‘Women won’t be given opportunity because of gender issues’

Anuli Ola-Olaniyi, is the Founder and CEO of HEIR. She runs a training for young women called Hire Me Bootcamp and also plays consultancy roles to many female owned and run businesses. She is a member of the Gender Election Watch (GEW), an initiative of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) to monitor the 2019 elections. In this chat with ENE OSANG she discusses the participation of women during elections.

What is Gender Election Watch (GEW) about?

The Gender and Election Watch (GEW) is an initiative of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF). The GEW is aimed at observing and analysing the participation of women compared to men in elections through electoral assessment and election observation from a gender and accountability perspective.

GEW is also a response to inadequate women focused election observation report and analysis for the female gender and an assessment of how all elements of an election process affect women in general and their access to the benefits of governance.

Similarly, GEW is intended to serve as a research spectrum for other program interventions by providing a comprehensive focus on how women engage with the electoral process as electorates on election days.

How would you asses Nigeria in terms of 35% affirmative action?

Simple! We aren’t there yet. I always say that as soon as the manmade myths and misunderstandings of women taking up elective and appointive positions start to change for the better, women may still experience challenges.

That being said, many supporting organisations like the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, are ensuring that the preparedness of women in reaching the 35% affirmative action is underway. I would say all hands need to be on deck to ensure women are aware of what the stakes are and begin to take the necessary actions to close the gap.

What should the female politicians do differently to ensure more women are elected into leadership positions at various levels?

Women must get ready! Readiness involves many facets and angles. Start early to make yourself known and your voice heard. Politics is first local. Get awareness, understand what this is all about especially the why you want to succeed in politics or any role you want to do in leadership.

Seek information; join a party; and other political bodies of interests. Make sure you are also developing yourself as a credible person. Women will not be given an opportunity just because we are women. We need to ensure our intelligence, tact; decision making process and leadership edge is on point. We aren’t here for handouts and so we need to prepare hard and well for another election.

How would you assess the just concluded elections as it relates to women participation?

At the NWTF GEW we observed that the elections were peaceful in most areas and there was large turn-out of voters including women which shows enthusiasm and readiness for democratic process. Even when the election was postponed we feared there would be voter apathy but women turned out en-mass especially for the presidential elections and that is a good sign that Nigerians are aware and hopeful for a true democratic evolvement and still have faith in the country.

However, there was violence in some states during the gubernatorial election. I will mention particularly that the violent attack on and shooting of Professor Dooshima Comfort Tuleun is a further confirmation of the dangerous dimension the electoral space is becoming for women. We recall that during the presidential election some female electoral officials were raped and violently attacked.

There was also perceived voter inducement which voters including women who came out to vote fell for.

Polling units were militarised yet women were brave to go cast their votes but some were intimidated and prevented from voting in some of the polling units.

Elections are over but only a few women won positions contested for, we shall keep working to encourage more women to participate.

What is your expectation from the few who won elections?

Let me say that women worked hard this election but I believe we can do better than where we are now.  I see us progressing than we did before. Professor Remi Sonaiya ran for the 2015 Presidential Election and secured over 13,000 votes now that is progress for me. We have brilliant and capable women in Nigeria and as soon as the myths and restrictions are lifted, you will see that we Nigerian women are fit and ready for positions of leadership in Nigeria.

So, do you think 35% affirmative action is achievable in the next dispensation?

Oh yes, I don’t only think, I also know it is achievable.

I say so because of the increased awareness there is now regarding our position and what the entire nation stands to gain when women are part of nation building. Olufunke Baruwa always says we are playing with half our team when we exclude women in nation building and I totally agree with her.

A lot of the myths on party politics, involvement and participation as it impacts women, are all being brought to the open. We are now more aware about the ‘tricks’ involved and are also now making sure that those reduce, and a fair platform will be available for women in politics.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. I strongly believe that women will need to work hard and elevate themselves while getting ready to take on the decision making positions in both elective and appointive roles in Nigeria.

What do you think inhibits young women from leadership and how can they overcome these challenges?

In my opinion so many issues add to the gap young women experience, one of which is the stereotypical constraint against women in striving to attain political and organisational leadership roles (culture, religion, norms and archaic practices).

I will add that young women need to see more role models in leadership positions who will mentor them thoroughly. Another gap is the young women themselves willing to take on the responsibility and make conscious steps to want to be leaders. Once this is done, there are many resources to get involved with that will further educate and strengthen their abilities like HEIR.

Tell us about HEIR and the Hire Me boot camp which you organise?

