Keynote Address Deliver By The Founder / President Of Women Advancement For Economic And Leadership Empowerment In Africa (WAELE/ARCELFA) Otunba Dr Basirat Nahibi – Niasse, During The Launching Of A Book Writting By Hon Mrs Elizabeth Bassey Etta, Title ”Women Empowerment And Development:-My Unique Experince” In Calabar, On 15th August, 2007


I am delighted and indeed greatly honoured with your invitation to present the keynote address in this unique workshop/conference on AFRICAN WOMEN EMPOWERMENT AND DEVELOPMENT. Women constitute one half of the world’s population. This trend is replicated in Nigeria. Unfortunately though, women are everywhere on the globe disregarded, disrespected, marginalised, and hence impoverished. This is outright criminality. Since women practically sustain the African economy, clear programmes must be designed or articulated to empower them with a view to bringing them into the centre of power.

Against the backdrop of their antecedent outlined in this address, there is abundant evidence that their optimum productivity, creativity, energy, vision and patriotism are still open for positive exploitation for the benefits of Africans specifically and the entire humanity in general. However, their participation as catalyst in development cannot be divorced from their role as producers, reproducers and community managers in all sectors of women endeavours.  In spite of their contribution, women have often been discriminated against. This necessitated advocacy for programmes and projects meant to target women as main beneficiaries.

It is common knowledge that every household is made up of males and females.  The individuals that make up any household are the father, mother, and children and these are either male or female.  Each of the sexes play defined roles in the household and in the society where they belong.  In most cases, males are involved in the production of the means of livelihood. Traditionally, the males perform the role of the bread winner whose responsibility it is to provide for his household while the female is the secondary labour to supplement what the males are able to provide for household consumption. Women are essentially the managers of the social services at the household level.  They care for sick members of the household, teach the children the norms, values, cultures and crafts as well as prepare family members for the roles they will be performing in the future.  Women ensure that food is prepared and served to family members and see to the general well being of the husband, children and other dependants. In spite of the laudable contributions of women to the survival and prosperity of the home and community, their role and place have not been adequately empowered to contribute to both human and economic development.


All over the world, women have creative innovations and comprehensive programmes of activities that address societal ills or create social capital.  This has been achieved singularly or in groups in the community and through networking activities.  Women lead hundreds of community development organisations in all sectors of the country.  Even in professions that have been designated traditional as male profession, women have made inroad into them.  They make significant contributions to housing projects, road construction, trade and market organisations, and a myriad of difficult situations within and outside the household some of which are settlement of age long quarrels, maintenance of peace and stability, mediation in crisis situation by appealing to warring parties.  Women are very prominent in getting residents of their communities,

Political leaders, established institutions and the like to uphold and nurture the views and political opinions that are in the interest of the community and the nation at large. Historically, women play triple roles in every society which are the reproductive, productive and the community socio- political responsibilities and roles.


The reproductive work of childbearing and rearing guarantees the maintenance and reproduction of the labour force.  It includes not only biological reproduction but also the care and maintenance of the workforce. This includes their husbands and  children,  Although biological reproduction refers rigidly to the bearing of children by the women, the term reproduction of labour extends further to the care, socialization and maintenance of individuals through out their lives to ensure the continuation of society to the future generation.  This role is otherwise known as ‘physical reproduction’ or ‘human reproduction’.


This refers to work done for which wages are paid in cash or in kind.  Women work as agricultural labourers, independent farmers, and wage or salary earners in other sectors of the economy.  According to Andrew Natsios, USAID Administrator, it is the contributions that women make to the economic, social and political lives of their nation, communities, and families and the next generation that constitute the key factors in effective development.  More than 800 million women, according to him are economically active worldwide in agriculture, small and micro enterprise and, increasingly, in the export processing industries that drive mobilization.  In addition, over 70 percent of these women are said to be living in the developing regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Furthermore, women’s unemployment rates were considered to be much higher than those of men and when employed, earn less than men for same work.  Hence, women constitute 60 percent of the rural poor (Natsios, 2003). There is still wide spread limitations faced by women in the performance of their roles worldwide and particularly in developing economies.  Women are still not accorded equal opportunities to contribute toward development since political leadership positions are still largely occupied by men.


This refers to the role performed by women in the community to provide and maintain scarce resources in the area of water supply, health care and education.  It is often regarded as the voluntary unpaid work done during free time.  Community managing is provided free of charge by woman and usually do not increase their visibility (Soetan, 2002).  Women have been noted for their ability to mobilize to meet not only the individual consumption needs at the household level but also those of a collective nature at the neighbourhood or community level.  For instance, women mobilize and organize at community levels to carryout environmental sanitation during sanitation days declared by government. They are easily observed carrying the trash to designated areas.  Women consider community participation an important responsibility.

As observed by the Mc Auley Institute (1999), women’s respectful relationship with community members provides the foundation for community participation and development of the culture of respect and discipline.  The sense of personal commitment of women leaders in the community makes them not to place barriers between their personal lives and their community work.

Most women reinforce their willingness to serve in community works with their spirituality and religiosity.  Their spirituality gives them the impetus to serve as peaceful adherent of their beliefs and they use it to create social change that improves the quality of life of their communities.  Women, as catalyst of development, use their God-given intuition to perceive and address societal problems.  While men see and address what is above the line of visibility, women see the whole thing, above and below the surface through their God-given intuition.


