How WIEN expands African battlefields for gender equity

Capturing the policy drivers: WIEN leaders visit the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Tmipre Sylva

Sopuruchi Onwuka

The global war for gender equity is growing widened battlefields in Africa where female stalwarts are stepping forward with powerful programmes and advocacies that deliver statements on the determination of women and girls to unleash bottled up potentials in accelerating the development of the continent.


In Nigeria, a relatively young group of very vibrant women is powerfully pushing the frontiers of gender justice through well articulated policy propositions that are backed with practical demonstration of unassailable capacity for excellent performance.

The Women In Energy Network (WIEN) was launched silently in the downtimes of the global pandemic lockdown of 2020 and it has since then deployed all its facilities in driving home its message of creating enhanced space for the female population of the country to help accelerate the country’s social and economic development.

President of WIEN, Mrs Funmi Ogbue addresses members members

The demand for gender equity in the country is not new, the advocacy movement is global but the WIEN approach is novel, innovative and pointedly strategic in delivering short term impact and sustainable dividend. It targets systemic change; and forms the newest battlefield for gender war in Africa where cultural norms stoke workplace prejudices against advancement of women into leadership positions. This is worsened by the traditional concept of gender related roles that shape the fate and future of the African adolescent girl.

It is not surprising to discernible minds that WIEN is launching its gender war with intense verve, given that this group of women has risen against well established and fossilized cultural, social and belief systems that appear universal in scope. Thus, WIEN just launched a local battle in the African front of a global warfare.

Across the continent, rising number of women lead organizations, philanthropies and movements that not just seek optimization of the female capacity but also drive palpable advocacy campaigns for policies and programmes that target to dismantle all structures of discrimination. And the African battle for gender equity mainly draws attention to the inaction of governments in the continent to implement existing United Nation’s conventions on closing gender gaps.

According the UN, “Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development. Moreover, it has been shown that empowering women spurs productivity and economic growth.”

According to McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), gender inequality is not only a pressing moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge. And in its 2015 report on the economic potential available if the global gender gap was narrowed, the institute declared that advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth by 2025.

“In a full-potential scenario in which women match men’s participation in the workforce, their sector mix, and their full-time mix of jobs, the additional GDP opportunity could be $28 trillion, or an additional 26 percent of annual global GDP in 2025. That would be roughly equivalent to the GDP of the United States and China,” the institute declared.

Unfortunately, these potentials may not be reached by the present generation. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, it will take another 132 years to close the existing gender gap; or achieve a scenario where men and women have equal rights or access to opportunities and resources.

The UN Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, says that “achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.”

Whereas gender equity gap is a universal malaise that presents agenda for global action, the African case exists in endemic and monumental scale, manifesting in numerous obnoxious forms: from poverty, illiteracy, poor maternal care, cultural and social bias, et cetera. And holding down the African woman explains the slow pace of development in the continent.

It has been recommended across all platforms for policy debate that achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls everywhere by 2030 is the only path for African governments in meeting the fifth of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

As governments around the world continue to falter in SDG-5 implementation, gender equity activism continues to rise; and the number of organizations and groups fighting for gender rights continue to grow. Yet, gaps fail to close in proportion to growing advocacy pressure.

According to 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) report, the biggest gaps to close are in the economic and political empowerment dimensions, which will take 202 and 107 years to close, respectively. It also showed that only Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden out of 187 countries scored full marks on eight indicators of gender equity.

Our review of literature on the subject matter shows that there is proven positive correlation between gender equity and the economic performance of nations. Women accounted for two-thirds of 45 million jobs created in 22 OECD countries between 2000 and 2018, explaining the contribution of women in the economic development of advanced countries.

The situation becomes pathetic when the focus is on Africa where women and girls are traditionally limited to care giving and home keeping roles.

