International Women’s Day is upon us and if you are a self-respecting Bella Stylista, chances are you would have woken up to a flurry of #IWD messages on your various feeds celebrating those of us with XX chromosomes. But what is the relevance of a day like this celebrated around the world? And what are we as 21st century women, who have dreams, aspirations careers and (maybe now, maybe in the future) children to do in an age when shockingly, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017, gender parity is 200 years away? Do we shrug Gucci robed shoulders and clink cocktail glasses for the battles won so far or do we take to the streets a la the Women’s Marches of 2017 until our cause is not just heard but results in enduring change? As it’s such a big question, we thought it best to pose it to leading women in a variety of industry sectors and hear their take on what this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, #PressForProgress means to them.
Tokini Peterside, Founder and Director of ART X Lagos
As a woman who was raised to believe that there isn’t anything a man can do that she can’t do as well or even better, I am excited at the International Women’s Day call to women and men all around the world to #pressforprogress. This to me means challenging stereotypes and biases, and defying preconceived notions of women’s abilities, roles, priorities and limitations.
I work as an entrepreneur in the art, culture and luxury sectors, which are being transformed across Africa by formidable women, who are displaying (through their committed pursuit of their passions) world class strengths in business management, and are building sustainable empires to inspire and lay a foundation for the next generation. Their success and sheer determination is leading to continued increases in the inclusion of women, and ultimately to the removal of barriers to women’s progress in these sectors – I am proud to stand alongside them.
Michelle Dede, Actor and Presenter
As a woman in Africa and specifically as a woman working in the entertainment industry, I will #pressforprogress and continue alongside other women in entertainment to challenge stereotypes against women, proving that we CAN accomplish whatever our male counterparts can do.
Furthermore, I will #pressforprogress and continue to encourage and celebrate individual and collective achievements.
Ireti Bakare-Yusuf, Principal Partner Notting Hill Media and Founder of #NoMore
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day; #PressForProgress provoked a scrutiny of self and of my environment. I took time out to review and evaluate who I am as a woman, as a Nigerian woman and what progress has been made in the struggle for gender-equality in my country.
On a personal note; progress for me is the relentless effort to continue to explore the different layers within to augment the woman I become with an relentless will to donate myself, my voice and my time to the movement to end gender based sexual abuse and harassment in Nigeria.
With a crystallised sense of purpose and objective, I lent my voice to the chorus of women across the globe causing discomfort to their predators. The menace of my society lives in my society. He is protected by my culture, emboldened by my silence, and pardoned by the same legislators who canvassed for my vote.
I am a woman, a Nigerian woman and an African woman. In the last 10 years, I have witnessed strength, power and force in my Nigerian sisters. No longer subdued, no longer waiting, seeking or even asking for permission to be heard, they prise back their voices with intent and veracity. Power was no longer by permission it was by right. And so the #NoMore movement was born. A movement to supplement and elevate the efforts of all the bold and courageous women who are working, pushing, and fighting tirelessly to end the epidemic nature of sexual abuse in all its guises in Nigeria. The chain of silence has been broken, and with arms locked tightly, we set forth, tenacious in each stride like Amazons and we #PressForProgress.
Didi Daley, Founder of Didi Isah
I’ve read the World Economic Forum Report, and at the risk of being the pessimist in the room, I actually think it will take much longer than 200 years to achieve gender parity unless we all act and do something about this issue. Which is why it is such a positive thing that platforms like the IWD, gives us all opportunities to begin to change or influence the narrative! #pressforprogress to me means that I will work tirelessly for the positive visibility of women and their inclusion in all facets of society.
Living and working in Africa, the importance of visual representation of women cannot be over emphasized and I truly believe that you must be able to see something, literally or in your minds eye to be able to believe or achieve it. That’s what dreams and visions are made of or the proverbial phrase, ‘seeing is believing’! So, I commit to #pressforprogress by promoting, sharing and celebrating inspiring women with all those around me, and most critically acknowledging and seeking to include men in the dialogue as without buy-in across genders we will remain at an impasse and this will be a gross disservice to both present and future generations.
Ijeoma Ogbechie, Founder of Avivere
The Future Is Now. Not tomorrow, not next month, not next year….but now! Let’s seize the moment and choose to make a difference in our homes, communities, workplace, places of worship, countries, et al. The rallying cry is to ALL women.
#PressForProgress to me is very real. Never in the history of women have we had this magnitude of attention. Our voices now reverberate through the fabric of societies. The podium is ours and the spotlight is upon us. The world is watching, our children are watching. What are we going to do? Where do we take this dialogue of equality and inclusiveness?
Our stories may be different but it’s the same current that tides us together. Our togetherness is mightier than the vastest ocean, able to drown out any force that dares resist us. In togetherness there is beauty. A beauty that only gets enhanced when our voices truly become one; when our acts of gender parity have a unified motive; when we demand equality for all; when we humbly learn from women who came before us and genuinely lend a hand to those who come after us; when our support for each other is unquestioned.
Our Future is Now. We cannot rest. We have to be persistent in our pursuit. We are now the giants on whose shoulders are children will one day stand on.
Adenrele Sonariwo, Founder of Rele Gallery
Press for Progress to me as an Art Curator means I am deliberate about curating works of and exhibiting female artists. Our annual Her Story exhibition will open on Sunday 11th March 2018 with 5 female artists. With the work we do with women, we’ve seen how empowering it is for women to be able to freely express themselves through their art.
Funmi Obileye, Partnerships Manager, Tony Elumelu Foundation
As a strategy and business development specialist who has worked in the United Kingdom and Nigeria, I notice perennial themes around women, inclusiveness and maximising their full potential in the workplace. For me #PressForProgress is a movement that though global is of particular pertinence to women in Africa. Put frankly, we do not have enough women in key leadership positions and certainly when we look at executive and board level in Nigeria and other parts of Africa the statistics are not reflective of the caliber and quality of women in the corporate and governance world.
Legislation is not enough; it might be good for optics but culture also needs to shift. We need to stop losing experienced hires because they choose to focus on families and are demoted on their return from maternity leave, or accept bias against females in the workplace who though young, possess the skills and abilities to perform to the highest of levels.
Furthermore their needs to be a paradigm shift, particularly in power dynamics which will often see women resorting to manipulation or not collaborating for fear of “assisting the competition”. If women feel there is room for all who are capable to progress and men are open to sharing roles and opportunities with their female peers we will finally have corporations operating at their full potential and not hindered by outmoded ways of being.
Speaking to the women for this piece cannot fail to leave one invigorated. Yes, the task is daunting and the statistics seem insurmountable and so much at grass roots, legislative and educational levels needs to be done across the plethora of scenarios where gender disparity has measurable adverse consequences for society, but the work must and will be done, and it will undoubtedly be led by dynamic women.
In a digitally enabled and connected world we have seen severally the power of the hashtag and how it can act as a catalyst and rallying cry, so ladies, before you take that group selfie with your #girlsquad make a pledge today to #pressforprogress safe in the knowledge that your little sisters, nieces, daughters and yet to be born grand-daughters will thank you a hundredfold for it. Just as we thank those who fought tirelessly back in the day for our right to vote, be educated to the highest levels and work in any industry we choose to.