article about President Vigadis Finnbogadottir´s experience with a class of under 8 school children. After being a female president of Iceland for 8 years she asked the children who would want to one day be president of Iceland. In shock the boys replied with a question, “Can a man be president of a country”? In all innocence they believed that only a woman could be president because that was all they saw and that was all they knew. All across the world, women were never socialised to see themselves as leaders due to the fact that our potential is learned and conditioned socially. Think about all the major fairytales, legends, myths, folktales and stories that children grow up with. Gizo da Koki (an old Hausa folktale) and Cinderella are good examples of the messages emitted to children. In them either Cinderella is waiting for her prince to come and rescue her or Gizo has deprived Koki, his wife, of something. The male is always the hero and the woman a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued or relieved by her knight; he is the leader and controller while she sits at home talking to mice or sieving millet.
It is important for women in Nigeria and all over the world to realise their rights and understand that they have a role to play in shaping the policies that affect their lives. Toughness, courage and determination are critical for women to succeed but the key for a successful woman is confidence. If a woman is confident, it’s as if half the battle has been won. Women shouldn’t have to choose private or public life, they should be able to decide what they wants to achieve and set their priorities in chronological order. Life is long road and a woman can be a wife, mother, professional, and elected official at different times in that journey.
One day, women in Nigeria and all over the world will react appropriately to gender dynamics in order to usher in the ‘age of the woman’,so that they will no longer be sidelined and lead like a pack of sheep. Each woman has the ability to be exceptional in many ways.
Tomorrow as we celebrate the essence of being a woman, may I take the opportunity to wish every Nigerian woman a happy International Woman’s Day and encourage them, in their own capacity, to find their iron lady within and not be afraid to unleash her.