In Africa and other underdeveloped regions of the world, the report states, significant 12 million girls each year get married before the age of 18. This translates to roughly 33,000 early marriages every day, or one every two seconds; and there are some 650 million women today who married as child brides.

In putting the capacity loss in perspective, the UN records that women in rural parts of Africa spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water as they shoulder an unequal burden of lack of basic amenities, services and infrastructure.

Despite cultural stereotypes and economic trap, however, African women have never failed to launch forward with immense strength to demonstrate rare capacity, overcome growth impediments and deliver performance in a manner history will never ignore. And a few names ring bell even without gender right activism.

For instance, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf worked her way into becoming the first democratically-elected woman president in Africa; shattering a gender barrier and taking the rare opportunity to build a post civil war Liberia and steer the West African nation into the path of rapid recovery. She also efficiently healed the scars of the deleterious war by leading a successful reconciliation that permanently ended power feud among factions.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

And in 2014 when the Ebola virus pandemic hit her country, Ellen’s administration evolved a process that drew global pandemic response measures to Liberia.

Ellen smashed the negative caste taxonomy of non-performance on the African woman and strengthened the rising demand for greater space for women in the continent’s political setting. She exemplified the possibility of full gender equity that would deliver economic and social development, peace and social goods.

And with well earned Nobel Peace Prize; she left a template for workable economic, social, and political order for African governments.

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala remains one of Africa’s finest technical capacity exports in the fields of economic, financial and trade diplomacy. It is difficult to find any man that would match her traverse in the global expatriate capacity call.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

From positions in foreign universities, Twitter board, World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO); Dr Okonjo-Iweala remains an unfading bundle of knowledge, performance, expertise and delivery. And intermittently, she has answered patriotic calls to cleanse the country’s fiscal and financial systems.

And by her intervention, Nigeria was able to dismantle sediments of historical debts that symbolized the country’s narrative of resource scramble, fiscal and financial irresponsibility. She led the Nigerian government to earn a badly needed debt pardon and install fiscal buffers that supported different escrow accounts for sovereign wealth and economic stabilization funds.

It was during her time as the coordinator of the economy that Nigerian Naira stood resilient to the US dollar as new windows of exports opened to create new channels of foreign exchange inflow. Economic policies of her time led to rapid jumps in GPD.

Zimbabwean businesswoman, Tsitsi Masiyiwa is also in the battle, leading African Gender Initiative in raising $50 million to support a global $1 billion Co-Impact Gender Fund conceived to support organizations working to guarantee education, health and economic opportunity for women.

Tsitsi Masiyiwa

She is worried that African women who do more have the least access to resources.

“They are both the smallholder farmers, but also the ones responsible for most of the domestic tasks and household chores such as cooking, cleaning, taking care of children and sick relatives.”

Today, Africa hosts largest number of lone wolf activists, lion pride activists, and hyena pack activists; all taking the battle against gender bias from their different turfs. Thus as leaders grow, the number of local and foreign organizations also grow. The piling mass of support and rising stridency of advocacy calls make the battle cry in Africa loudest. And Africa is where the gender bias is deeply entrenched.

These efforts gather greater momentum with the entry of highly empowered professional groups that now propel development of sustainable pathways for the empowerment of the African female population in taking enhanced roles and delivering development goals in the continent’s various spatial contexts.

McKinsey reported that Africa suffers gender inequality in five key impact zones including low labor-force participation in quality jobs, low maternal and reproductive health, unequal education levels, financial and digital exclusion, and girl-child vulnerability.

For many of these impact zones, the institute noted, economic growth can increase the provision of services that could help improve outcomes. Rising per capita GDP, for instance, could enable more healthcare provision, reduce maternal mortality and afford girls education.

In Nigeria, one of the new forces in the campaign for gender equity and full discharge of gender power is the Women in Energy Network (WIEN): the pool of various female professionals, investors, business leaders, employers and workers in the country’s energy sector. The group is packed with Africa’s strongest female drive force and advances immense potentials to deliver a new generation of female capacity for Nigeria’s development.

