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Prof Yusuff: Odyssey of uncommon scholar in gender issues

It was her inaugural lecture last week Wednesday. Prof. Olabisi Yussuff of the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Science at the Lagos State University (LASU), explored the question of gender inequality in Nigeria and the implications it has on the society. LADESOPE LADELOKUN was there and reports

From Queen Amina of Zazzau to Madam Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti, history is replete with women of many firsts, who defied odds to leave their footprints in the sands of time. That is in spite of the stereotypical belief in some quarters of women being the weaker sex.

At the 88th Inaugural Lecture of the Lagos State University on Wednesday,Professor Olabisi Sherifat Yusuff of the Department of Sociology in the Faculty of Social Sciences, joined the league of women of firsts as she, according to her, became the first woman to present an Inaugural Lecture in her department and faculty. With a lecture titled” Gender Equality is to What? What Do Women Want?

What Women Should Want From The TRIADS in Nigeria”, Yusuff explored what she deemed gender inequalities and injustice against women from the social to the political circles and more, taking her audience on a ride of challenges and her contributions to the discipline of Sociology and the subfield of Sociology of Development, Women and Gender Studies through empirical research from 1998 to 2023. According to the National Population Commission, women constitute 49.4 per cent of the total population of Nigeria, yet they play comparatively minimal roles in all developmental issues.

Speaking on the possible benefits derivable from ensuring gender equality on a national scale, the scholar noted that it was not by coincidence that the countries that rank high in the Human Development Index (Iceland, Norway Sweden,Finland) directly correspond with the countries atop the gender equality list, explaining that, Rwanda, one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa was ranked in 9th position in the gender equality ranking with the representation of women in national parliament more than doubled. Nigeria, she said, is still far with 128 position out of 153 countries ranked based on gender equality.

In Nigeria, the scholar maintained, the power play between men and women have debarred women from being visible in public places. Sharing her experience on the dominance of men as an undergraduate,Yusuff said:”I remembered vividly that during my undergraduate days at the Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan, only two women taught me throughout my three years in the department. At the University of Maiduguri in early 90s, there was no presence of a woman lecturer. In fact, in the masters’ class, I was the only one among male students.

“Things were a little different when I went back to the University of Ibadan in early 2000s for my Doctorate. There were only three early career women lecturers at the university. Presently, at the Faculty of Social Sciences,LASU,there are only 10 in the whole faculty of about 70 male academics. If women constitute 49.4 per cent of the total population in Nigeria, then where are they in the leadership space?” However, in 2006, the Federal Government of Nigeria established National Gender Policy,with its main objective as promoting a gender-sensitive and genderresponsive culture in policy planning and national development.

How I failed three courses because a male professor harassed me

Explaining how women may likely suffer in trying to move beyond boundaries in the society, Yusuff said women dread moving out of societal prescribed roles, stressing the need to fight for their rights as nothing is given on a silver platter. “I was the only one in the masters’ class in 1990. I suffered from harassment from one male professor. I was threatened that I would not graduate unless I succumbed. Yes, he carried out his threat and I got zero points in all three courses he took. Then,I had to summon courage and wrote to the university management that I wanted my three papers remarked. After all the necessary procedures,my papers were sent to the University of Jos and they came back with four points each. I want to seize this opportunity to express my appreciation to Prof Ovielgum( Former Vice Chancellor, Delta State University- Abraka) who stood by me in all these periods.”

Poverty as influencer of reproductive health behaviour

in adolescents, women In a study by UN Women on the reproductive health behaviour of adolescents in some selected states in Nigeria, it was found that most young women lost their virginity in secondary schools because of poverty, owing to the inability of their parents to take adequate care of them. Yusuff, who was part of the study, shared an experience with one of the girls interviewed: “Most adolescents’ health behaviour was affected by their poverty level. One of the girls said: “What do I do with my virginity? My boyfriend gives me a feeding allowance of N150 per day. I have to allow him to be making love to me.

To prevent pregnancy, I use Postinor1 and Postinor2. This is how I will continue until I have a job.” Yusuff added that several revelations were made by young girls on how they terminate pregnancies. Citing a study carried out by the World Health Organisation in conjunction with the University of Ibadan on the use of misoprostol and the severity of complications arising from unplanned abortion by women, the don stated that the study, which she said, she was part of the research team, found that “women use off- counter drugs to abort unwanted pregnancies.

Some patronised unqualified medical personnel known as quack doctors to perform abortions and many women still show ignorance about their reproductive health.” She added: “Poverty of women also interfere with the reproductive health behaviour of women.

The health gap for poor women is significant to the larger society since the health status of women directly affects the health status of future generations. Therefore, there should be a renewed ideological commitment to reproductive health care for women in Nigeria. “The often repeated statement that healthcare is a right should be enforced through a new social contract between women and the state that enables women to exercise this right to healthcare within reason and without the unnecessary barriers that arise due to lack of financial resources and the presence of class biases.” According to World Women Report in 2021, women of reproductive age between 15 to 49 years often face barriers concerning sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Contributions to Scholarship

Speaking on her contributions to gender and development in the Faculty of Social Sciences,the scholar said she developed a curriculum on Gender and Development Studies for the undergraduate students. “We hold gender workshop annually where series of gender issues such as sexual harassment, reproductive health issues, economic empowerment of students, the concept of friendship with male lecturers, among other issues are discussed. I was the co-editor of LASU Journal of Social Sciences for four years after it went moribund for for some years.

“The Journal, after my tenure went moribund again. I co-edited a book titled ” Fundamentals of Social Sciences: A Book of Readings (TETFUND Sponsored) with Prof Ayo Omotayo and Prof Kayode Taiwo. Most lecturers in the Faculty of Social Sciences contributed chapters. I also contributed and co-edited a departmental sociology book known as Essentials of Sociology with Prof Elias Wahab and Dr Olanrewaju Ajiboye.

I am also co-editng a book known as Introduction to Research Methodology.” On her efforts to improve the quality of projects by graduates, the don opined that she constituted a Quality Assurance Committee, noting that terms of reference of this committee is to see that all graduate papers either seminar or defence go through the committee, irrespective of who supervised the work.

This, she said, has standardised graduate projects. “During my tenure as Head of Department, post graduate seminar attendance improved significantly. This has helped the academic standard of the department. At the early time of my tenure, I organised Staff Development Workshop in Research Methodology in collaboration with DIVlog Investment Company,” she added. Also, Yusuf expressed delight that it was during her tenure as Head of Department that three professional programmes were approved for the department. “These are Doctorate Degree in Social Work(DSW) Programme(The Department has twenty- three students as the start of the programme),Master of Criminology and Security Studies (MCSS) and Post Graduate Diploma in Criminology and Security Studies. The Department of Sociology so far, has graduated only six PhD students and four of them graduated during my tenure and quite a number of them will graduate very soon.” Away from teaching and research, Yusuff disclosed that she had organised a number of symposia; something she said was consistent with the social responsibilities of the university.

“I organised a symposium on social work practices in the Department of Sociology and Faculty of Sciences. This was the first of it’s kind in the whole faculty,” she said. She also told how she was able to organise the maiden symposium with social work students, a seminar on substance consumption among young people and its implications for the society,among others.

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