HEIR which is the representation of our values (Hardwork, Equality, Intelligence and Respect), was born out of the need to see more young women take on more leadership and decision making positions. We are created to equip and support young women in their career journey.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) August 2016 Data on unemployment states that women are more impacted with unemployment and under-employment much more than men are.

HEIR was created to support in giving women the training they need to secure employment. Unemployment is relatively dependent on how employable candidates are. I have been in positions where I have interviewed both men and women and have been really worried about what I come face to face with. Basic skills on employability are still lacking with a cross section of our youths today.

The boot camp is a platform created to run various career empowerment workshops. The name ‘Hire Me’ is a term we have used to describe the aftermath or outcome of the participant’s new status. When you attend our bootcamp, we ensure you are equipped with knowledge, methods, strategies and next steps to enable you go out there and be hired. Some of what we do is teach and show candidates about CV writing, interview skills, career development, and employability skills.

How long have you been into capacity building for women, and why women?

I have been opportune to share what I have with others for over a decade. Being involved in a Christian organization based in UK, organizing meetings and seminars geared into growing women were all part of my capacity building development.

Why Women and? My answer is because women matter too.

The facts speak for itself. As much as I do not want to insight competition against both, I have interacted with brilliant women and worked with some who have every potential to handle leadership positions however the opportunities aren’t available due to various myths and misunderstandings. For young women, it is apparent that if they need to climb the tall career ladder and be successful, they need to see examples of women who have been there and done that to enable and support them attain their desired decision making position.

Why is interest in capacity building among women prominent today?

The world is changing and more women are creating and getting the awareness they need today. You will agree with me that social media has played a great role in bringing so many values, challenges, restrictions and actions to the forefront and the ability of women are now being seen much more now.

The importance of this capacity building for me is that I need to ensure as much as I can that a woman, who is chosen for a position at any level, is chosen because she was the best suited and right person for the job. She was given the position because compared to the rest, she was simply outstanding intellectually and ability wise. No handouts because you are a woman. The best person should win hands down and to do that, we need to build capacity to a very high degree and standard.

It is said that family/society has lost value because women are busy chasing career, what is your take on this notion?

Really? Who said so? Where is the data to support this statement? And why is the woman to blame if the value was lost? Why aren’t parents or family members also sharing in the blame?

Do you realise that women raise their children when the father is either MIA, reluctant or in denial? I don’t have data to support that of Nigeria but in US, data shows that 85% of single parents are mothers. 45% of those single mothers are either separated or divorced. Yet, they work twice as hard to raise the children.

So, imagine they decided not to chase career how will those women support the home? In my opinion, every parent has shared responsibility in raising their wards. And no, I do not agree that value lost in a home is solely because the woman decided to make something of herself.

How do you manage the various leadership positions you occupy?

Juggling the roles is real but time management helps me a lot. I am also a certified Project Manager and part of the skills I use are planning and scheduling with prioritizing. Not every day is the same as you would imagine but most days are better than some. It helps to also have a supportive partner and, or, a very supportive family who are happy to help when the call or need arises.

I also believe in living a healthy lifestyle and so I do work out indoors and out, and watch my food intake and portions too. A good and balanced combination of this contributes to a burst in energy and the feeling of goodness within and externally

Do you have any leisure time and how do you spend it?

It’s funny you should ask, my leisure time keeps evolving (laughing). It is a combination of so many little things I enjoy to be honest and some I also want to start doing (laughing). But most of the time, I love to just relax my mind and put a pause button on so many things on my mind. To do that, and depending on the situation, a good series gets my mind off things, family hang out, talking with intelligent people about various topics just to get their perspectives, researching or finding information, a really good read, and watching some cartoons with my child (covers face).

What keeps you going?

Wow, it’s hard to name just one thing that gets me going. It honestly is a combination of many things.

Hmm…one thing will be that God hasn’t given up on me and so, I have no reason to give up on myself. By that it means my goals, dreams, family, relationships, actions and purpose.

 What is your advice to Nigerians?

I would condemn in strong terms the new violent trend and attack on women in the electoral space and calls on all relevant stakeholders to act fast to investigate and bring to justice all perpetrators of these acts and in order not to lose, completely, the gains made over the years on mobilizing for women’s active participation in the electoral process as officials, candidates and as voters.

In addition, INEC and relevant institutions should step up action to combat any form of voter inducement in Nigeria’s electoral process.

At GEW we also reiterate earlier calls on the security agencies not to militarise the electoral environment.

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