By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
Two iconic, women, change agents spoke on the theme “Women In Politics and the Law” during Howard University’s 2019 International Women’s Day celebration last week at the school’s Interdisciplinary Research Building, located at 2201 Georgia Ave Northwest, Washington D.C.
The panel included Hauwa Ibrahim, Ph.D., human rights lawyer and winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, and Obiageli Ezekwesili, Ph.D., the former Vice-President of the World Bank Africa Division, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Founder of #BringBackOurGirls. Linord Moudou, an international broadcast journalist, moderated the panel, while performing artist Anna Mwalagho performed.
“International Women’s Day calls us to unite in recognizing the tremendous achievements of women around the world,” Tashni-Ann Dubroy, Ph.D., Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Howard University, said in a statement. “This International Women’s Day, we stand united with millions of others to demand gender equality and women’s empowerment.”
During the standing room only event, the panelists dove into issues of gender equality, being authentic and pushing for change.
This year’s theme allows us to discuss gender balance through the lens of women in politics and in law,” said J. Jarpa Dawuni, Esq., Ph.D., assistant professor of political science and chair of the organizing committee for the event. “Howard University continues to make remarkable progress in preparing women leaders. With the significant number of women elected to Congress during the recent midterm elections in the United States, there is much to acknowledge, but there is still a lot to be done to achieve gender balance in politics and in law here in the United States and in many places around the world. The symbolic presence of women must translate into substantive representation of women’s issues in law and politics.”
Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili spoke about the enormous task and mission of reaching gender parity across multiple measures and platforms.
“One of the things we know is that in measuring gender equality and therefore the gender gap, we can look at them through four prisms: economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainments and fourth health and survival,” Dr. Ezekwesili said. “When it comes to educational attainment and health and survival across the world, the gap is no longer significant.”
“But when you look at economic empowerment the gap is 49 percent, for political empowerment it’s some 77 percent and according to projections into the future for us to be able to achieve global average parity it’s going to take some 108 year. For us to achieve political gender equality it’s going to take some 107 years. To achieve economic parity, it’s going to take some 202 years…so we really face a tough battle ahead.”
But Dr. Ezekwesili said we have to look at some of the progresses the culture had made over the years. She spoke of Rwanda and the number of women who now surpass the number of men in parliament.
“What needs to happen is for us unpack the barriers that stand in our capacity to translate the progress that’s been made with Educational Attainment and health and survival to economic opportunities as well as political participation of women.”
Dr. Ibrahim said the journey to “Balance for Better” takes, “persistence.” She recalled when she first started out as an attorney that it took seven years before she was allowed, as a woman to speak, in the court.
“Beyond statistics you are who you are, each of us has something to add to the table,” Dr. Ibrahim.
Moudou asked the panel whether young girls should choose STEM or maybe go into politics or law to have more of an impact in the decision making process from the top.
“I believe people should pursue their passion,” Dr. Ezekwesili said. “We don’t want to prescribe (or) force girls into sciences just because we need more girls in the sciences,” Dr. Ezekwesili said. “But I think that what does happen there is an almost an unconscious bias that propels young women who would ordinarily pursue careers in science to stay away from the sciences and that is what we must remove.”
For more information about the event go to #BalanceforBetter or contact the Women and Gender Studies Collective at cfas.Howard.edu/WGSC.