Women: the answer to sustainable development!

(Special: International Women’s Day 2016)


Often times, when you hear of gender equality, many think of overtly vocal women wielding pink swords and slashing at any man in sight – well perhaps maybe not that graphic, but the symbolism applies. Many properly also wondered what the fuss was about when this past week, particularly on March 8, the world joined forces to mark the International Women’s Day. But, the question is, did you know that over 71% of women in Nigeria are not educated? Did you know that of the 75% of work done in developing countries, 53% is done by women but this only accrues in the informal sector? Did you know that women are often paid considerably less even when they occupy the same positions as men in businesses? Did you know that women occupy less than 10% of political positions in Nigeria?

This would ordinarily seem like no big deal until you consider that half of the world’s population is female and thus, we are basically utilizing only half of the resources available to us. If logic prevails, employing this largely previously untapped female talent would double productivity all round. And it all begins with gender parity, which simply means access to education for male and female. This is of particular importance in Nigeria because one of the major reasons why women are not making notable advancements in the public and private sector is because there are too few who have the opportunity or are making the effort. This raises the odds significantly against women you have a ratio of 1 woman to every 10 men viable for a position.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, there is a festering stereotype that works against women attaining more in the society. Culture, religion and tradition constantly set women at a disadvantage simply because they are judged to have NO rights in the society, and this impacts on the desire to even do so. Sure, there are federal laws state otherwise, but we live in a democracy where states are also allowed to make their own laws. More so, these laws do not exactly have such significant effects on the conscious and unconscious bias that is so prevalent in individuals when it comes to female appointments in both the public and private sector.

Consequently, women are not only told, but are expected to be too docile, not economically empowered, too emotional, too weak. They are expected to aspire to marriage, and if they will have jobs, nothing too ambitious. As Chimamanda Adichie once said, they are encouraged to compete with each other, not for jobs or opportunities, but for the attention of men. And when they do manage to reach impressive heights through hard work and determination, the stereotypes kick in and they are labelled as manipulative, frigid, incapable of having families, or even worse, trying too hard to be like men.

All of these need to STOP! Considering the sheer number of women in the world today which matches the number of men across the world, the only viable and sustainable way to develop would be to include women in everything; and there is research to prove it. In a study commissioned by the UK Government, it was found that strong market growth among European countries is most likely to occur when there is a higher proportion of women in senior management. Also, firms with more women on their boards outperform their rivals with a 42% higher return on sales; 66% return on invested capital; and 53% higher return on equity. More so, in another paper published in the Harvard Business Review, it was repeatedly found that teams which involved women were more intelligent than teams made up of men alone.

Even more practically, if we do a quick survey, we’ll find that there are common elements that many look for in building a strong team, and more especially in choosing leaders. These are vision, communication, empathy, perspective and maturity. Interestingly, many have argued on the premise of these 5 points that women make better leaders than men because they are perceived to communicate better, see more clearly, empathize towards subordinates, introduce typically unique perspectives and handle situations more calmly. While these may be ‘scientifically proven’ through research, we cannot claim that ALL women and ONLY women possess these qualities.

So we are saying, people – male and female – bring a wealth of talent, expertise and ideas to the table and as such should be treated fairly and equally. Gender parity is NOT pushing for preferential treatment for women or the displacement of all things ‘men’. Rather, we are asking for conscious efforts to eradicate all forms of discrimination – in this case based on gender – in awarding rights and opportunities in both the public and private sector.  We are asking that men AND women be given equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal pay simply because both parties bring immense value to the table.

And it’s a win-win situation for everybody. To quote Ernst & Young:

  • More equality → higher GDP.
  • More equality → more productivity.
  • Better gender balance on Boards → better share price and financial performance.
  • More gender-balanced leadership → better all-around performance.
  • More women political leaders → more prosperity.

According to research by World Economic Forum in its Global Gender Gap Report 2015, it will take about 117 years to attain Gender Parity in the world; isn’t that an awful long time to wait wasting half of the world’s resources? A huge step to making this happen sooner would be to sign up to the Pledge for Parity that was launched on the International Women’s Day. In doing this, you can be part of an unprecedented move towards real sustainable development first within your sphere of influence as an individual and an organisation but on a global scale.

(c) CSR-In-Action—The collective action network

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