An Address by Her Excellency, Chief Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu at the African Women Industrialization Award on the 8th of March, 2021.
My dear sisters, I am excited to be in your midst this evening and I feel honoured to receive the award of Woman of the Year.
I want to congratulate every single woman for all we have achieved together. In a men-only enabled society, we swim against the tide to impact the world. Indeed the gender parity-gap is still wide, but with every rock of aspiration, zeal and courage, we will surely bridge the gap.
This year we choose to challenge the status quo because we have for too long endured an imbalanced society, an unprosperous community, and an environment inimical to our person as women. This year’s world international women’s day, we choose to challenge.
The remarkable achievement of our dear sister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has energized our spirit and like a horse that fled the stall, we have become untameable. Our norms and traditions which were carefully constructed to keep our mouth sealed, keep our hands chained and leave our wings clipped can no longer keep us down. We are on the loose!
The international community has been taking bold steps to create an equal world for both gender, unfortunately, our local community is still living in a patriarchal milieu. Our leaders continue to fail to understand the importance of women in societal development. To help get the stats clear, let me give the analogy I love to share about Nigeria and UAE.
In the 1970s, UAE and Nigeria were classified as low income countries because both countries were making less than a thousand dollars per person in a year. 40 years down the line, UAE had progressed to making more than 39,000 dollars per person in a year, while Nigeria could only make about 2,000 dollars per person in a year. As a result, UAE is currently being regarded as a high income country while Nigeria is classified as a low middle income country. It saddens my heart to know that UAE who was making roughly equal amount with Nigeria in the 1970s is now making 18 times more than we are making as a country. At a point, I had to ask myself the necessary question; “what changed in the UAE and did not change in Nigeria to cause such disparity in just 40 years?” After my personal research, I found the answer to be female education.
Did you know that in the 1970s, more than half of the women in UAE and Nigeria were illiterate? However, according to Linzi Kemp study on UAE and female education in 2013, the UAE government made significant strategic investments in the Girl-child education and 40 years later, just like magic, more than 90% of women in that country are well educated. In fact, 70% of the university graduates in UAE are women. On the contrary, Nigeria female illiteracy population remains high till date. More than half of our women are still without a formal education. These facts made me conclude that; one more educated woman leads to an increase in a nation’s income.
There is no greater tool for fighting gender inequality than girl-child education. As women of substance, we must deploy all our arsenals towards female education. If we want to achieve equal seats in the Local Government Legislative Houses, State Houses of Assembly, and National Assembly, have many more women as CEOs, or lead the affairs of this nation, we must have many more educated women. In the same vein, if we must improve the health status of women, we must have more women-oriented policies and programs and this can only be possible if we have more women in leadership roles. For example, in Ondo State, we discovered that 26.5% of our pregnant women do not deliver in a health facility, a situation which is linked to increased maternal mortality rates in the State.
To stem this unfavourable tide, we designed the Solayo Safe Motherhood Initiative which has seen over 3000 women receive free birth delivery kits since its inception in 2019. This Solayo kit contains all the necessary items an expectant mother will need to provide in a health facility for safe delivery. This year’s International Women’s Day has seen another 1000 women receive free birth kits. The aim is to reduce the financial burden on expectant mothers, especially those who are vulnerable and reside in rural communities. Our mission is to sustain this momentum in a bid to achieve our goal of reaching 5000 vulnerable women at the end of 2023. This is an example of a women-oriented policy or program designed by women and for women and this is only possible when we have more women at the decision-making table.
In a fast paced world driven by technology, we must not only emphasize education for our girls, but remove all barriers and promote interest in STEM for girls. For me this is most vital and I continue to work relentlessly to achieve it. Through my foundation (Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu Foundation) with support from partners, we have been able to train over a thousand girls in ICT and solar technology. A lot of these girls who are now my mentees have begun to take bold steps towards becoming women of impact. To give an example of one of my mentees, Tolu Ehinmosun who participated in the first edition of our BEMORE Summer Boot Camp in 2017, is from a very humble background with little hope of furthering her education to higher institution. She participated in the Boot Camp through our scholarship scheme when she was in SS2 at Stella Maris College, Okitipupa. Tolu, putting into practice what she learnt in the boot camp, built a solar oven for her school home economics department. She also became determined to further her education into the higher institution. Today, Tolu is a 200 level student of computer science at the University of Lagos. Tolu is just one of many other girls that have been inspired and supported by my foundation.
Indeed to bridge the gender parity gap we must walk the talk, we must make conscious concerted effort.
Today we have one Okonjo-Iweala, in a few years to come, we will have many of her kind and our kind. We will walk equally with men to make the world a better place for all.
This award is rather a motivation than achievement for me. I am using it as an opportunity to encourage and challenge all well-meaning women in Nigeria, especially the First Ladies, to seek out young girls and empower them through leadership programs and mentorship. This is the only way we can achieve sustainable development in Nigeria and the world at large.