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Women as Agents of Change

March 8 is celebrated all over the world as International Women’s Day (IWD) and the focus is on the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. With the World Economic Forum 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings alerting that gender parity is over 200 years away, there has never been a more important time to keep motivated and #PressForProgress. And with global activism for women’s equality fueled by movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp, #HeForShe, and more, there is a strong global momentum striving for gender parity.

As a life coach and emotions therapist, I have met all manners of troubled women who do not even begin to know who they are and what their passion is. In the course of my work as the founder of Acts Generation, I have dealt with women who are victims of physical violence and all forms of abuse and are ignorant of their rights; loosing themselves in their relationships. They have ceased to be individuals in trying to become who their partner wants them to be.

If women do not know who they are, how can they be AGENTS OF CHANGE? If women do not deal with whatever holds them bound in negative thinking and limiting beliefs, how can they be AGENTS OF CHANGE? If women don’t get rid of their habits and prejudices brought about by their experiences whether as a child, during their teenage years, or as adults, how can they REALLY be AGENTS OF CHANGE?

Change can only come about when there is TRANSFORMED THINKING. Transformed thinking comes about when women have a knowledge of who they are and when women begin to react positively to negative situations that they find themselves; when women begin to question gender inequality; when women understand that they play a very important role in the growth and development of our nation, then they are ready to influence CHANGE, ready to take the steps that would liberate them from the shackles of culture, and religion.

Women are a very important integral part of change in any society or nation. But how can women do this if they are not treated well and their basic rights not only guaranteed but protected?

The world today sees women excelling in the various fields of human endearvour from exploring the universe as astronauts to even leading nations; but there are still few areas that are left uncharted – although we have now gone in a bobsled – although we have no snow.

Women are believed to be the largest untapped reservoir of talents in the world. With perseverance and determination, women around the world strive to prove themselves in order to reach the pinnacle of their careers.

However, as women scale new heights and expand their horizons, they must constantly struggle to overcome the shackles of inequality and discrimination. As the former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly said, “the status of the world’s women is not only a matter of morality and justice. It is also a political, economic, and social imperative. Put simply, the world cannot make lasting progress if women and girls in the 21st century are denied their rights and left behind.” It is commonly believed that the suffering and denial of the rights of women and the instability of countries go hand in hand.

As women continue to fight for space in the world, we notice a wave of liberation and empowerment that floods nations worldwide as more and more women become aware of the oppressive atmosphere around them and begin to raise their voice against it. From the young and courageous Malala Yousafzai, who fought for education of girls in Pakistan, to the women activists in the war-torn region of Syria who demand political reforms, to the scores of Saudi women who led a campaign against the ban on female drivers, which has yielded results; to the first woman elected as president in modern Africa — Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia — these extraordinary women stand as “agents of change” and transcend countless obstacles on their paths toward freedom and equality. Also, at home in Nigeria, we have various women who are involved in programmes and projects to give women the freedom they require to be all they are meant to be.

In order to continue to fuel this fire within women worldwide, nations across the world must not only revolutionize their economic, social and cultural structure to one that supports the progress of women but must also take active measures to include women in the political structure of the country as well. Women must be given adequate representation in the government. Women often have different priorities than men and these should be reflected in the decision-making bodies. Through this, women will finally be given the chance to initiate change and overcome inhibitions and blockades in all spheres from traditions and cultures to economic and social spheres.

In the international arena, there is a growing recognition that women’s representative participation in decision making is a fundamental condition of women’s equality and a hallmark of an inclusive society that values and capitalizes on the contributions of all its members. The 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women specifically requires states to promote women’s equal representation in the formulation and implementation of government policy, women’s equal access to employment and promotion opportunities, and women’s equal participation in non-governmental organizations and associations. The Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, states that the equal participation of women and men in decision making strengthens democracy and promotes its proper functioning.

