WISCAR Founder Amina Oyagbola Looks at How to Empower Nigerian Women to Seek and Obtain Leadership Roles
In the dictionary, the terms “participating” and “parity” are in close proximity. However, in reality the conceptual distance between them is enormous — as the situation on Nigeria’s workplace landscape vividly illustrates.
Over the years, there has been a gradual increase in the number of Nigerian women participating in the labor force. However, this has by no means led to gender parity. On the contrary, in many areas of the country — especially in northern states — the disparity is growing worse. In fact, despite boasting one of Africa’s most robust economies, the World Economic Forum ranked Nigeria 122nd out of 144 countries in closing the gender gap.
“We cannot sit back and hope that things will get better in a year, in a decade, or in a generation — because that will not happen on its own,” commented Amina Oyagbola, the Founder and Chairperson of the non-profit organization WISCAR (Women in Successful Careers). “We need to intervene in a strategic, sustained and intelligent manner that empowers Nigerian women to seek and obtain leadership roles.”
According to Amina Oyagbola, who has spent more than 20 years advocating for women’s economic and educational rights in Nigeria, the cornerstones for this effort include modernizing maternity legislation, structured mentorship programs, and raising awareness.
Modernizing Maternity Legislation
While there are numerous laws on the books that directly and indirectly thwart women from seeking and obtaining leadership positions, one major piece of legislation is particularly anachronistic and in dire need of an overhaul: the Labour Act 2004.
Specifically, the legislation states that Nigerian women are entitled to a mere 12 weeks of maternity leave, half of which is to cover the post-maternity period. In addition, women with at least six months of continuous service are only entitled to receive 50 percent of their normal wages. Compare this to women in the UK, who are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave — more than three times the amount given to Nigerian women. Furthermore, women in the UK receive 90 percent of their average earnings for the first six weeks of maternity leave, and then the lower of £148.68 or 90% of their average weekly earnings for the next 33 weeks.
Effectively making women choose between nurturing their newborn children and healing from pregnancy, or pursuing their career goals is one of the most insidious and damaging forms of misogyny. Many potential leaders in the corporate sector and government sector are lost. It’s patently unfair, completely unnecessary, and should be wholly offensive to both women and men alike who aspire for a stronger, better, more inclusive and equal Nigeria.
Structured Mentorship Programs
Structured mentor programs give women in entry level and mid-career roles the guidance, insight, networking, and support they need to navigate their way to management and executive roles — and break through the glass ceiling.
“Our flagship WIN-with-WISCAR mentoring program has already empowered more than 300 young women, and our workshops have positively impacted more than 6,000 women and men,” added Amina Oyagbola. “The impact is transformative, and is being felt throughout Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world”.
Another key factor to help more women to seek and obtain leaderships roles is to use both conventional and especially digital media — like the web and social media — to tell compelling stories that inspire, educate and change the paradigm.
“A prime example of how to raise awareness in a low cost, yet high impact way is the #IAMPOWERWOMAN social media campaign that we launched through WISCAR in 2017”, states Amina Oyagbola. The campaign, which has since spread internationally, gives professional women a platform to share how they overcame obstacles, pushed back against discrimination, and achieved both professional and personal success. By simply adding the hashtag #IAMPOWERWOMAN to posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, these incredible women are raising awareness — and indeed, changing lives and futures for women throughout Nigeria and beyond.