Celebrating Nigerian Women That Are Breaking Glass Ceilings (OPINION)

By Isaac Asabor

More than a decade ago, Nigerian women had reason to expect change following a much-heralded global conference that set ambitious targets to transform the lives of women across the world. This year, no doubt, marks the 26th anniversary of that groundbreaking event, the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, in 1995. Like their colleagues elsewhere, Nigerian women few years ago were unarguably not happy with the way they were being debarred from the scheme of things; both at the levels of governance and boardrooms. They were no doubt seen through the prism of agitations that portrayed them as those that has the predilection to lamentably take stock of progress and in a nagging manner always ask whoever that listens to them to what degree promised reforms have been implemented. They were also seen to have interrogated the male genders in position of authorities on why gender gap were being closed in other countries, and not closed in Nigeria, and in the same vein pushed doors of opportunities to overcome the obstacles.

At this juncture, it is pragmatic to say that if there is any reason for leaders in all spheres of the economy to ensure that gender gap in Nigeria is closed, it is unarguably the reason given by Monique Newiak few years ago in one of her analytical write-ups.

Newiak, a Senior Economist working on Nigeria in the IMF’s African Department has in most of her works focused on the production of the biannual Regional Economic Outlook on Sub-Saharan Africa and various county assignments across the continent. Thus, in one of her works she stated “For Nigeria, we have conducted specific analysis to show that if Nigeria reduced gender inequality both in the labor market and in political representation; in education; in legal rights; and also by improving health outcomes for women, the economy could grow on average by as much as 1.25 percentage points more. That is a significant number. Just to put it into context, we have just received the growth outcome for 2017 and the economy grew by 0.8 percent. So, in that context, 1.25 percentage points on average is large.

When it comes to closing gender gap, not few people will lamentingly be unanimous in their views that governments and institutions are not making efforts to close the gap. To this writer, such line of thinking is unarguably erroneous.

For instance, the World Economic Forum (WEF) had in one of its insightful Reports asserted that Nigeria recorded a marginal improvement in gender equality. In the bid to buttress the findings in the Report, it stated that “In 2018, Nigeria ranked 133 among 149 countries surveyed for gender gap reduction. In the 2020 report, WEF stated that Nigeria rose to 128 out of 153 countries.

The Report has it that Nigeria was amongst the countries with the most improved performance on economic participation and opportunity gender parity alongside Cape Verde, Mali, and Sierra Leone which were also rated to be among nations in Africa that recorded improvement in the closure of gender gap.

The Report stated, “Nigeria closed 73.8% of its economic participation and opportunity gender gap to date, it ranks 38th globally”, and explained that the recorded improvement meant that the gap between men and women who are actively participating in the labour force was closing up.

There is no denying the fact that the success been recorded by Nigerian women that tare today climbing the ladder of success in drove cannot be said to be fortuitous as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in his tenure as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, gave women the impetus to forge a higher vision within Nigeria’s development space.  Without any iota of exaggeration, the now former president’s gestures in giving ample opportunity for women to show-case their aptitude for leadership in many areas of our national development and the numerous policies stood his administration apart from both preceding and successive governments as it put in place a system that contribute to women’s empowerment which openly attest to his commitment to global and regional commitments, many of which helped in shaping Nigeria’s economy. His extra-ordinary support for the cause of women in Nigeria is a legacy yet to be surpassed. Without sounding partisan in this context, the opportunities which Obasanjo gave Okonjo Iweala, added mileage to her international exposure and reckoning.

However, at this juncture it is expedient to confess that unprecedented progress been recorded by women as they climb the corporate ladder is laudable enough, and worth celebrating.

For instance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the economist, was in February this year appointed as the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), becoming the first woman and the first African national to lead the global trade body.

Unprecedentedly, there have been harvest of promotions for Nigerian women. Aptly put, there has been a streak of promotion of women to the apex position of leadership, particularly in Nigeria’s banking industry in the last few months.  Just yesterday, precisely on July 15, Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) announced the appointment of Miriam Olusanya as Managing Director. Reputed to be an accomplished banker with over 21 years of experience spanning transaction services, treasury, assets and liability management, corporate finance and wholesale banking, Olusanya joined GTB in 1998 as an executive trainee and has risen through the ranks, holding strategic leadership positions. Prior to her recent appointment, she was the Group Treasurer and Head of Wholesale Banking. She also serves on the Board of Guaranty Trust Bank (Gambia) Limited as a non-executive director.

Just few days ago, the Board of Directors of FCMB Group Plc appointed Yemisi Edun as the managing director of First City Monument Bank Limited. Her appointment was sequel to the end of service of the bank’s former Managing Director, Adam Nuru.

Three months ago, precisely in the month of May, 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) approved the appointment of Mrs. Beatrice Hamza Bassey as the substantive Chairman of the board of directors of Union Bank of Nigeria (UBN) Plc. She is occupying the position to replace the late chairman of the Union Bank board, Mr Cyril Odu, and has been acting chairman of the lender since December 2019.

Still in the same vein, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company in the month of March, this year, appointed Eloho Aiboni, as its first ever female Managing Director/Chief Executive.

At this juncture, it is expedient to say that the phrase, “Glass ceiling” which inevitably inspired the coinage of the title of this piece is a metaphor for the evident but intangible hierarchical impediment that prevents minorities and women from achieving elevated professional success.

As gathered, the term was first popularized in the 80s to describe the challenges women face when their careers stagnate at middle-management roles, preventing them from achieving higher leadership or executive roles.

As I drop my pen at this juncture permit me to wish all the women that are breaking the proverbial glass ceiling in various spheres of life the best in their endeavor, and urge those that are still rollicking in self-defeatism all in the name of feminism to roll up their sleeves and confront headlong whatever challenges they are facing, even as I leave them with Albert Einstein’s motivational quote that says, “The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.”

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