Women As Change Agents In The Emerging World
As the impact of the worst global economic crisis is being felt the world over, one of the most urgent challenges is to address the chronic poverty and insecurity faced by the majority of the world's women.Women are worst affected by poverty.This is not only in terms of material shortages but also lack of opportunities, whether in the field of education or in the cultural, political and social rights. Out of an estimated 1.2 billion poor people in the world,over two thirds are women.
They face abject poverty and want in terms of adequate food, clean water, sanitation and health care. They often lack access to the critical resources of credit, land and inheritance. This places them at a disadvantaged position to compete for space with their male counterparts in an increasingly competitive world. They are denied opportunities, choices, access to information, education and skills. Their participation in decision making is minimal both at home and in the community.
The world is changing and women are demanding opportunities to lead alongside men, and contribute to the building of their societies, enhancing their individual opportunities and adding value to the entire human society.
Governments are recognizing they cannot continue to develop and prosper without fully engaging one half of their population. The world in general is realizing that it shoots itself on the feet without actively harnessing the abundant potentials of the womenfolk. Perhaps that was what gave birth to the Fourth World Conference of Women in 1995, popularly known as the Beijing Conference in China where the world's women rose with one voice to demand that all nations on earth reserve thirty per cent of appointments to political, social and economic positions for women. Even while one believes that adherence to this declaration has been varied and shoddy in most of the countries, the declaration underscored the critical role women have to play in the emerging world.
It is a well known fact that poorer nations will suffer the worst from climate change, either because of geographical reasons or because they will have less resources to cope with a problem. Ironically, it is in the world's poorest nations that suppression of women's rights are worst. It is in the poorest nations that women are still seen as surplus to humanity, which leads a field of thought to believe that the poverty of these nations is directly linked to their inability to harness the large potentials of their womenfolk.Itis getting safe to link the poverty of nations to suppression of the rights of women, as we have seen that nations that have broken the barrier of gender inequality, have been the most progressive nations in the world.
With emerging global developments, it is obvious that women, particularly, those in poor countries will continue to be negatively affected by the policies that continue to put down women and the roles they stand to play in building nations. In most African countries, Nigeria, inclusive, it should be noted that though women have made some significant impact in the political and socio-economic spheres, they still remain far down the ladder compared with men.
The same cultural barriers and road blocks that deny them certain rights and privileges are still in place and this still makes them very vulnerable in world. they are supposed to engage their men counterparts as equal partners. We have women senators, commissioners, ministers, legislators and top government functionaries in Nigeria but the ratio still pales compared with men. Even then, we have not been able to have women operate higher than deputy governors in Nigeria. There are no democratically elected women governors, vice presidents and presidents in Nigeria, which means that women's access to political rights is still minimal.
With the adverse effects of climate change bearing down on the entire world, women are among the most vulnerable, partly because in many countries they make up the larger share of the agricultural work force and partly because they tend to have access to fewer income-earning opportunities except those that expose them to harsh weather conditions. Women manage households and care for family members, and these often limit their mobility and increases their vulnerability to sudden weather-related natural disasters.Drought and erratic rainfall force women to work harder to secure food, water and energy for their homes. Girls drop out of school to help their mothers with these tasks. In Igboland, as in many parts of the third world,they have no rights to inheritance and this imperils their capacity to function normally in an emerging world of stiff competition.
Therefore, achieving gender equality and women's rights should be regarded on a par with other pressing global issues, including ending poverty and hunger, reducing infant and maternal mortality and tackling the problems of climate change.
We need to raise awareness about the issues women and girls face and ultimately inspire them to break through the barriers of tradition to become agents of change in their communities.
One very important, and perhaps, the most critical way of changing the fates of women for the better is through increased access to higher education, which was once the privilege of the rich(elite) but is increasingly within the reach of the majority, including women and girls in all countries. Access to higher education stands to give women options, enhance their capacities to compete in an emerging world and empower them to be independent thinkers and agents of change. It remains the greatest force in social and professional mobility for women. Nigerian women should totally embrace this option. Women rights activists should concentrate on assisting Nigerian women recognize the real worth of higher education and the opportunities they can tap from it. The Nigerian state can help this by offering some concessions to women in terms of fees paid by women to acquire higher education in Nigerian higher institutions.
The transition from education to work is filled with many challenges, particularly in Africa and south Asia and in other countries where women lag behind in access to higher education. But the story is slightly different in countries in Europe and the United States where women now equal or surpass men in terms of advanced degrees, but still face barriers to professional employment opportunities.
This is especially true in science and technology, where few women head scientific institutions or large technology companies. Women are also under represented in research and development whether in academia, the public sector or private companies. Why is this so? While evidence shows little or no gender difference in performance, people still generally associate men with mathematics and science, and women with the humanities and care-giving fields. These gender stereotypes have spread through the society and persist in academia.
With the prospects offered by the emerging world, there is no doubt that in these later countries, these barriers are wearing out as more women, with good and quality education, compete with their male counterparts for spaces in every sphere of life.
So the Nigerian, nay African woman should embrace higher western education if she really desires to be a positive change agent in the world.
For us in Nigeria, Africa and the third world, it is time to break this cycle.
Developing women's competencies and ensuring their equal access to all fields of education will widen their talents. Countries can draw on these to meet challenges and this also enables women to compete for new jobs and be on at par with men. When provided with access to economic and educational opportunities, poor women are enabled to make strategic life choices. The provision of credit, especially micro credit is increasingly being recognized as an effective strategy for poverty eradication and enhancing the potentials of long suppressed poor women in Nigeria.
Also, those cultural and social barriers that impede women rights and access to life opportunities should be consigned to the dustbin of history as relics of male chauvinism.
Other ways women can reach their full potential are information dissemination. Raising awareness, capacity building and translation of skills into practice increases women's economic options and promote their sense of worth. Basic literacy skills help them acquire knowledge and skills required for improving and developing their tasks in all fields. An enhanced organizational and social leadership skill empowers them socially and politically.
In summary, poor women lack resources, skills, education and collective strength to break the cycle of their oppression. Connecting female teens with strong, female role models where teens can ask accomplished women about their experiences and advice thus inspiring them to aspire is very important.
Nigerian women should champion these by establishing such centers of connection alongside their demand for gender equality. Making education accessible to the girl child and helping her to access higher education should be a top priority for women to break the barrier of suppression and maximize their contributions as positive change agents in an emerging competitive world.
Ijeoma S Ogbonna.
Owerri, Imo State.
E-mail: [email protected]