The term catalyst according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary refers to a person that causes a change.  Women act as political pressure groups and lobbyists who press for rights at the home, community and national levels.  They are also the custodian of traditional laws, norms and values.  The woman tries to safeguard them and teach her children and other members of her household to comply with all the rules and regulations of the community where they live.  Unlike catalyst in chemistry which refers to a substance that increases the rate of a reaction without itself being consumed or unchanged in the process, the women are often affected, adversely by some of the decisions taken.  Most often, this is due to lack of education and information about better options.  Women have been catalyst in Nigeria at both the traditional and modern sectors of the economy.

Specifically, this country has been blessed with some dynastic and influential women leaders. There were those who dared to oppose the colonial policies like Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti who led the women of Abeokuta to challenge negative policies, Mrs. Eyo Ita and Hajia Gambo Sawaba who were notable nationalists of their days in the struggle for self-rule in Nigeria (NACCIMA/CIPE, 2002)

Some key contribution of women development includes the following:-

  1. Female Oba in Yoruba land such as Oba Orompo who reigned in 1555 and Iya-Oba and Iyalodes
  2. Queen Amina of Zaria was the Head of State and Commander of the Armed Forces of the Hausa Empire and ruled the territory covering about 10 states of the present day Nigeria and a population of over 20 million people.

III.           The Omu Nwagboke of Onitsha signed a treaty with the queen of England in 1884 to regulate the activities of Onitsha market.

  1. Madam Catherine Ujim mobilized over 10,000 women that executed the famous Aba Riot of 1929.
  2. Princess Moremi of Ile-Ife in Yoruba land controlled an army to win a famous war.
  3. Madam Tinubu was a strong king maker who brokered peace between King Akitoye and King Dosumu over the leadership of Lagos.

VII.         Women also constituted themselves into powerful organizations such as the Ibang Isong of the Ibibio women, which was very potent relating to matters of using political, economic and social privileges for women organizations.

Some other notable contributions of women documented by Akande (1999), Timni-Aku (2000) and up-dated by the author are as follows:

  1. The “women war” of the Eastern Nigeria was directed against colonial administration policies and actions that had threatened the interest of women in 1929.

  1. Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti of Abeokuta and a member of the then Western House of Chiefs in the early 50s who led Egba women in a demonstration that forced the Alake Ademola to abdicate his throne in July 1948.

  1. In the political arena, women like Iyalode Wurola Esan became the first woman senator on the ticket of the defunct Action Group (AG) during the first Republic up to 1965.

  1. Hajiya Gambo Sawaba from the Northern Nigerian championed the cause of Northern women and her advocacy for female education and women’s rights earned her 320 strokes of the cane on her bare bottom. Her critique of women in “pudah” was not well received by her male counterparts as well as her yearning for women to vote and be voted for. In addition, Ladi Shehu got involved in politics but not without paying high prices for daring where angels feared to tread.

  1. The involvement of women in politics saw to the appointment of Mrs. Elizabeth Iwase as first Northern female minister in 1981.

  1. Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo directed the affairs of women from Aba in the Eastern Nigeria and was instrumental to women joining the police force as a member of the then Eastern House of Chiefs. This single action gives credence to the fact that women contributed immensely to fundamental policy changes before dependence.

  1. 40 years after independence, the country had only 9 female senators out of 109 members of the Senate, 22 female honourable members out of 360 in the House of Representatives, 8 female ministers. There was also a female speaker in the Benue and Ogun State House of Assembly.

  1. H.E Dr. Mrs. Maryam Babangida initiated the Better Life Programme now Better life for African Rural Women. Which brought women to a more visible position in Nigeria during her Husband Tenure?

  1. Women have used the National Council for Women Societies (NCWS), the umbrella body for Women Organisations in Nigeria, to project women issues.

  1. In the history of the Nigerian academia of about 56 universities, only three Women ever become Vice Chancellor (VC) – Prof. Mrs. Alele Williams of the University of Benin was the first female VC. in Nigeria while Professor (Mrs) Jadesola Akande have once been a vice chancellor of the Lagos State University and Prof. Gambo Laraba of the University of Abuja.

  1. Senator Franca Afegbua was the only woman senator who was elected under the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic of 1979 and 1983.

  1. Some women like Kudirat Abiola have paid the supreme sacrifice for protesting the annulment of the June 12 election of 1993 in which her late husband, Alhaji M. K. O. Abiola, was the widely acclaimed or the presumed winner.

  1. A notable woman whose name rings bell at the national and international scenes is Dr (Mrs.) Dora Nkem Akunyili, Director-General/Chief executive of the National Agency for Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). She has won both national and international laurels in appreciation of her distinguished services.

  1. Only recently, the wife of the former vice President, Chief Mrs Titi Abubakar initiated the child’s right bill which was passed by the legislature and has become an Act of Parliament.

  1. Unimpressive as it may appear, Nigeria occupied the 28th position in terms of share of women in National parliament as at January, 2002 in the sub-Saharan African region. This was out of a total of 43 countries sampled for the study.  South African led with 30.0 percent seats held by women in the Parliament. Djibouti was last with no representation at all (UNIFEM, 2000). See details in Appendix 1.

No doubt, many women have served as pilots, engineers, medical doctors and other professions in male dominated areas. Women are known to possess the ability to network and create social, cultural, economic and even spiritual resources which development managers need to harness for development purposes. In spite of these catalytic roles in development, women have constantly faced a lot of discrimination, which have constrained them in many ways.  Some of these constraints are known to all of us.

Finally, Distinguish ladies and gentle men, our leaders should pay more attention on Women Development because Nigerian women are tired of tokenism and the trivialisation of women issues.

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