Some members of WIEN

WIEN has since introduced signature programmes that take multiple angles to resolving gender imbalance in the Nigerian socioeconomic space, elevating advocacies and debates to practical implementation of phenomenal events that translate plans to programmes. From strident advocacy messages to policy propositions and practical interventions, WIEN has successfully launched with a targeted approach to the gender debate. And by complementing demands for social acceptance of the inevitable burst of woman energy with demonstration of excellence in professional practice and enterprise, the group has begun delivering impacts that yield systemic responses.

“Our traditional and cultural lifestyles are falling behind, permanently displaced by innovation; and our roles are fast changing in a manner that dismantles gender borders. Therefore our children, especially our daughters must be prepared for a world that is waiting for them: their intellect, skills and talents,” declares the President of WIEN, Mrs Funmi Ogbue.

She explains: “The capacity of the educated woman is of strategic social and economic importance to any country. Our observation has shown that the female population of any country forms the bedrock of sustainability; and countries of the world with significant number of well educated women in strategic positions are the fast developing ones.”

WIEN President, Mrs Funmi Ogbue

Funmi is very positive that members of WIEN are positioned to build, grow and galvanize full Nigerian female capacity in driving national development through excellence. And membership of WIEN provides concrete proof of her claims. For instance, Mrs Audrey Joe-Ezigbo is a multitalented gas industry leader who has not only built a company that fires industry and commerce with sustainable supply of cheaper and cleaner gas fuel, she has also creditably contributed to evolution of policy options for the development of the nation’s gas industry during her tenure as President of the Nigerian Gas Association (NGA). Curiously, she is the first and only female President of the male dominated group so far.

Mrs Joe-Ezigbo currently sits on the International Gas Union (IGU), being the second black African and first African woman to reach the front row of world’s gas industry leadership.

Mrs Audrey Joe-Ezigbo

Audrey is just one sample of power stock of WIEN. The group boats of other top industry professionals in the petroleum, electricity and energy financing services sectors. It houses numerous CEOs like the Managing Director of Shell’s local deepwater affiliate, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO) Limited, Mrs Elohor Aiboni. Mrs Ogbue herself is an oil company CEO that leads a group that also includes players in the electric power sector.

Funmi says that the caliber of professionals and entrepreneurs in WIEN showcases the latent potentials in millions of Nigerian women who are limited by education, gender prejudices and workplace imbalances to live out their dreams. She notes that over 95 percent of WIEN members play in the private sector with very of them in corporate management and board positions. She attributes the situation to male dominance and gender bias against women.

The situation, she points, gets worse in the public sector where women are nearly ruled out from regulatory and policy making roles. Thus, the state structures that govern operations in the industry have little or no women representation, making it increasingly difficult to successfully drive a process of gender balancing in the sector.

The Oracle Today reports that, in the past two years, WIEN has successfully pushed its advocacy onto all major industry platforms for policy debate, including the Nigerian International Energy Summit (NIES), Nigeria Oil and Gas (NOG) Energy Week, Sub-Saharan Africa international Petroleum Conference (SAIPEC), Nigerian Annual International Conference and Exhibition (NAICE) of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), Oil Trading and Logistics (OTL) Conference and the Africa Energy Week (AEW).

There are arrangement for the group to seize more industry podiums including the Nigeria Energy Week and other debate platforms to continue pushing the demand for enhanced opportunity for girls and women to optimize their innate potentials in delivering value to the society.

At a gender focused seminar hosted by the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, (NCDMB) to harness the full capacity of the female talents in the industry for job domiciliation, speakers pointed at traditional and religious bases for gender-specific role castes, pervasive sexism, patriarchal norms, care giving obligations and many more. They pointed at the key social customs that impede advancement of women to industry leadership roles.

