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Reminiscences of Women and leadership – Ibim Semenitari

I love the month of March. It is the month when the whole world focuses on celebrating women and womanhood. That one time in the year when even the most patriarchal of them all spares a thought for women and celebrates our contributions to humanity.
This year, the world is riding on the crest of the All Progressives Congress. You better believe it. The change mantra has taken a better hold of everyone and the United Nations is asking everyone everywhere to be Bold and embrace the changing status of women by encouraging gender equity.
Last year, the UN asked us all to pledge for parity. 50/50 by the year 2030 was the slogan. The theme resonated with many women across the world. I was at that time steering the ship of the Niger Delta Development Commission.
What better time to pledge for parity and encourage communities in the region to focus on equity and gender balance! So we hit the road in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Benin and Calabar with the story of the Niger Delta woman and along with it the larger story of a region much misunderstood, much maligned and nearly completely destroyed.
As we toured the region, one of the key things I also tried to do was to bring the stories of our women to the fore. Often the story of the Niger Delta is told with a near neglect of the other half that holds the region.
Yet the Niger Delta boasts of some of the stronger species of women. The roll call is quite impressive. Queen Kambasa, the warrior queen of Bonny, Queen Idia of Benin, Emotan, Margaret Ekpo, who led the Aba riots, Christiana Nabo Graham-Douglas, the first woman in the Eastern region to be a graduate, Grace Alele Williams, the professor of mathematics and of education, Christie Toby, (my mother) renowned educationist and first Rivers woman to be Chief Commissioner of the Nigerian Girl Guides Association.
She was also the first school proprietor to establish the first private inclusive school and second inclusive school in Nigeria. All these women have continuously tapped away at the glass ceiling and their contributions have made us, today’s women possible.
One of the privileges of growing up as a girl in the 70’s is that you could be both girly and strong. In my case I had the added benefit of coming from a lineage of strong women. My grandmother told me the story of how my great grandmother along with other women traders marched in the historical Aba women riot. I grew a few inches taller as I heard her story and felt proud knowing that I didn’t only read history but I was part of history because somewhere in that great woman – Paulina Dappa – was a little speck of me.
Everyday women in leadership are changing the face of governance, politics, business and society against all odds. Every day they contend with the twin demons of discouragement and despair but everyday they defeat these demons and emerge stronger.
It is this tenacity; this refusal to quit that gives impetus to the name woman. I remember starting out as a reporter. I had gone to the Daily Times of Nigeria to seek placement for my primary assignment during the National Youth Service Corps. At the time Daily Times had just rested its woman paper and was trying to start an all gloss, all colour magazine – Poise Magazine. Its editor was a stylish but firm youthful lady – Medline Tador and it was to her that I reported.
Thus began my media career. Medline had the arduous task of combining all the soft publications of the Daily Times into one new magazine that was to compete with Essence, Cosmopolitan and Ebony all at once. The new magazine while competing with other general interest magazines like Quality Magazine from the Newswatch stable and Classique magazine published by the irrepressible May Ellen Ezekiel, had to also be a truly woman’s magazine.
All of this with a small band of reporters. So off to the grinding stone we went, and boy did Medline grind us hard. Today, I celebrate one heck of an editor at whose hand I cut my journalism teeth. She had a choice to reject me, but she didn’t. She chose to give me a chance to become. I am, because she was. Medline Tador later rose to be Commissioner of Information as well as that of Women Affairs, in Rivers State.  Later on when it was my turn to serve as Commissioner of Information and Communications, she was one of the general managers of the state owned media establishments and so was on my team.
Unquestionably, there is growing recognition of the untapped capacity and talents of women and women’s leadership even if grudgingly. During the last presidential elections in the United States, we saw Hilary Clinton almost shatter the glass ceiling. Even though it is still hanging by a thread, the dent she made is significantly huge.
According to figures from the Inter parliamentary union, in the last 12 years, the rate of women’s representation in national parliaments globally has grown from 13.1 percent at the end of 1999 to 19.5 percent at the end of 2011. Some regions have seen particularly dramatic increases, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of women in parliaments has risen from 10.9 to 20.2 percent.
In Nigeria however the indicators are that women representation in decision-making and leadership continues to plummet under the one guise or the other.  Whether in the boardroom or in the political arena, women in Nigeria appear to be taking one step forward and many more back. Gender parity continues to take a thrashing as men and yes, even women, give excuses why there can’t be more of the other half in a room meant for all.
This year’s theme, Be Bold for Change, is a wake-up call to women all over the world. More and more women need to step up and step out. At no point will it be a piece of cake. Expect to be maligned, vilified, pushed down and stepped upon, but at each time, Be woman. Strong. Focused. Courageous.
Remember that no one is going to hand over power to the other half. Women must come together to make it happen. We must agree that our destiny is tied to each other’s and that injustice against one is injustice against all. We must speak up and speak out for women knowing that ultimately the old boy’s network is no myth and for us to beat them at their game, we too, must organize and re-launch.
As we celebrate our day, let’s spare a thought for every woman who is yet to find her voice; every woman who is under repression or oppression; every woman whose wings have been cruelly clipped and whose only offence is BEING WOMAN. Let’s resolve to BE and in BEING, change our world one little dark spot at a time.
#proudlywoman, #proudlystrong, #beboldforchange



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