As the world marks the International Women’s Day (IWD) on Monday, the focus of this year’s event is on equal future for women in a COVID-19 world.
In a message ahead of the day, the European Commission issued a statement saying, “The past one year was a difficult one. The COVID-19 pandemic has spared nobody, and was particularly challenging for women around the world.
“Doctors, nurses, teachers, shop assistants – jobs often held by women – and have found themselves at the frontline of the pandemic…Let us thank women for their bravery, and their contribution in fighting the crisis.”
In this special feature, we present Nigerian women – and a few women in other parts of the world – whom the world owes a debt of gratitude.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the new director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). She rekindled hope in the fight against the COVID-19 when, on assumption of office on March 1, 2021, she called for rapid results in the fight against the pandemic. The former Nigeria’s finance minister beat many men – and some women – to become the first African and the first woman to head the WTO. In her statement of intent, she said she would prioritise action on COVID-19 especially on the issue of getting the vaccines available to poorer countries.
“I believe the WTO can contribute more strongly to a resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic by helping to improve access accessibility and affordability of vaccines to poor countries,” she said.
Amina Mohammed, the United Nations deputy secretary-general and chairperson of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is behind the drive for a $41 million worth of new investments in countries to reduce poverty and inequality and to create sustainable economies. Mrs. Mohammed is a former minister for environment in Nigeria after former stints as the presidential adviser on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which evolved into SDGs. The SDGs target is to end poverty and hunger, and galvanise positive action for a sustainable climate for all nations by 2030.
Dr Amina Abubukar Bello is a gynaecologist and an obstetrician. The wife of Niger State governor, Dr Amina has used her office as first lady to combat the scourge of maternal mortality in the state.
Through her pet project – RAISE Foundation – she has demonstrated her resolve to ensure that no woman dies of pregnancy-related complications in the state. In this wise, she has provided free delivery kits to 1,318 pregnant women in the 25 local government areas of the state and 12 improvised tricycle ambulances to assist in conveying pregnant women to any primary health care centre near them. She has also carried out free vesico vaginal fistula treatment for 326 women.
Dr Zainab Shinkafi Bagudu, a paediatrician by training, has been a strong national and international figure in the fight against cancer and an advocate for women and child rights. The wife of Kebbi State governor, Dr Zainab has collaborated with over 10 First Ladies to mobilize action in cancer control to impact over 50 million people in Africa. She has for years led Nigeria’s largest breast cancer walk through her Medicaid Cancer Foundation, providing free cancer screenings to over 20,000 women yearly, and raising over $100,000 every year for indigent patients, among others. Last year she was re-elected into the Board of the Union of International Cancer Control (UICC) for another two-year term.
Dr. Ogugua Osi-Ogbu is the head, Geriatric Medicine Unit (GMU) at National Hospital, Abuja. She is a strong healthcare services professional skilled in Clinical Research, Medicine, Research, Healthcare Management, and Public Health.
At the National Hospital, Abuja, where she currently works, she is on the leadership of the Covid-19 task force and has served as coordinator for Lassa Fever infection control at the Hospital since 2008. Her concern for the welfare of older adults during the pandemic led her to lead discussions in many sensitization workshops to raise awareness on the pandemic, the vulnerabilities of older persons, and in doing so also echoed the campaigns of the PTF for breaking community transmission in the field of ageing.
Salamat Aliu is reputed to be the first female neurosurgeon in West Africa. She is also the first Nigerian-trained female neurosurgeon in Nigeria and works at University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. She has done exceptional work in neurosurgery and is noted for the encouragement of women.
Aliu was nominated among top 100 persons of the year 2016 by Arewa socio-political group.
Sadiya Umar Farouk is Nigeria’s minister for humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development. She has been saddled with the onerous task of managing Nigeria’s increasingly turbulent social milieu. Among these was the distribution of the federal government’s Covid-19 relief items – a task which was assumed to have been poorly managed until the #EndSARS protests revealed caches of relief items hoarded in warehouses in state capitals across the country. State governments have failed to explain why and how items meant to provide nourishment and relief from a national lockdown were being quarantined while the masses starved.
Ibukun Awosika is a financial guru and entrepreneur of high standing. She is not only the Chairman, Board of Directors of First bank, Nigeria’s biggest commercial bank, but as well founder and chief executive of The Chair Centre Group. The companies within the group include: The Chair Centre Limited, Sokoa Chair Centre Limited, Furniture Manufacturers Mart, TCC Security Systems and Cubes and Boxes Limited.
Awosika chairs a number of corporate and not-for-profit boards amongst which are: House of Tara International and Afterschool Graduate Development Centre (AGDC), which she uses to help address youth employability and enterprise issues in Nigeria. She sits on the boards of Digital Jewel Limited, Cadbury Nigeria Plc., Convention on Business Integrity (CBI) and the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority.
With high interest in social issues, including women, Ibukun is a co-founder and past chairperson of Women in Business, Management and Public Service (WIMBIZ). As founder of the Christian Missionary Fund, she works with missionaries spread across Nigeria to change lives with the provision of medical, educational, and other supplies.
Folorunso Alakija this billionaire businesswoman has a foundation called the Rose of Sharon Foundation that helps widows and orphans through scholarships and business grants. She is involved in real estate, oil, fashion, and printing industries. She is the group managing director of The Rose of Sharon Group which consists of The Rose of Sharon Prints & Promotions Limited, Digital Reality Prints Limited and is the executive vice-chairman of Famfa Oil Limited. Alakija is ranked by Forbes as the richest woman in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of $1 billion.
Dr. Oby Ezekwesili is a former vice president of the World Bank for Africa, a chartered accountant and former minister. She is a public analyst, and a fierce advocate of transparency, good governance and the protection of the rights of citizens, especially women and vulnerable groups.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa is the chairman of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission which has been a fighting bull when it comes to Nigerian citizens facing unfavourable circumstances overseas. Many Nigerians got stranded in the UK, US, China and other countries as Covid-19 forced a global lockdown. Together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa coordinated and ensured the repatriation and airlifting of such people back home.
Janet Mba-Afolabi is an award-winning journalist with a reputation for humanitarian interventions to alleviate poverty. Last year, she launched a cooperative to lend credit to women to enable them re-establish their businesses after the Covid-19 lockdowns. Mba-Afolabi followed up the interest-free loans by distributing Covid-19 relief packages to children of the neighbourhood.
Dr. Fatima Akilu, a psychologist, is the executive director, NEEM Foundation Nigeria, where she renders psychosocial support to victims of violence.
She is also a public speaker on the subject of preventing and countering violent extremism and counter-terrorism.
Bolanle Austen-Peters is the founder and managing director of Terra Kulture, an art and culture centre based in Lagos. A lawyer, business entrepreneur and award-winning theatre and film director, she is often referred to as the queen of the theatre.
Maiden Alex Ibru ran the Guardian Newspapers successfully for 11 years as chairman, CEO and publisher following the death of her husband, Chief Alex Ibru, in 1999. She is also the director of Trinity Foundation, a charity organisation which provides financial and infrastructural support to civil society organisations that promote democratic norms and open society values. The foundation also offers scholarships to the less privileged in the society.
Prof Mojisola Christianah Adeyeye is a pharmacist and director-general of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). With the ongoing euphoria and politics of Covid-19 vaccine, NAFDAC is in the eye of the storm. The Federal Government Covid-19 Intervention Fund released to the agency is, according to it, being deployed in the procurement of laboratory equipment for testing and other services to check the spread of the pandemic.
Ibim Semenitari is former acting managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as well as a former commissioner for information and communications in Rivers State. Semenitari has continued to give scholarships to female secondary school students in the Niger Delta region who are doing well in the sciences as a way of encouraging them to excel in the male-donimated fields of study. In Rivers State, she has offered scholarships to the less privileged children and orphans to study in private schools just as she has sponsored many poor youths to learn various trade skills as a way of creating opportunities for them to be self-reliant.
Abimbola Adejare-Salako, The Girl Generation (TGG) ambassador, is an Ado Ekiti-based women and girl rights activist. The founder and executive director of the New Generation Girls and Women Development Initiative (NIGAWD), Adejare-Salako is also a member of the Ekiti State SDGs Board, Ekiti State COVID-19 Task Force and the National Technical Committee on FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) in Nigeria since 2014. As a brand ambassador of TGG), she represented the Nigerian youth at the first United States End FGM Summit in Washington DC where she spoke to millions of people on how to ensure the coming generations of girls do not have to go through the abuse of their rights.
Dr Flora N. Ilonzo, a philanthropist and trado medicine healer, is the founder, Centre for Psychic and Healing Administration (CPHA), Awka, Anambra state. Her philanthropic gestures, extraordinary healing capacity using plants and leaves as well as her contributions to the development of society is not just known across the South East geopolitical zone, but globally. Through her Flora Ilonzo Foundation, many indigent families have benefited in terms of scholarship awards, a notable beneficiary being a former Speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly, Hon. Eugene Odoh. This is in addition to building houses for widows and offering free treatment for scores with terminal illnesses.
