The Gender Question: What Exactly Is Parity?
On March 8th 2016, the world was agog with several celebrations of International Women’s Day in every nooks and crannies. It was a time to revisit the gender question and talk about the issues many will rather prefer to remain elusive.
In Nigeria, the journey towards gender parity in every strata of society has been a long crimsoned task, foisted with its own oppositions. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (2014), the population of Nigeria in 2013 was almost evenly split along gender lines. Men account for 50.5 while women make up 49.5 of the overall population. Thus, from a statistical point of view, the parity is a given, contrary to preconceived opinions. It goes without saying that more than ever before in our national life, the narrative on gender equality has assumed a prominent place in the discourse. There is no gainsaying that women in several facets of the society have shown that it is possible to attain the crème de le crème of any heights. These women have served as both glaring ‘poster boys’ in the narrative and a source of inspiration for their other female counterparts.
However, while it is true that we have made good progress in the gender journey as a nation, it is far from uhuru, and a lot still needs to be done in sustaining the gains and challenging existing structures. Statistics are sketchy but if patchy analysis is anything to go by, the numbers of women in senior positions across the corporate and political sphere are paltry. The myth that women as CEOs or Presidents will mean taking gender parity too far, still has to be continually challenged. There are also structural premises that have to be turned around its neck. There is a malady in the Nigeria Labour Laws where it states that the only night shift jobs women could do is a hotel or hospital job. This law irrespective of how well meaning it might be is an example of those societal blind spots that opposes the parity journey. For such laws, it is fundamental that it realizes that women should be given an option to make choices and not make hasty conclusions. There is also the belief that a woman’s success is primarily hinged on the kind of home she runs. While it is easier to say a woman is successful if her home is in order, their male counterparts don’t seem to be perceived as such. No doubt, some of these norms and beliefs have been entrenched in our national subconscious and while no one expects an overhaul overnight, it is sacrosanct to keep the discussion ongoing and continually challenge the existing structures.
It is salient to note that in the parity question, it is really not about giving women an undue advantage over their male counterpart. Rather, it is about giving a level playing field for men and women to compete accordingly. No woman will want to be given a position simply because of her gender. It is really about what she brings to the table and the likes of Ibukun Awosika, Oby Ezekwesili and Kemi Adeosun to mention but a few have proven that they attained the status they did solely because of the substance they bring to the table. Indeed, every lady wants to earn her own stripes.
In the journey towards parity, it is often asked: What does success look like? No doubt, the statistics will continue to tell us how we are faring on this subject, but this is the kind of journey where success will be measured beyond what statistics insinuates. It is in altering status quo, changing the gender narrative, challenging micro inequities and rewriting cultural norms that we will know what ‘success’ looks like when we get there.