Today is international women’s day. This years’ team is “I am Generation Equality” (#EachForEqual). Some people might be wondering why all the fuss, others might be interested to know how they can be part of it. Below is my response to the later.
There was a scuffle at the gate outside his house and he could hear raised voices. The voices were familiar. Mazi Ogbonna headed in the direction of the heated exchange. He had to stop the loud, disturbing voices because he had a household of invalids to attend to. It had been a tough week for his household, with a couple of his kids infected with the dreaded sickness. “Ndi ebem gini na ese oku?” he excitedly asked the intruders, inquiring about the reason for the quarrel. He noticed that they had seized some of his belongings and that Lazarus, his son, had been pelleting stones trying to stop them.
Mazi Ogbonna was informed that the group was there to collect the fines for missing “Uka Ukutu” (morning prayers). According to the local doctrine of the Christian Missionary Society (CMS), members must attend the daily morning prayer service or be fined. He recognized the voices from previous prayer services. His excuses for missing these prayers were not accepted. Mazi Ogbonna and his household had been absent for days now. Most of his household were infected with measles, and someone had to take care of them.
Mazi Ogbonna was one of the delegates who travelled from Anara to Owerri to seek a pastor for the new CMS church in Anara. After a pastor was appointed by the church leadership to his community, Mazi Ogbonna walked the 30-kilometre journey back to Anara with the belongings of the pastor literally on top of his head. The entire journey took more than a day to complete, but he would later proudly recount this story to others because it was so meaningful to him.
Mazi Ogbonna was a member of the cabinet of Eze Agbugba, the head of the Anara community. He and other community leaders had argued that the introduction of missionaries to neighbouring communities had brought progress in the form of education. During those colonial years, when a missionary pastor arrived, he usually founded a school alongside the church he established. Mazi learned about the importance of reading and writing after he conscripted for the Second World War, in about 1944. Nigeria, as a colony of the British Empire, was part of the Allied forces. As a new conscript, Mazi quickly realized that those who were educated were placed in higher positions. He was about to be shipped abroad to the battlefront before the war came to an end the next year.
Older now, a leader in his community, he was one of those pushing for the introduction and embrace of education. Contrary to some traditional-minded villagers, who were wary of education, Mazi sent all of his children to the new school established by the missionary. He even donated part of his farmland to the missionary. He never expected that his membership in the CMS would result in some nonsensical argument with other members.
As Mazi looked at the angry group at the gate of his compound, he realized that those individuals were not willing to accept reason. He asked them to leave and walked back into his house. They left. Bitter and vexed by the entire situation, he later took the matter up with the church leaders. Unfortunately, they took the side of the people who had seized Mazi’s property as part of the fine. Apparently, these “leaders” felt the need to retain firm control or they lacked the boldness to challenge the status quo. As a result, Mazi Ogbonna banned the rest of his household from attending any more CMS services. Thus, he was not willing to serve this god because church members lacked empathy and common sense.
Mazi Ogbonna’s vehement rejection of institutionalized fallibility is worthwhile to consider for those men who ask, “How can I help?” When it comes to gender equity and parity in the workplace, I would recommend speaking up when you see gaps. When you notice the bias and microaggression against your female colleagues, speak up and do something about it, at least by calling attention to it.
That, for me, could be a first step in the right direction. In many industries, women remain in the lower levels of leadership and lack the power and range to speak for themselves without being punished for it. Power disparities and the range of acceptable behaviours for women at work can create a “gender double bind.” If we don’t speak up, we go unnoticed; if we do speak up, we get punished. That concept was fully explained by Adam Galinsky in his TED talk titled “How to speak up for yourself”.
Read the entire piece and more in my latest book; Be Fearless, Give Yourself Permission to Be You. Out March 17th on Amazon.com.
Jane Egerton-Idehen is a telecommunication executive with over 15 years’ experience in the Nigerian, Liberian and Ghanaian telecommunications markets.
Jane has a strong passion for promoting girls in STEM and ensuring women in STEM industries remain and grow their careers in that industry. She curates her thoughts around her career journey, experiences and passion in life. Follow her on janeegerton.com. Join our conversation on our Facebook page @WomenNCareer and Check out video blog Women and Career on YouTube