Here in Nigeria, we are still fighting for the rights of women in all areas… Women are fighting to get more representation in the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as State Houses of Assembly… We are still trying to get the Child Rights domesticated in many states. It was a great feat to finally have the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill finally passed in 2015

Education for women is a very important prerequisite in promoting the advancement of women. It is important that women in positions of authority in Nigeria assist in backing the UN call for governments to make education compulsory for every woman, and make sure this must be strictly and effectively implemented. Beginning from the grassroots level, they should aim at improving the infrastructure and teaching methods at public (government.) schools, as these are often neglected, in order to provide a healthy learning environment for the students. In addition to this, the government must also aim to reform the private educational sector. This will bring Nigeria one step closer to a hundred percent literacy rate – which will inadvertently help our nation in the long run.

It is said, “Educate a man and you educate an individual. Educate a woman and you educate a family.”

Through the education of a woman, a household is transformed in all aspects — socially, morally, economically and even politically. An educated woman is able to fight age-old prejudices and gender bias logically, rationally and more successfully by being connected and informed globally. She will no longer be isolated in her ignorance, but on the contrary, will embrace and be empowered through the connectivity and information that the world has to offer.

As women become more aware of their rights and entitlements, we must also support their ascent towards liberation by following a zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence perpetrated against women and children. As Secretary Clinton once said, “Sexual violence harms not merely single individuals, families, and villages; it also shreds the fabric that weaves us together as human beings.”

Violence against women and girls is a “critical human rights, health, social, and economic issue” that imposes significant costs on society. It is, a “manifestation of the lower status of women and girls around the world.” To solve this problem, then, we must elevate their status and unlock their potential to become agents of change – But for this to be a truly effect effort, we need to work together.

Why has violence against women persisted for so long? There are four key worldwide societal trends that seem to feed this cycle:

  1. Women’s contributions to society (in the form of household work, child-rearing, etc.) are largely unknown since they are not included in GDP, the most prominent international measure of value;
  2. Many religions, including Christianity and Islam sanction women’s inferiority;
  3. There is little enforcement of legislative protections for women. Most international laws in this respect are non-binding, and even those that are binding are rarely enforced;
  4. Women have never historically had “personhood.” Throughout history, they have consistently been treated as inferior.

To end FGM (female genital mutilation) and violence against women, women must claim their “personhood,” proclaiming themselves as equal with men once and for all. Women will need to stand up for themselves and demand the treatment they deserve. When this happens, there “will be changes not just in women’s lives, but in the whole community’s life.”

Another critical concern is that women earn less than 10 percent of the world’s wages but do more than two-thirds of the world’s work as they relentlessly strive to support their families and keep their head above the surface financially. Therefore, it is imperative that women are empowered in way that will make them economically independent. When women are economically empowered, it gives them a voice at home and within the community, they can contribute financially to their families, communities, and countries.

The United Nations defines women empowerment with five main components: women’s sense of self-worth; their right to have and to determine choices; their right to have access to opportunities and resources; their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally.

As we recognize the long road ahead of us to achieve the empowerment of women, we must also acknowledge the progress women have made. Though a vast majority of women are yet to attain the five components of women empowerment, there are scores of women who have become ‘agents of change’ against all odds and are empowered citizens of the world today.

Women must take a stand if they want the 21st Century to be one of change and reformation, one that converts oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. Otherwise half the world’s population will continue to suffer and struggle, being illiterate, unsafe, vulnerable, and without a voice to support and advocate for their families, communities and nations.

Women worldwide need to continue to fight against repression and make their mark in the world. As “agents of change,” they need to continue to strive to change the system and reform political, economic, social and cultural spheres to create ones that support women and do not suppress them. It is as much up to the international community and our nation in its collective wisdom as it is up to every individual to assist women in their endeavors in order to reach their true potential. Women need to collaborate and present the platform to give them the freedom of expression to be able to influence the home, the society and the nation. They must be examples to the younger ones as well as teach them the core values and morals that will make them respectable members of the society.