Executive Secretary of NCDMB, Engr Simbi Wabote, (in white middle) poses with panel speakers at a seminar on gender diversity

Chairman of AA Holdings, Mr Austin Avuru, declared at the event that deliberate policy and structural measures must be evolved to dismantle cultural norms that nurture gender bias in the technical professions and workplace environments; noting that the bias against women should be tackled from early education, career guidance and mentorship stages.

Mr Avuru noted that girl children in the country are traditionally prepared to take auxiliary functions at homes and in the larger society, resulting in low number of female science students at the universities and colleges. He narrowed the factors militating against women’s growth in the industry to education, training and capital; emphasizing that the cultural issues depriving women equal access to good education and training remain the strongest habitats of gender bias.

Executive Secretary of the NCDMB, Engr Simbi Wabote; Chairman of the Board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited, Senator Marjorie Okadigbo; former Managing Director of Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO), Mr Bayo Ojulari; Chief Executive Officer of WalterSmith Petroman Oil Limited, Mr Chikezie Nwosu; and many other industry captains called for collective actions against gender bias and all barriers to capacity optimization in the petroleum industry.

In a separate conference on Energy Sustainability jointly hosted by the Energy Institute of Nigeria (EIN) and WIEN in Lagos, the group demanded policies and legislations that deepen gender equality across full spectrum of education, skills and capacity development. The laws, they said, should guarantee women strategic roles and positions in corporate governance.

The panellists also proposed the establishment of funding facilities for girls’ STEM education and regulatory support for all gender career progression at corporate organizations in the industry. They demanded policies that deepen gender balancing.

In matching action with words, WIEN has since activated direct intervention in observed gap areas, launching its signature Supernova Girl Initiative conceived to primarily assist impoverished rural girls through basic education and also draw attention on the intrinsic potential of the girl child to excel in science education.

Mrs Ogbue describes the WIEN Supernova Girl as an “initiative through which we mobilize, inspire and guide our daughters to take special interest in courses of study that will prepare them for great roles in our rapidly changing world.”

The scheme supports girls in primary schools, junior and senior secondary schools to take careers in science and technology related disciplines. And the event fair ground is also enlivened to provide grand inspiration programme for girl children with keen interests in studying mathematics and science subjects.

In the last Supernova Girl Scholarship Programme & Science Fair hosted in Bille community of Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State, WIEN offered strong incentives to nearly 500 female students to pursue studies in STEM, including university scholarships.

Out of the 482 beneficiaries of Bille Supernova Girl event, 16 girls from three categories received WIEN’s secondary-to-university scholarship and the rest 486 students received instructional packs for STEM education. School uniforms, sandals, bags and text books were also distributed to students at the event.

The event provided forum for WIEN to drive its advocacy to the rural areas and interact with all critical stakeholders in shaping girl-child education; including traditional rulers, parents, school administrators, teachers and political leaders from Rivers State.

“The goal is to stimulate our children’s innate capacity and inclination to desire science education as part of our overall plan to accelerate the movement towards full optimization of female talents in the country,” Mrs Ogbue explained.

In noting that teachers form very critical “stakeholders in preparing our children for a life in STEM,” Mrs Ogbue stressed the need to change the admission criteria for teacher training colleges “and encourage our best talents to go into the teaching profession.”

Beneficiaries of Bille Supernova Girl scholarship

The overall aim, she said, is to groom a new generation of well educated and highly empowered women who would take roles in all aspects of productive industry in the economy.

“The domination of science, technical and engineering courses by the male students directly translates into real industry labour situation. Today, energy, manufacturing, construction, mining, and other industries that demand skilled professionals are dominated by men; creating enclaves that lack the rare qualities associated with the female gender. The situation has also morphed into huge gender imbalance and workplace bias that tend to further limits growth of qualified women into industry leadership positions.

