The Organisers at UNICAF

Eminent Special Guests of Honour

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

I begin by acknowledging the honour that it is for me to deliver this Keynote address to the UNICAF and AWLO network, spread across different continents of the globe. Indeed, it has been a rather long time of journeying on this path as far as creating educational opportunities is concerned. If you ask me, I would say that it has been challenging but worth it. Many, including men and women, have had the privilege of equal opportunities to access higher education wherever their countries or continents are on the globe.

That is the very substance that leaders are made of – challenges! As the American business executive, Raymond W. Smith has rightly observed ‘Administrators are cheap and easy to find and cheap to keep. Leaders – risk takers: they are in very short supply. And ones with vision are pure gold.’

Certainly, it should be no surprise that, on this global occasion, one begins on the note of leadership and gender equity. It interests me to state that the African Women in Leadership Organisation, which I founded and have represented for the past thirteen years, is one that hinged upon a vision of leadership, especially the vision to support women and the female folk at large whatever their areas of endeavor.

Notably, the 2021 International Women’s Day, in the wisdom of the United Nations, is themed ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World’. The immediate implication of this is that the world recognizes the functional and strategic place, placements and roles of women in driving the wheels of social engineering in different spheres of work across the globe.

The advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago, no doubt, took the global world by storm. Global public health systems came under the weight of an unprecedented outbreak of a viral infection with a far-reaching impact. According to a report and statistics, women have been at the forefront of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, risking their lives to save others. Indeed, this global crisis has shown that many decision-making bodies, including those established specifically to manage the pandemic, have not adequately reflected a gender balance between women and men.

Today, women are said to account for 70% of the health and social care workforce and deliver care to around 5 billion people. Nonetheless, they remain largely segregated into lower-status and lower-paid jobs and are still under-represented in leadership and decision-making processes. 70% of executive directors of global health organizations are men and only 5% are women in low-income and middle-income countries. Additionally, women health workers are regularly subjected to discrimination, abuse, and harassment, a situation that has worsened with COVID-19.

As we have observed, women have made landmark contributions in different fields of endeavors during the global coronavirus pandemic. These evidently include women in leadership, whether in public or corporate governance; in business, trading and micro-enterprises; in agriculture, women have contributed to securing food production and distribution both in rural and urban environments; and in the healthcare frontline they have served actively as nurses, physicians, paramedics, and as pharmaceutical scientists. Still, in the course of the global outbreak, women in ICT have made significant contributions as web and business developers, providing interventions in the fintech sub-sector. Indeed, women have made an active impact in the entertainment industry in spite of the obvious difficulties, and in other fields such as teaching and learning, research and development and, of course, in the media sector women have served as gatekeepers, watchers, and custodians of normative standards, while contributing to social evolution as necessitated by the global pandemic.

Women have also played key roles at every level of the food industry, where there is a strong gendered vertical division of labor. Most women occupy low-revenue jobs while men work in higher-paid management jobs. And with schools closed down, even with both parents working from home, it is the women who are largely dealing with their children’s care, education, and house chores, in parallel with their other paid job.

It is therefore timely indeed that the United Nations has chosen to broach the question of the need to ‘Achieve an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World’. There is no questioning that this move for a new debate and conversation on gender equity has been long overdue and women are more deserving of an equitable world today more than ever before. Needless to say, women continue to suffer low pay at jobs they are as equally qualified to do as their male counterparts. They are often seen to suffer stigmatization as they undertake unskilled jobs that succeed to glue together human societies during the pandemic.

Truly, if only one critical lesson should be learned from the COVID-19 crisis, it would be that women are crucial to quench the world’s population’s vital needs: health, food security, and caring. That is why women’s organizations on the frontline of the response should be represented in decision-making bodies. It is thus instructive to encourage the UniCaf network to also continue to make it a super mantra and a point of commitment to remain at the vanguard of championing this social idea. This is because, as the American educationalist and writer, Warren Bennis, once noted, ‘Managers have their eyes on the bottom line; leaders have their eyes on the horizon.’ This is exactly the point at which the UniCaf network must continually position itself – that is, having its eyes on the horizon of social and gender change and prospecting for a world of gender balance beginning in the field of education.