SINCE the United Nations earmarked March 8, every year, as International Women’s Day in 1977, the idea has come a long way since its first observance on March 19, 1911, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. The day is now globally observed to reflect on progress made, to call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played extraordinary roles in the history of their countries and communities.
This year’s call to action is: #ChoosetoChallenge! It is unfortunate that this year’s celebration meets us in dire straits in Nigeria. We have seen gains in the area of girl-child education, both in terms of quality and scale in the last decade eroded by the security situation in the country, especially in the North. The Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari, only a fortnight ago, ordered the closure of all boarding schools following earlier abductions of hundreds of girls from mixed and girls’ schools, including the Government Science Secondary School, GSSS, Kankara. School abductions have taken place in Niger and Zamfara, Borno and Yobe states. It is not surprising that female representation at policy levels remains at abysmal levels. According to the International Parliamentary Union, IPU, Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of female representation in parliaments across Africa and globally, ranking 181st out of 193 countries. But there is enough cause for celebration. Since the Nobel Prize was established in 1895, fewer than 60 women have been honoured with the prestigious international award. In 2020, four women – Louise Gluck, Emmanuelle Carpenter, Jennifer A. Duodena and Andrea M. Ghee – were added to that roster in literature, chemistry and physics, respectively. For the first time in the history of the United States, both the offices of the Vice President and Speaker are currently held by women.
It is no longer news that the office of the Director General of the World Trade Organisation is now held by a woman, our own Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for the first time in its 26-year history. Back home, the boards of three commercial banks are concurrently chaired by women: Ibukun Awosika, Mosun Belo-Olusoga and Osaretin Demuren of First Bank, Access Bank and GTBank, respectively. Yet, it goes far beyond the celebration of individual achievement. As the world gradually emerges seriously scathed from a pandemic that has seen more than 2.5 million dead, countries run by women have fared better and emerged from the pandemic faster: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan and, unsurprisingly, Germany. Nigeria’s Dr. Stella Adadevoh paid the supreme price in stemming the spread of Ebola. We salute the extraordinary women of Nigeria for their sacrifice, resilience and hard work. Happy International Women’s Day 2021!