Bolanle Yusuf is an Ilorin, Kwara State-based businesswoman and the vice chairman, KAM Industry Nigeria Limited, a leading steel manufacturing company in Nigeria. Mrs. Yusuf founded an NGO – The Threshold of Hope Foundation – whose primary objective is to render financial assistance to the downtrodden and the needy in the society. Since its incorporation in 2016, the NGO has lifted many indigent women and youths out of poverty through its various empowerment schemes, which include the donation of sewing machines, grinding machines and motorcycles to about 3,000 beneficiaries.
Omanibe Blessing Ameh is the founder of Oma Life Rescue Foundation (OLRF), a vehicle she has used to empower several women and youths with various trade skills, providing most of the women with sewing and grinding machines and hairdressing equipment, and motorcycles, vehicles, vulcanizing machines and tricycles, among others, to youths basically to take them off the streets. The Kaduna-based NGO has given scholarships to orphans, and assisted widows with trading capital as well as reaching out to several communities with free health care activities for children, the aged and the youth.
It also visits hospitals to settle bills of patients who are held back due to their inability to pay.
Abigail Jerry, a philanthropist and businesswoman, is popularly known as Madam Amazing Concept.
She set up her foundation in 2019, and through it she has touched the lives of nearly ten thousand widows and orphans in almost all the 16 local government areas of Taraba State. And she does her philanthropy from the profits she makes from her business. According to her, wealth means nothing until you can use it to affect people positively.
Genevieve Nnaji is as an actor, director and producer of home movies in Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood, in fact one of the most popular faces in the industry and one of the few that have made an impact internationally.
In 2019, her movie, Lionheart, was the first film ever submitted to the Oscars by Nigeria.
However, few know that she is also a woman activist. Genevieve advocates for Nigerian women and girls to make their own life’s choices, especially as to who to marry. She is also against early/child marriage (for girls) and speaks out against all forms of abuses against the womenfolk.
Gertrude Ali Njoku runs a faith-based ministry as well as Mummy Gertrude Orphanage in Abuja, a home for about 35 children. The septugenarian is motivated by a desire to give hope to poor, needy children many of whom were born outside wedlock. Though COVID-19 has made charity more difficult, Mummy Gertrude is staying the course, insisting that it’s in tough times that the world needs greater love.
Ann Wojuola is the chief nursing officer in charge of National Hospital Isolation Ward, Abuja. Her job is to ensure that infection control measures are applied and maintained at all times in this Covid-19 era.
Mrs. Wojuola advises women to be at the forefront of combating this and other infections, in their homes, workplaces and communities.
Toyin Aimakhu, also known as Toyin Abraham is an actress, producer and director.
The Auchi-born Toyin grew up in Ibadan and qualified with HND in Marketing from the Polytechnic, Ibadan.
Fluid in both the Yoruba and regular genre of the Nollywood industry, she has been nominated and won many awards.
Foreign Amazons That Blazed The Trail Against COVID-19
On the international scene, the Covid-19 pandemic threw up very courageous women whose contributions to tame the virus have made immense impact:
Angela Merkel is German Chancellor for over 14 years. Her effort against the pandemic has brought admiration to her and her country. At the peak of the crisis last year, Merkel made a commitment of €100 million of German funds to help in the war against the pandemic and the efforts to produce the vaccines
Jacinda Kate Laurell Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has also received plaudits for her ceaseless efforts and commitment to tackle the scourge. The 40-year-old leader took a quick action on COVID-19 which has helped her country forestall mass infections and deaths that have ravaged the US and Europe. Ardern responded quickly to the pandemic with an early lockdown which prevented the spread of the virus. She provided the leadership that empowered and equipped her citizens with the requisite information and, to this date, New Zealand has reported less than 2,000 cases and 25 deaths related to COVID-19.
Sanna Mirella Marin has been the Prime Minister of Finland since December 10, 2019. Her leadership credentials came shone brightly when pandemic cases spiked in August last year with 284 new cases, which caused apprehension across the country as the threat of a second wave became apparent.
However, during the first wave, Marin’s quick response to the pandemic was marked by early lockdown when the case numbers of COVID-19 victims were small. She also embarked on a campaign to stop social contacts to limit the spread of the virus with clear communications.
Oprah Winfrey, popular TV host, was another warrior woman in the battle against Covid-19.
Oprah announced a donation of about $12 million to fight the pandemic in the US, and $5 million of that donation was to support the Chicago coronavirus fight in communities of colour.
Oprah said, “It is our essential work to give back. That’s what’s touched my heart, to know that you don’t have all this to use where you are, and that you have to try to share with other people. I’m sharing it now because I want other people to step up because this is a long haul.”