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Governor Kayode Fayemi's Address at the 11th (Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials) Cowlso Conference
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Governor Kayode Fayemi's Address at the 11th (Committee of Wives of Lagos State Officials) Cowlso Conference

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  • 1.  KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY DR KAYODE FAYEMI, GOVERNOR OF EKITI STATE ATTHE ELEVENTH (COMMITTEE OF WIVES OF LAGOS STATE OFFICIALS) COWLSOCONFERENCE, SEVENTH NOVEMBER TWO THOUSAND AND ELEVEN, LAGOS ‘WOMEN – HOW RELEVANT ARE WE?I am very delighted to be here this morning, speaking at the closing ceremony of thisyear’s COWLSO conference, with the theme ‘Women – How relevant are we?’. I havefollowed the activities of COWLSO over the years, and I must admit to being a big fanand admirer of the work of COWLSO. I would like to acknowledge all the great womenwho have played a role in developing this very important organisation and building itup to be the very significant institution it has become in Lagos State. I congratulateDame Abimbola Fashola, the Wife of the Governor of Lagos State and her colleaguesfor keeping the COWLSO dream alive. You have demonstrated, through yourcommitment and hard work, that women can indeed work together and achieve greatthings. Your accomplishments at COWLSO have inspired women in other places, soyou should not be surprised to hear that in my state, we now have a Forum ofSpouses of Ekiti State Officials (FOSESO) which was launched in June 2011. I wouldalso like to thank my brother, His Excellency, Babatunde Raji Fashola, for thesteadfast support he has been giving to COWSLO, and for all that he has done topromote the well-being of women in Lagos State.In spite of our immense wealth as a nation, Nigeria continues to suffer theconsequences of poor leadership, misguided economic policies, massive debt, andunbridled corruption. This has manifested itself in the loss of livelihoods,unemployment, and a sharp rise in the number of citizens living in dire poverty. Ifthere is a crisis in any community, women are affected in different ways from men, 1    
  • 2.  and in most cases, they suffer more. This affects all spheres ofdevelopment – economic, political, technological or social. Therefore women in Nigeriahave borne the brunt of the country’s misfortunes. Women continue to lack access toresources such as land, capital, technology, water and adequate healthcare. Majorityof women - most of whom are rural based, and most urban women - continue to live inconditions of economic underdevelopment and social marginalisation. Maternal andinfant mortality rates in Nigeria remain unacceptably high – one of the highest in theworld.With the continued impoverishment of the country, and the inability to prioritisehuman security needs, most of our cities and towns have become violent playgroundsfor unemployed youth, local militia, gangs of armed robbers, and kidnappers. Millionsof women and girls in Nigeria have been rendered voiceless due to the complexmanipulation of culture, religion and tradition. This has also made more women andgirls vulnerable to sexual exploitation and at risk of contracting HIV & AIDS. Crimesagainst women, young girls and children are on the rise. Gender-based violence,femicides, rapes, sexual assaults, harmful traditional and religious practices, andinstitutionalized gender-based discrimination, make private and public spaces in ourcountry very unsafe for women and girls.It is against this backdrop that we need to turn to strategies that can set us back onthe right path, because the way things are going now for us as a country, we might aswell be on an expressway to nowhere. We need to apply the brakes to the dangerousvehicle that is taking us to a destination that none of us desires, and call for newroadmaps, new vehicles and new drivers.Women hold the key to fixing most of what is wrong with our country. Now, more thanever, we need a reframing of our democratic spaces and cultures. We need to bridgethe huge gap between the powerful visions needed to drive the country forward andthe grim realities of unfulfilled expectations and dashed dreams that shape the day-to- 2    
  • 3.  day lives of millions of Nigerians. Part of this demand for new visionsand new directions is a call for solutions to our leadership crisis. This requires newfaces, voices, experiences and insights, and it is Nigerian women, in their capacities asmothers and wives, who can help drive this forward. It has therefore becomeimperative, that we look to women such as yourselves, our wives and mothers, to helpus figure a way out of these huge challenges our nation faces today.This is where I turn to the question that COWLSO is asking in their theme for thisyear’s conference – ‘Women-How relevant are we?’ The truth of the matter is, if wedecide to answer the question in the negative and say, for example, ‘Women are notrelevant’, then we have earned ourselves a first class ticket to an unspeakabledestination as a country.As women who are married to men in positions of authority and prominence in thiscountry, you are very familiar with the expectations that people have of those inleadership positions. It is assumed that if you are in a position of leadership, you havea responsibility to address all the needs of people in your various constituencies,regardless of how unrealistic some of those expectations might be. We your husbands,are therefore aware that you are usually left to deal with those things which we areunable to attend to – the people we don’t have the time to meet, those who need onefavour or the other, the family members who need our attention, the social functionsthat you attend on our behalf, the endless requests for various forms of financialassistance – the list of the things you do on our behalf is endless. You also put up withour round the clock work schedules, and encourage us to continue to do whatever wecan in the interests of our call to public service. A regular feature of public life is beingopen to scrutiny most of the time, so in many instances, you our wives often findyourselves under attack on the basis of our alleged actions or inactions. You are alsoforced to listen to a lot of unsolicited and mostly unhelpful advice which is intendedfor your husbands but since we are usually unavailable to hear it ourselves, you aredrafted in as the reluctant messengers. 3    
