Lagos,Nigeria
Saturday, April 20th, 2024

Search
Search
Close this search box.

LOUD WHISPERS: Ada Umeoji’s Table

No comment
Friday, March 22nd, 2024
No comment

I am on my way back home from this year’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, known as CSW which takes place in New York every March. I have written in the past about how I was supported over many years by women leaders around the world, and I have watched with joy in my heart, other generations of activists who I have mentored. Even though attending CSW often has its frustrating moments when we hear the same old conversations, it is always delight to see new faces and hear new voices. I chaired a session which looked at research findings on Gender and Conflict in Nigeria, I spoke at a panel on World Bank gender equality interventions around the world, and I was a panelist at a session on African women’s leadership in governance, peace and security organised by UN Women and the African Union. I also spoke at a forum on Women and Politics, and attended other events which discussed a range of issues such as women and mental health, good practices in tackling sexual and gender-based violence as well as financing for gender empowerment programs

One of the recurrent observations at some of the events I attended, was the way in which women’s considerable gains since the Beijing Conference in 1995 are being pushed back globally, with the help of misogynists who have taken over social media. The young women who are at the receiving end of this bile are not playing either, they hit back too, but it is so unfair to see a generation of women having to fight for their sanity and dignity in these spaces. With the new narratives emerging online, women can’t win. If a woman looks ‘ugly’, it is a problem. If she is ‘too pretty’, it is a crisis. We keep trying to get our young women to affirm themselves, but somehow many of them are convinced that they are not light skinned enough, busty enough or round enough at the back end. So, they resort to costly and often dangerous procedures to get the kind of bodies that will receive men’s approval, especially for posting online. The struggle with our self-esteem and body image as women, particularly black women, is nothing new. I just find it painful to see young women fall into this trap. A memo to fathers in particular – let your daughters know how beautiful they are, say it every day if you can.

I read about the appointment of Dr Adaora Umeoji as the new CEO of Zenith Bank, Nigeria. Images of this exquisitely beautiful and elegant woman have been all over the place, and as usual, the creeps crawled out of the woodwork. While on the one hand we had the ultra-foolish ones who kept casting aspersions on this formidable woman’s integrity, there was a torrent of information about her educational qualifications and professional experience. Obviously, Dr Umeoji is used to being considered just a pretty face, so she has been intentional about proving that while she has no apologies for her beauty, she means business. Ada Umeoji has come prepared, and she has brought her own table.

In January of this year, I had a Zoom session with some high school girls. I used to be reluctant to talk to young girls because I would worry about not being relatable enough to them due to the age difference. I am used to addressing more mature groups. My opinion on this changed a few years ago, the day I sat with some secondary school girls drawn from schools across Ekiti, and they asked questions which made me squirm. We never talked about those kinds of things when I was their age! My Zoom audience were girls in an exclusive private school, it is safe to assume that their parents are quite successful to be able to afford such an education for their children. The school is co-educational, but their Proprietor who is an older friend of mine, wanted me to speak to the girls. We had quite an interesting conversation, and then one of the girls asked the question, ‘What should we do when we have all these guys who will be asking us ‘What do you bring to the table?’. 

That question is one I have seen around for some time now, and I admire all those who have found the time and energy to attempt to provide an answer. The question is sexist, entitled and insulting, and many of the answers I have heard range from ridiculous to hilarious. This is a summary of what I told the girls: ‘Your parents are making it possible for you to receive a great education so that you can become outstanding, productive citizens. Your mindset should not be about what you are going to take to any man’s table. My challenge to you is, how are you going to build your own table? Your education will open doors and opportunities for you, you will have access to networks and relationships that can help you fulfill your dreams. Why not focus on creating your very own table? Your table is a sum total of your goals, aspirations, dreams and talents. When the time comes and you want to make a decision about sharing your life with someone, the conversation you will have with the person will be about how you can combine your tables. This will be based on the fact that you both have value you are bringing and one party will not be more important than the other because you each have your own table, you are not trying to convince someone that you are worthy to sit at theirs. Like many accomplished women before her, too numerous to mention, Ada Umeoji is another example we can cite to these young girls about what it means to craft and own your own table.

This is International Women’s Month. It is a time for celebrating, acknowledging and encouraging women. It is a time for parents to draw the attention of their daughters to role models and to point out that each and every one of them has a table of their very own. We are not educating our daughters so that they can end up trying to prove themselves at the table of some neanderthal. Many women of my generation were taught that our mission should be owning our own tables, so that should the time come when we want to get married, we will not be empty handed. This is not to be confused with not having a work-life balance. Parents should also urge their sons to become men who will stand for and with women, not against them, like the cretins we saw online during the week. Good, God-fearing, kind and strong men do not concern themselves with what a woman is bringing to the table, because such men only have conversations with women who have tables of their own. It is men such as these who do whatever they can to ensure that they protect their spouse’s table just like they would their own.  I don’t know what went wrong that we now have some young men who are more backward than their grandfathers and young women who are aiding and abetting them. Congratulations to Dr Ada Umeoji. May your table remain firm and strong and may only good things be found on it always.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Policy Advocate and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *