ince the era of women suffrages in America nearly a century ago and all the equality movements and feminism that since followed, it appears to me that very little has changed in terms of equality between men and women, especially when it comes to participation in business and politics around the world. As at today, women are still paid far less than men for the same job, less than 25% of heads of all the fortune 500 companies are women, and less than 20% of heads of government around the world are women. We now know that on average those fortune 500 companies with women on their board perform far better than those with only men on their boards. For the record, Mrs. Thatcher ranks among my top three world leaders in the past 50 years. I lived in London during most of her tenure and many of her policies effected me negatively; from requiring visa to travel to the UK (which was previously exempt to all commonwealth citizens) to denying citizenship to children whose mothers came from all over the world to deliver in the UK for the sole purpose of obtaining UK citizenship for their child. The bottom line was that I witnessed Mrs. Thatcher transform the British economy and attitude from a sleepy, decaying empire to that of a vibrant, upwardly mobile economy. Her reforms did not come easy, and anybody that lived in Britain in the eighties will tell you that it wasn't easy breaking the back of Arthur Scaggle and the coal miners, along with every other trade union that seemed to embark on endless strikes in protest to her reforms.
Even in America, in spite of all the hoopla by various feminist movements only a handful of women Senators can be found in that great body with more than 90% male members. The percentage in the House of Representatives is only slightly better, but far short of the ideals. The only consolation is that Hillary Clinton seems all set for a coronation in 2016 barring unforeseen disasters, but then I had predicted the same in 2007 before Obama showed up from nowhere and of course, the rest is history as they say. Usually in my articles I would point to the United States or Europe, and in new business trends will often point to China as a model for Nigeria to emulate. Well, sadly, not in this case. When it comes to empowering women, many of the world powers seem to be lagging terribly behind. But a handful of countries have done better, and some of these countries are developing nations. One such nation is Rwanda. Under President Paul Kilgani, Rwanda has demonstrated that an African country, in spite of our backward cultural observances that automatically make women inferior, can still incorporate a policy that promotes women participation in the running of their national affairs. As at today, about half of all the legislators at all levels in Rwanda are women, a situation that did not come about accidentally, but the result of a well thought out government policy to ensure equality in gender representation.
As I watched the recent celebration of International Women's Day, and all the matches from the UN offices in Manhattan to those in the streets of Delhi, it occurred to me that the issues they are fighting for will only be speedily addressed if we have sufficient women representatives at all levels in business and government. Women education, equal pay, rape against women, are just some of the issues those that matched have highlighted. It is not impossible for a man to feel the needs and pains of a woman, but a woman would be more at ease in contributing to those vital decisions. Often men are truly insensitive to many of these issues or simply lack the empathy required to properly address them. But apart from women issues, it is my belief that given the opportunity, many women would contribute more favourably towards the development of their nations.
In Nigeria for example, two women comes to mind. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, and Dora Akunyili. Dora was the first fearless Nigerian to take on the very lucrative business of fake drugs. She did not shy away from the consequences; instead she faced those shadowy characters head-on. Threats and harassment did not stop her. They attempted to kill her once in Anambra State after they laid ambush and shot at her car, but it did not stop her from pushing on with her clampdown. Fake drug problem have not been totally eradicated in Nigeria today, but they have come down from their highs of well over 60% to now somewhere below 15%. Her efforts had encouraged her successors to continue the fight against fake drugs without fear. It was Ngozi Okonjo Iweala that put her World Bank reputation on the line and negotiated a favourable debt buyback that freed Nigeria from crippling external loans. Today, she continues to enslave herself in the effort to restructure the foundations of our economy and the very fiscal policies that now threaten to derail us. And she continues to do so in spite of the clear and present danger of threats against her and her family. After her aging mother was kidnapped last year and later released after who knows how much ransom, they sent Ngozi a letter bomb at her office, which miraculously did not harm her. These two women in their respective capacities are among the finest I have seen in our Cabinets since 1999.
Soon after Jonathan came to power, his wife, Patience, began an aggressive campaign to push for more women representation in our polity. I thought she was unto something commendable, but shockingly she stopped just before the election in 2011. I have since wondered what sort of admonitions she must have received from those in power to make her give up such a noble goal. It is not yet too late to rekindle this push from someone as highly placed as she is. If women don't push their own agenda who will push it for them? Even the billboards and signs from "Women to Women" that were dotted all over the places have now all disappeared. Some of the major backers of these movements have now become ministers, others have become ambassadors, and they have all conveniently abandoned their project to advance the course of women in Nigeria.
To count on Nigerian men to advance your agenda for you would be a gross miscalculation. Our cultures and traditions do not give me any hope that our men in politics and positions of power will suddenly have a change of heart and advocate policies that will empower women. In my village for instance, if I happen to be at a meeting with my own mother and kola nuts are being shared, I am required to be served first before my own mother. It is simply the tradition, and this is similar to the background most of us came from in this country. Given such realities, Nigerian women should not fold their arms and wish that men will push their agenda for them. It is not going to happen, sorry. It is therefore my advice to Nigerian women that are conscious of equality and women participation in our polity, to buckle up and take these fights seriously, more seriously than they have to date.
And finally, to fellow Nigerian men, to those in Abuja, especially those of you in the national assembly, if Rwanda can do it I'm sure Nigeria can equally do it. Perhaps expecting a 50% female representation may not be a realistic dream, but we can at least pass a law that will require a minimum 20% representation by women at all levels of the legislature across this country. So far, the vast majority of women I have seen in these seats are often the daughter of some powerful politician, the wife of some party leader, or the girlfriend of a governor or president. We need to look beyond these bench warmers, and actively search for those women (and trust me there are many of them in this country) who are capable and committed. And I'm sure that Nigeria will be a far better place with such policy. I refuse to believe that Dora Akunyili and Ngozi Okonjo Iweala are special breeds. They just got the opportunity to serve. There must be thousands of women like them across this nation that are qualified and willing to serve this country productively. And as for the first lady, remember this, no one is more qualified to push for this agenda in this country so don't give up no matter the obstacles.