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Women, Politics and Spirituality

Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Speaking Out
Morenike Taire

Out of the myriad of complaints that have trailed the government’s decision to finally hold a confab, the one about the low representation of women has received by far the least attention.

This unfortunate state of affairs has been in spite of the fact that both men and women alike have expressed their dissatisfaction of it. In truth, the under representation of women in the on going government Confab as well as the reactions to it, are a fair enough representation of the general attitude towards women in Nigeria.

It is in our country that the average man with whom you speak would express strong views in opposition to the various identified forms of gender based violence, and yet they remain prevalent. Hostile forms of gender discrimination where they are present in our society are carefully hidden away in the main, and what is proudly displayed are the phenomena that have been identified as ‘‘benevolent’’ and sometimes ambivalent, paternalistic forms of sexism.

In a study they carried out in order to gain deeper insight into the "Consequences for Specific and Diffuse Forms of System Justification" at the Stanford Graduate School for Business, John Jost and Aaron Kay in 2003 sought to and did prove that complimentary and complementary (as opposed to subtle) gender stereotypes are dangerous first to the women, and then to the development of the society as a whole. Gender based stereotyping, they argue in the resultant paper, "differs from other well known cases of stereotyping in that attitudes towards the disadvantaged groups of women are often favourable in content and yet prejudicial in their consequences."

They go on to stress that otherwise flattering stereotypes of women as being kind, gentle, warm and so on often are to the disadvantage of the women, since they "undercut perceptions of incompetence."

A Nigerian case for the existence of benevolent sexism could not have been better made than by reputably radical lawyer, Festus Keyamo, who benevolently pronounced at a talk show a few weekends back, that the ongoing confab stood the imminent danger of losing its spirituality-a function upon which he places much emphasis and thus value- if it continues to shun the womenfolk as it does.

To provide a boost for his submission, he made a case for the spiritual superiority of women over men traditionally and naturally and had, in one fell swoop, made and lost his case for the better representation of women at the talks. To hazard a guess, as for the writing of the copy for the controversy generating "mama na boy" MTN TV commercial, the PDP State governors had simply forgotten the implications of the political incorrectness of not nominating women.

But if it had all simply been an oversight, the complaints of the very few women who had felt hard done by enough to complain in the public sphere have, sadly but not surprisingly, simply been interpreted from an emotional dimension.

The president himself had simply reduced it all to a playful banter in the battle of the sexes, in which aggrieved women in Nigeria are supposedly trying to take over from the men who, according to his statement last week, are their "fathers, sons, brothers and husbands".

Predictably, he and the rest of the PDP have done nothing proactive in addressing the issue, and have simply dodged responsibility by simply pointing fingers at the PDP governors which, by the way, were empowered by themselves while focusing on more significant opposition. First ladies from some States have expressed their discontent, while the conference has been thrown open.

Contrary to the expressed thoughts of both Keyamo and the President, it is neither a spiritual or filial matter. Nigerian women are not clamoring to go to the talks to contribute their spirituality or "take over" from their men folk, whatever that could possibly mean, but simply to take part in taking decisions which will affect their lives and those of their children. Surely, that is not too much to ask, even from women?


Value added


With the adjustment of the percentage value of the Nigerian Value Added Tax to ten percent from five percent of the monetary value of the good, an attempt has been made to put Nigeria in the league of nations which put the less privileged before the more privileged, and which structure the system in such a way as to have the strong support the weak.

In a nation where there is at once an obsession and a disregard of pedigree, the trouble is that it might be a little difficult to decide what a good of ostentation is. Like everything else that this administration does, there is a tendency for this move to be regarded with much distrust, even suspicion, and the aim of closing the gap between the rich and the poor might meet much opposition.

When government placed a ban on Tokunbo vehicles that are more than five years old a few years ago, it was accused of making its policies to favour the rich, and considered government explanation of protecting the consumer as a mere excuse. When the maximum age was adjusted to ten years, it did not make much difference to public opinion. A Tokunbo car is still considered a good of ostentation. Who will decide, now, what a good of ostentation is? What about those who already have the goods, such as the northern governor who was recently quoted in newspapers as claiming to own up to seventy jeeps? Will there be a disincentive? Will churches and mosques-some of which net more than some large scale businesses-be taxed?

Furthermore, will there be analyses as to what circumstances determine whether or not a good will be taxed as Value Added? Should a journalist, for instance, be VAT taxed, or should a photographer be VAT taxed for investing in a camera? If handled well, the VAT review could be the beginning of good things not only for class relations in Nigeria, but also for crime, job creation, economic reconstruction and the closing of the gap between the rich and the poor.


Mega plaza


With most sincerity, I join in mourning Mega Plaza, which has suddenly been styled Nigeria’s first shopping mall. Mega plaza is much beloved, particularly by a generation which saw it as the beginning, not of a revolution per se, as the old Mega Plaza posed no physical or structural threat to the status quo, but rather as the beginning of everything new.

The old Mega Plaza was the ultimate community store, run by a proprietor who knew almost every customer by face if not by name, which was the place where grown ups could go and play children’s games, and where you could get some of the best discounts on electronics. And if the new Mega Plaza had lost that personal touch, old customers as well as new found comfort on the gleam of its floors and the warmth. Mega Plaza (old and new) was the phenomenon which, in truth, brought modernity to Lagos Island. It is to be hoped that Mega was insured, and that the insurance claims will be honoured at the soonest possible time.

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