Leadership is defined as the potential to influence behaviour of others. It is also defined as the capacity to influence a group towards the realization of a goal. Leaders are required to develop future visions, and to motivate the members of a group, an organisation or society towards achieving a common vision.
In the typical African society, the art of leadership often takes a gender slant and while the male folk is given preference, the women folk is usually relegated to the background.
In Nigeria, women are grossly underrepresented in politics and other sectors of the society. According to available statistics, three per cent (3%) of people elected to public office in 2003 were women. By 2007 the figure increased to about seven per cent (7%), but in 2015, the numbers declined to 5.6 per cent. Before the 2019 elections, women’s representation in the House of Representatives was 5.5%; the Senate was 5.8%.
In more developed democracies, the fate of the womenfolk appears better. In the United Kingdom, 19.4 per cent of Members of Parliament and 30.8 per cent of local councillors are women. In the United States of America, 12 per cent of governors and 17 per cent of the mayors of the 100 largest American cities are women.
In 2020, the American electorate took their recognition for women to a new height when they elected Kamala Harris as Vice President, the first female to reach their position in the history of their country.
In Nigeria, some causes of the gender gap in female participation in leadership are low self-esteem and willingness of young women to venture into leadership despite their leadership qualities. Sexual harassment, gender discrimination, lack of support for female leaders, traditional perceived gender roles and lack of economic resources.
According to UN Women, women’s leadership continues to be underrepresented across the world and across all sectors. More often than not, women must contend with discriminatory laws, institutions, and attitudes that restrict their leadership and full participation in public life. Women are also disadvantaged by unequal access to the resources needed to become effective leaders.
It is also contended that young women experience discrimination based both on gender and on age. In particular, critical gaps in funding and resources for education, skills development and mentorship impact the ability of young women to realize their full potentials as leaders.
Therefore, investing in women’s leadership requires a life cycle approach to strengthening and supporting girls’ leadership, adolescent girls’ leadership, young women’s leadership, and women’s leadership. It has been argued that investing in young women’s leadership will not only change the trajectory of their future, but that of their communities as well.
In a bid to raise the consciousness of the women towards the need to play leadership roles, the HEIR Women Hub hosted a peer to peer virtual session on Leadership and Civic Knowledge Enhancement for Young Women in the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT), Abuja.
Executive Director, HEIR Women Hub, Añuli Aniebo Ola-Olaniyi who led the discourse, stressed the need for young women to do more and thrive amidst societal norms.
She disclosed that available facts about young women’s participation in leadership shows that global percentage of women’s participation in leadership is at 22.5 per cent while that of the African region around 23.4 per cent.
The national average of women’s participation in governance in Nigeria is set at 6.7 per cent despite women accounting for 49.4 per cent of the total population.
She noted that the project began in January with a training conference and a public sensitization of young women in the FCT in collaboration with the Nigeria Youth Futures Fund (NYFF) and was implemented by LEAP Africa with support from Ford Foundation and MacArthur Foundation with the theme: “Advancing Leadership Capacity of Young Women: A cross-generational strategy to tackling Gender Gaps in Governance”.
Ola – Olaniyi stressed that HEIR Women Development and HEIR Women Hub were social enterprises borne out of the need to see more young women take on more decision making position and venture into leadership opportunities.
“HEIR is the representation of our values which are Hard work, Equality, Intelligence, Respect. These are values that women across all nations, need to be equipped with, imbibe and adopt,” she said.
Ola- Olaniyi lamented that of the 4,259 contestants for the Presidential and the National Assembly seats in the 2023 elections, only 381 were women constituting 8.9 per cent with five ( 5 ) states of the 36 states having female candidates contesting for a seat at the National Assembly.
She however blamed the wide gender gap in female participation in leadership on
lack of support based on cultural expectations of young women, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, lack of support for female leader, traditional perceived gender roles and the lack of economic resources among others.
“The report from the world gender gap report 2022 places Nigeria at 123rd with a score of 0.639 out of a total of 146 countries with a gender gap of 63.9 per cent
“Statistics from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) report revealed that only 30% of companies in Nigeria have attained gender balance in the workforce and women account for 33% of the workforce. Nigeria has less than 65% wealth equality, ranked 50th in economic participation and opportunity, 134th in educational attainment, 97th in health and survival, and 141st in political empowerment,” she said.
According to the ED, the involvement of women in nation building is an inalienable right, as well as an inescapable reality for holistic and comprehensive political, economic, and social advancement.
“When young women are included in leadership across different levels, this will promote productivity and progress for both the women and the country.
“There will be a decline in the case of gender-based violence confronting young women as more responsive policies will be promoted and this will encourage the growth of Gross Domestic Profit (GDP) of the country,”she said.
She noted that young women and the general public first were engaged on their civic rights and also on the benefit of having young women in leadership.
“It didn’t end with training young women to take on more leadership positions in society. HEIR Women Hub went a step further to take this to the street. We engaged young women and the general public first on their civic rights and also on the benefit of having young women in leadership.
“About 50% of the young ladies who were at the leadership training came out for this purpose and it was an experience indeed. A lot of feedback has been drawn from this engagement and we believe that henceforth, it will go beyond talking as we shall begin to see results.
“It is a cheering thing to see young women from different climes unite for a common goal. The future is indeed female, “she assured.
Sharing her past and present political journeys at the meeting, a participant, Barrister Juliet Isi Ikhayere, a Principal Partner at MAKHOMS-J Attorneys enumerated the numerous challenges faced by young women in politics and how she has been coping with them.
Similarly, Sylvia Sarki, the National Youth Coordinator, National Council for Women Societies (NCWS) who is also a participant highlighted some of the hurdles women go though in attaining elective positions.
Sarki noted that while contesting for the position of the President for the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), her experience was a combination of sour and sweet. She urged young women who were in attendance to not give up on their ambitions irrespective of the challenges they face.