LAGOS, Nigeria – International Women’s Day was celebrated this year by the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF), with a special networking event in Nigeria that celebrated the economic and social achievements of women, connecting with local and international business leaders, entrepreneurs, government officials, and community advocates.
AWIEF is a Pan-African non-profit organisation with offices in both Nigeria and South Africa, including its annual conference, awards and expo; as well as events all year round and programmes to mentor, fund and grow women entrepreneurs on the continent.
The programme featured keynote speakers to provide thought leadership, followed by a panel discussion, where inspirational women in business, from a range of industries, shared their vision of the future, what gender balance means for them and the advances, opportunities and challenges of making change happen. There was also be entertainment provided and an opportunity to network.
The Lagos event was organised in partnership with Bank of Industry of Nigeria, GE Africa, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Embassy of Sweden in Nigeria, and Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF). Speakers included Vanessa Adams, Vice President, Country Support and Delivery: AGRA; Margaret Hirsch, Founder and CEO: Hirsch’s Homestore, South Africa; Patricia Obozuwa, Director: Communications and Public Affairs, GE Africa; Teju Abisoye, Director: Programme and Coordination, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund; Kema Chikwe, former Nigeria Minister of Aviation; Didi Akinyelure, correspondent, Thomson Reuters; and Ida Hockerfelt, Deputy Head of Mission: Embassy of Sweden, Nigeria.
The following is an extract from the speech delivered by AWIEF Founder and CEO, Irene Ochem:
“The theme of this AWIEF celebration of IWD: Balance for a better tomorrow, complements the official UN theme, Think equal; build smart; innovate for change, providing in effect the ‘how to’, to attain that much desired balance. We know that, especially in this part of the globe, one of our greatest challenges is transforming cultural and traditional mindsets, and if we are to achieve this effectively, we need to devise far-reaching and ground-breaking strategies and initiatives. I do not believe that we can expect any significant progress if we continue to inch our way forward using the same departure points, the same methods and the same resources.
“We find ourselves in a privileged socio-technological environment where we dispose of tools that were unheard of even a decade ago, and I don’t mean only such innovations as the Cloud, social media, smart phones, Skype, teleconferencing and the plethora of internet-based communication that connects us globally in seconds. I speak also of the multiplying networks of men and women of great influence who can unite across continents to affect parts of the world where they might never even set foot. As we tap into the vast potential we carry, we need big dreams, ambitious goals, visions without horizons.
“I urge us not to be content with our current status quo – as impressive as many gains have been. As I look forward into 2030, I see a monumental task facing us over the next 11 years and I believe we also need to consider a few caveats that could harm our cause and obstruct our progress.
“Gender balance, or gender equity, is defined as, ‘a state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender, including economic participation and decision-making; and the state of valuing different behaviours, aspirations and needs equally, regardless of gender’. I believe the word ‘balance’ is of critical importance for us to grasp.
“The emphasis is on equal ‘access, equal opportunities and equal participation’ of women in every sphere of life. The accent should not be distorted to imply promotion or inclusion of women merely to fill quotas, regardless of their expertise, skills set, leadership abilities and integrity. If we were to lean towards this quota bias, it could result inadvertently in damage to our goals.
“We know that we are already confronted by considerable scepticism, disdain and even blatant hostility in wanting to achieve equality for women. Merely filling quotas could easily result in counter-productive choices that would simply reinforce existing prejudices against women empowerment and advancement. We cannot approach this challenge by seeking to oust men from positions of talent and competence merely on the basis of gender quotas. We all know the truism that women have to work twice as hard in order to be accepted by men and should they fail or slip up in any way, all the old stereotypes about women and their place in business, politics and society in general come into play. So, we lose ground and credibility.
“Men have an important role to play in the gender balance agenda. There is a powerful case for cooperation and inclusivity, not exclusion. It would be a mistake to foster an exclusionist view, where women are seen as outside of and almost intruding into male-dominated structures and institutions, and therefore tempted to form separatist organisations or networks that do not draw on men’s contributions.
“’Balance for a better tomorrow’ needs to be seen holistically. We must be careful of the proverbial pendulum swing, where we go from the ditch of patriarchally dominated structures and systems opposed to women’s advancement, to a model that sets itself up as it were in defiance of or opposition to most things male and denies itself the wealth of expertise, skill and resources from which it could benefit.
“Neither of us can go it alone. Men and women have complementary roles to play in a nation’s development. Yet entrenched sexist views – on both sides of the equation – continue to prevail.
We need a concerted and conscious drive to change mind-sets, to educate and inform in non-threatening ways so that even traditional and very conservative rural areas appreciate the importance of women. We need to continue to celebrate our role-models, highlight the successes and point out the significant benefits and advantages not only for women, but for society as a whole, for business and politics.
“We certainly need to make children, and the youth, a target of instruction and education. It is to them we will be handing the baton. They will need to carry the standards forward. Just as we stand on the shoulders of those brave forerunners in fighting for gender equality, so they will be the ones to build on our legacy.
“Many, if not all, of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underscore the critical importance of Women Empowerment in achieving global societal development and sustaining such achievement. As an organisation, AWIEF fosters the extension of these valued SDGs. The creation and support of economically viable businesses is linked to promoting gender equality between men and women in working life.
“We can never rest on our laurels. I am convinced that all of us here are driven by a determination to right injustices, uplift the down-trodden and bring equity where there is unbalance. A gathering such as this continues to fill me with pride and hope and I strongly encourage us not to relinquish our deep-felt responsibilities to those who cannot speak for themselves. I began this address by speaking of efforts for women, their empowerment and upliftment as a sacred trust. I urge us all to embrace this concept as we take hands and forge forwards.”
REMINDER: AWIEF will host its prestigious annual conference and awards, at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), 29-30 October 2019. To nominate a women entrepreneur for the AWIEF Awards that recognise, honour and celebrate women entrepreneurs and business owners, go to, https://www.awieforum.org/2019-awief-awards/.