The Nigeria Capital City of Abuja has probably never witnessed a traffic jam the magnitude of which occurred on the 15th of October 2010. At the Federal Secretariat Complex and the office of the Head of Service of the Federation, most of the offices remained empty as most civil servants have returned to their homes because of the mammoth congestion.
The residents were treated to such a scenario for no other reason than the launch of the first Lady’s pet project, Women for Change Initiative. As is usual in such occasions in Nigeria, it was pomp and pageantry all the way.
By the end of the day, the women, who came mostly from the hinterland of Abuja and some from other states too, were too tired, thirsty and hungry and ended up scrambling for the meager snacks that were brought for their entertainment.
To be sure, the Women for Change Initiative of Dame Patience Jonathan, wife of President Goodluck Jonathan is not the first of such in our polity. Nigerians had been treated to quite a fantastic mix of such; from Maryam Babaginda’s Better Life for Rural Women to Mariam Abacha’s Family Support programme, from Stella Obasanjo’s Child Care Trust to Turai Yar’dua’s Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation. Even a ‘Second Lady’ was not outdone – Titi Atiku’s Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF) for war against human trafficking still rings bell.
There exists no doubt that these pet projects made these women popular and reckoned with inside and even outside the country but the question is this; were these projects actually agents of change in the plight of the ordinary Nigerian woman or child that they purported to support?
Well, the first shortcoming of these types of intervention is non-continuation of the projects. As soon as these women’s husbands leave office the projects ceases to function. One then sees clearly that these women were not doing these things based purely on altruistic intentions but rather to further their own personal careers and gains. The Women for Change Initiative of Patience Jonathan, for example, is at best a lip service. It has no real impact on women politically, socially or economically.
The woman herself is not inspiring and her methods are lackluster. The way it is for WFCI, so it was for all other First Lady’s pet projects nationally and internationally. These women lack insight to or knowledge of the real problem affecting the ordinary woman. No matter how much they pretend, the truth is that it is only he who wears the shoe that knows where it pinches most.
The first ladies across the globe involved in one ‘women’ pet project or the other and their counterparts in the liberal feminist movements (UNIFEM, NGO’s etc) would have women believe that we live in a man’s world, where men oppress us and hence, in order to get ahead in life we need to unite with other women to break free of the shackles men have encircled us in. This logic, as straight forward as it looks, is however faulty in the sense that it presupposes that men are the ultimate oppressors and that all women have the same class interest at heart.
The situation staring us in the face is however to the contrary. ‘Men’ are not the ones oppressing women alone, situations of women oppressing women abound. For example, in June of 2009, the case of Ruby Phalla, a Canadian female Member of Parliament versus two Filipino women was brought to court. She had employed these two women as Caregivers for her mother, and despite the fact that they were made to do various housekeeping jobs for which they were not employed/paid for, she still seized their passports and threatened them with deportation if they do not stoop lower and lower. If the women were really in the same boat with the same interest at heart, why then did she treat them like that?
This brings us to the question of classes in the society; just as men are divided by class interest, so also are women divided by class. We have upper/ruling class women like Ruby Phalla or Patience Jonathan, and we also have lower/working class women like ordinary woman worker in the factories, stores etc. These ruling class women know that the only way to get ahead in this our capitalist system is having money and not losing financial status; not by uniting with fellow women to overthrow their male oppressors!
Upper class women have more in common with each other and very little in common with the working class women, and vice versa. For example, female workers in the factories and others like housekeepers, nannies, lesson teachers etc would rather like a decent wage to live on but upper class women would rather pay them less in order to keep more for themselves.
Therefore, the solution to the problem of female inequality in the society is not in the unity of all women, as orchestrated by the feminists, but in the unity of the entire working class (men and women) to overthrow our common oppressor – the capitalist class.
The desire of the womenfolk to better their lot, to have decent wages, childcare, humane working conditions/ hours, pension protection, medical benefits, freedom from harassment in the working place etc, can only be achieved if the demands are made in conjunction with working class men.
In the last analysis, the question of women, according to that great female German revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg, is inseparable from the struggle of the working class as a whole.