I attended a panel discussion yesterday of which one of the panelists was Cheryl Blair, wife to former England's Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I had no idea she would be there as I had only just heard about the event while mistakenly eavesdropping on the chatter of two ladies on the bus. It was to be a seminar on Empowering Women Entrepreneurs and as I am a budding entrepreneur, I excused myself for an hour from work and went to attend the event.
The panelists were 1) John Rwangombwa, The Minster for Finance and Economic Planning of Rwanda 2) Cheryl Blair, The Cheryl Blair Foundation for Women and 3) Leslie Lane, The Vice President of the Nike Foundation
A couple things struck me during the discussion. First of all, when Cheryl Blair was introduced, there was no mention of her spousal connections or how many children she had; which made me think of the last time I attended a Nigerian business professionals' event and someone thought it important to mention that all the speakers were married with children. I had had no idea that she was a lawyer. Her personal life was not important, only her personal achievements. I was impressed by that. I want to be measured by what I have done with my life and not whose last name I might or might not carry or how many children I am mother to.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala gave the opening remarks. Of the percentage of impoversished people in the world, women make up most of the numbers, she said, and she finds it incredible that constantly there has to be presentations to justify why women should be invested in. I have my own theories about that but I found the information fascinating. Because, I have indeed seen so many announcements of summits where women are lobbying to invite male dominated giovernments and financial mechanisms to invest in their women and communities. As one of the panelists later stated, 90% of a woman's revenue is pooled back into her family while for men it is 30-40%. Men in general, are thought to consider an investment in/ purchase of things to be better use of their resources than an investment in the women.
The third thing that touched me was when the Rwandan Minister said that his country has the highest number of women in political office in the world. And as such, there have been quite a few progressive, positive reforms in legislature and constitution to protect and develop women's rights which have in turn led to positive results for the country as more women were seeking education and aspiring for more with their lives than just marriage and children. However, the interesting thing is this would probably not have been possible if the 1994 genocide had not happened because as a result of the horrific deaths, most homes were left without male heads. So, it was imperative for the government to do something as now, most of their citizens were women and children; both of which had not historically been given rights and opportunities to empower themselves. So reforms were made for women to improve upon their economic potentials which then led to an increase in their overall life potential.
This made me think of one valuable lesson I have learned growing up as an Eckist: that nothing in life happens in a vacuum; it is up to you to deduce the reason and choose your reactions.
The genocide was a horrible part of history; as were all other acts of human violence on one another. The nation is still recovering but who was to think that in future years, its result would establish Rwanda as a nation that might very well be on its way to becoming the template for a modern African nation with regards to equality and human rights. Women's rights are human rights, you know.
Cheryl Blair then went on to share that she had just come from a bid opening chaired by Hilary Clinton on a project to bring to half of the world's 300 million women who have no access to technology, information and thus social leverage, a simple device some of us take for granted, called the cellphone or mobile phone. This was after it was realised through research that this was a $150 billion untapped market that telecommunications providers were ignoring in favor of their more western and more male dominated markets. Now, there is a bidding frenzy to participate in a project that will develop and encourage such services like mobile education, mobile banking, mobile marketing, mobile health care among a plethora of supporting services and industries. I was intrigued that it was only when a monetary incentive was dangled, did these firms step forward.
I am no fool. I know money or the lack of it makes the world go round. I also know that women are the best avanue for capacity building for every nation. If a woman is in control of her own life and her resources, she can plan if and when she does things be they be the more traditional actions like marriage and child bearing or even running a business to maintain her independence and financial contribution to her family and community. An educated and enlightened woman is an asset to every community she is in.
I know that I have been fortunate in life but also the quest for the opportunities to be fortunate has also been because my mother herself was educated and could encourage me to do so.
And so I march on, seeking ways to empower myself spiritually, financially, intellectually, emotionally and socially.
That is why I visit sites like Timbuktu Chronicles to learn of those who are doing similar things across the African continent.