  • 4.  All these things that you do and endure, are over and above themultiple roles you already have – many of you are solid professionals in your ownright, you are mothers, and you are contributing to the community at large throughyour political, entrepreneurial, philanthropic, community and religious activities. Mostof what you do is undervalued, unrewarded and often taken for granted. If we had toquantify what we ought to pay you for your free services to us, your husbands, as ourcooks, nannies, cleaners, event planners, secretaries, counsellors, stylists, nurses,accountants, spiritual guides, we would never be able to pay what we owe. So back toyour question, ‘Women- How relevant are we’? – the answer I would give to that iswithout you, we men would not be relevant.I suppose the question you might want to ask instead is, ‘How do we remain relevant?’I have always maintained that we cannot achieve any of our development goals as anation if we act as if women are not relevant. We cannot solve the myriad problems wehave as a nation without addressing the empowerment needs of up to 50% of thepopulation. As political leaders, it is incumbent upon us to prioritise the followingissues when it comes to addressing women’s empowerment and gender equality:  Political will and commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment  Women’s economic empowerment and livelihoods  Commitment to women’s participation in public life  Women’s health, security and safety.Nigeria is a signatory to many international and regional agreements that are meant toguarantee women’s rights, but there has been minimal political will to ensure thatthese guarantees mean something in the lives of ordinary women. We therefore need toput effective mechanisms in place for the formulation and implementation of policyframeworks, particularly those that relate to poverty, anti-discrimination, health,human security, and the promotion and protection of women’s rights. It is only when 4    
  • 5.  we have these things in place that we can truly say that women areequal shareholders in the democratic enterprise.I am pleased to inform you that Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment is partof my eight point agenda in Ekiti State. As part of our commitment to these issues, inJune 2011, we domesticated the National Gender Policy in Ekiti State. In addition, onNovember 3rd, our legislature passed the Gender Based Violence Bill into law, whichcan be described as ground-breaking and comprehensive legislation meant to protectwomen and girls in the state from all forms of violence. Underlying all these policy andlegislative frameworks is serious political will, zero tolerance for all forms ofdiscrimination against women, and a commitment to providing equal opportunities formen and women.As your conference for this year comes to an end, I would like to leave you with thefollowing thoughts:Remember you are valuedI believe that you can remain relevant by always remembering that even when we donot acknowledge it or actually voice it, we your husbands are proud of you and whatyou accomplish every day. You are deeply valued. You do things that most of us couldnever dream of doing, simply because you have learnt how to do them well over theyears. It is only women who can wake up and make breakfast, drop children off atschool in clean uniforms, go to work, plan dinner while at work, stop at a function onthe way back home, get home and cook, oversee homework, settle quarrels amongstthe kids and house help, and still have time to listen to how our day went. Even forthose of you who are in a position to take on support for all these tasks, weacknowledge what you put into oversight and coordination to keep the home frontrunning. 5    
  • 6.  Revisit what you teach your childrenMost of us have grown up learning certain attitudes and behaviours about genderroles and identities. Our mothers in particular would encourage girls to learn how tocook in the kitchen while the boys would be encouraged to go out to play. If we want tosee a shift in attitudes and behaviours, then we need to teach our children to learnhow to work and play as equals. Girls should be brought up to be independent,productive and creative, and boys need to learn how to value and respect girls. Thedeeply patriarchal societies we live in tend to render women irrelevant. If you want tobe truly relevant, you and your husbands need to raise your children differently sothat everyone has the same opportunities.Take your place as leadersWomen across the African continent have done an excellent job of pushing foraccess of women to decision making. The case they have made is that theimplications of women being excluded from decision-making are serious. Itmeans if women do not have a voice where key decisions which affect their livesare made, then their capacity for full development and equality is severelylimited. Women’s involvement in decision-making contributes to redefiningpolitical priorities, placing new issues on the political agenda which reflect andaddress women’s gender-specific concerns, values and experiences, andprovides new perspectives on mainstream political issues. Without the activeparticipation of women and the inclusion of their perspectives at all levels ofdecision-making, the goals of good governance and inclusive, transparentdemocratic processes cannot be achieved.Women bring different leadership skills into the public space than men. Men havelearnt (and are not born) to be leaders by seizing opportunities, competing with their 6    
  • 7.  peers, making themselves heard and not just seen, and buildinghierarchies and networks to get their agendas accomplished. Women have learnt,through their socialisation (as mothers, wives, daughters) to listen, to negotiate, tobuild bridges and consensus, to work in flexible ways, nurture friendships andrelationships and to manage time better. We all learn these skills, we are not bornwith them. These skills that women have are undervalued as ‘soft skills’ in the harshworlds of politics and business, and are not considered as important as the ‘hardskills’ that men have. The truth of the matter is that the skills and experiences thatwomen bring to the leadership table are as important as what men have to offer.Indeed, we need to learn the value of soft power – understated but effective, not loud,brash and/or brutish. We therefore need to encourage a critical mass of women inleadership, especially in governance, so that hopefully, we will start seeing some realchanges in the ways in which our communities are led and managed.Make good use of your political and social capitalAs wives of public servants, individually you might have some clout, but as anorganisation, you can be truly formidable. You need to use the power of your numbersand your political and social capital to take a stand on some of the problems we aregrappling with in our society today. You need to lend your voices to issues such as theincreased number of vulnerable and destitute women forced into commercial sex work,violence against women and girls, trafficking, the exploitation of children and so manyothers. I am aware that you are doing a significant amount of philanthropic work tohelp ameliorate some of these social problems in the state, but I am also challengingyou to become visible and audible advocates for the less privileged. In addition to thegreat work you are doing in Lagos State, I would also encourage you to establishpartnerships and collaborations with like-minded organisations in other States in thecountry so that you can share best practices and learn from each other.Women – How relevant are you? You are the salt of the earth, the mothers who givebirth to us and to our children, the hands that rock the cradle, the healers of ourwounds, the angels who build and guard our homes, the intercessors who pray for usceaselessly, the light of our lives. You are as relevant as life itself. 7    
  • 8.  God bless you all.   8    

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