“At WIEN, we believe that addressing these problems should begin with the quality of education the girl child receives from the cradle. Preparation for the career future of any person starts from primary through secondary and tertiary education. And early education tends to be influenced by traditional and cultural roles we prepare for our children. Especially, the girl child is traditionally prepared for home keeping roles. This explains their preponderance in such studies as catering, home economics, nursing et cetera. Whereas these career paths are also very important, they should not define and limit the female capacity. Women can do more!

“As we are all aware, the world is on a highway towards urbanization, digitization and automation. Our lives will irreversibly follow patterns that will be determined, facilitated and controlled by science and technology. I am therefore excited that the opportunity has finally come for us to jointly support the girl child’s STEM education; especially in providing our daughters broader career paths to enable them thrive in and also help our country fit into the next phase of civilization,” Mrs Ogbue explains.

In taking stock of the group’s advances and successes during its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Lagos, Chairman of the Board, Dr Cecilia Aqua Umoren, pointed out that Nigerian women are not left behind in the global gender equity renaissance.

In commending members of the group, she said Nigerian women are showing strong resolve to create impacts. ‘‘Most of our institutions are being impacted by advances in diversity, equity and inclusion. Today, there is a significant number of women in leadership positions in Nigeria,’’ she noted.

Mrs Ogbue who shared the group’s two year performance track in a short report of long achievements stated that WIEN has grown in membership, strength and partnership towards realization of its key advocacy roles and empowerment goals. She added that the group has transcended its initial task of brand awareness to delivering strong impacts through well thought out, meticulously planned and efficiently delivered programmes.

Speakers at WIEN pre-AGM conference

Today, WIEN has not only secured to the audience of key industry stakeholders and regulators, it has struck working partnerships with critical institutions like the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB); and Facility for Oil Sector Transparency and Reform (FOSTER), which is a DFID funded programme.

She listed other successful efforts of the group to include advocacy for a woman board member on the NNPC Limited board, onboarding of WiEN to the MANSA platform, and a partnership agreement with African Export-Import Bank (AFREXIM)/Mansa.

The Oracle Today reports that the response of the industry to the stringent and vehement calls of WIEN has been prompt and robust. Within two years of existence, WIEN has become major producer of policy proposals to the government. It has become a critical stakeholder and a voice the industry can no longer afford to ignore. The group’s inputs and proposals have been demanded by nearly all government regulators with responsibility in the energy sector.

And the demand for gender equity is also delivering dividends. The NCDMB has declared that its industrial parks currently under commissioning stages will hold special slots for women entrepreneurs in technical services, manufacturing and energy related businesses.

The regulator also pledged that it would formally require operating companies in the Nigerian petroleum industry to increase the proportion of women in their regular human development programmes, including courses that prepare employees for executive management positions. The requirement is expected to accelerate growth of women into corporate management and board positions.

Again, the NCDMB said it was working with the Nigerian Export Import (NEXIM) Bank and the Diversity Sectoral Working Group of the Nigerian Content Consultative Forums (NCCF) to start disbursement of the $40 million credit lines provided for Nigerian female entrepreneurs in the petroleum industry. The $40 million Women in Energy Fund was set up to provide cheaper and easier dollar denominated credit lines for oil women.

Still, the NCDMB is also committed to accelerating already running programmes designed to facilitate education, training, internship and other skills development initiatives that would boost the capacity of young women to advance their careers in the petroleum industry.

It was therefore only natural that WIEN members would gather in the last week of 2022 to celebrate their successes and sing appreciation to outstanding members and partners that assisted the group achieve remarkable milestones in fighting gender bias in the African battleground. In addition to its deserving internal powerhouses, WIEN celebrated two remarkable partners – the NCDMB and Waltersmith – with its annual awards.

To be a credible industry partner of choice, Mrs Ogbue pledged that WIEN would remain a standard bearer for the industry, upholding environmental and safety standards as part of the natural call of being women.

“This role comes naturally to us and we should be able to find our voice in this regard,” she pledged.


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