The world witnessed a revolutionary shift when Kamala Harris, a woman of Black and Indian descent, strode upon the podium to make her maiden speech as the first female Vice President of the United States of America. In that historic moment, I thought to myself: Finally! The die is cast. This is our moment of vindication. This is the moment all women, irrespective of their race, can finally heave a sigh of relief. Finally, after years of relegation and ambitions, dimmed, we have come full circle. We have been ‘found worthy’ to own a place in the men-only exclusive club.
However, it is ironic, that while the world looks up to America as the bastion of human rights and freedoms, it has taken it a century, following the women’s suffrage movement, to enable a woman attain the second highest position in the land! But, as the saying goes, better late than never.
Historically, the discrimination and marginalization women endure today is deeply entrenched in a Western ideology, which prevented women from as much as owning voting rights, denied her a place of prominence in the socio-politics and governance of her nation, relegated her to complete domesticity through denying her opportunities for participation with men in public service, as well as denied her full unhindered opportunity to gain education at all levels. This separatist ideology, which tended to shove women aside and suppress their voices, with maxims such as ‘fragility is thy name’; ‘women should be seen not heard,’ eventually gave rise to the Women’s Suffrage of the 1920s and ultimately to Feminism.
Sadly, and in their quest for world domination, European colonialists took a plunge further in spreading their separatist agenda on an unsuspecting African continent. In her book, Motherism: The Afrocentric Alternative to Feminism, late Prof. Catherine Obianuju Acholonu wrote, ‘Colonialism was the most effective machinery for exploitation of the continent…The demobilization and marginalization of the African woman was a major colonialist strategy to gain control of the continent. It seems to me that the exploiter realized very early that Africa’s very essence, her cosmological sense of order and cohesion, her epistemology and metaphysics are deeply rooted in the notion of complimentary of the sexes, but more especially in the quintessence of womanhood; and having realized this, his attack on African womanhood was a planned strategy to weaken the very foundation of the African society, its cohesion, and spirituality. Thus it was able to quickly uproot the African male by tackling him at the very foundation of his existence: the woman.
Indeed, the above submission was made more evident with the 1929 Women’s War, where Nigerian women of Igbo and Ibibio extractions, revolted against the abuses and injustices meted out to them by the colonial administration. It was an unprecedented event which shook the core of the Empire, to the point they were compelled to send anthropologists and scientists to Igboland for an extensive study into the heterogeneity of Igbo people. Today, though we have women, who currently hold or, at one time, held positions of authority, such as Angela Merkel of Germany, Theresa May of United Kingdom and, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, these are just a few among a wide swathe of women, who are just as qualified as their menfolk.
While we applaud these changes, women of colour, particularly, are still being marginalized on a grand scale. Africa, on the other hand, is not left out in this divisive trend. Till date, it has seen the emergence of only four women as Presidents and a few in acting capacity. Currently, in all of the fifty-four African countries, there is only one female President, Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia (whose position is largely a ceremonial one). Unfortunately, Africa has consistently entrenched the male-dominating stance of stifling the attempts of women who seek political offices. To this end, Africa has become something of an unruly horse.
It is noteworthy that women and mothers bring mothering and nurturing to our world. For instance, women leaders such as Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern and Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan, proved to be more proactive in containing the Coronavirus pandemic in their countries, as against their male counterparts. Thus, rather than force women into opposition and gender warfare, our men should wake up to the realization that we do not seek to displace them, rather we seek to work with them in complementarity and partnership.
As our world and our continent, in particular, hang on the precipice, the call is now to foster a symbiotic relationship between both sexes by including women in governance, thereby creating the needed balance to bring forth growth and development. This notion was re-echoed by Madeleine Albright as follows-”The world is wasting a precious resource in the dramatic underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, often resulting in the exclusion of women’s talents and skills in political life.” As women all over the world celebrate Kamala Harris, we are each reminded of all the women who sacrificed so much to bring about this historic moment and her message to the younger generation of girls to, “Dream with ambition and lead with conviction.”With the jubilation which followed the election of Joe Biden, as the 46th American President, and Kamala Harris as his Vice President, it is hoped that Africa and the rest of the world, can take a cue from this exemplary leadership, and by so doing, empower women and afford them the space to make impactful contributions; for it is in working together that we can attain a peaceful and prosperous society.
Acholonu-Okoroafor is of the Catherine Acholonu
Research Centre, Abuja.