By Doris Ochei, PhD
It is usually said that women are God’s most precious gift to humanity. But I think women are much more than just a special gift to mankind; they are the salt of the world.
And it is no secret that everyone, including their husbands and children, know this.
That is why the old and famous saying that “behind every successful man, there stands a woman” still resonates even in this age and time. I must say that I am very much aware that successful men, a male child and every man for that matter that appreciate a good woman, believe in this obvious truism.
The inescapable question therefore is: what would the world be like without a touch of women? Aside reproduction, their selfless act of loving, a woman’s unmatched initiative, diligence and care giving, the five essentials that are integral parts of an average woman’s life and mission on earth, there is also a widely held belief that the world would grind to a halt without women.
In truth, women are beautiful, loving, compassionate, appreciative, kind, understanding, futuristic, forgiving and patient. However, difficult situations like war, displacement, social strife, domestic violence, inequality, cultural inhibitions, neglect and cash worries can sometimes drain a woman’s spirits and change her good nature. The widely held view that women are the backbone of families, organizations, communities and nations is an incontestable fact, and I think the world knows.
They give birth and nurture children and families. Women also build communities, provide good leadership, engender hope, sustain development, inspire change and strive towards empowerment for all, irrespective of gender or age. That is why the saying: “If you educate a woman, you educate a nation” has not lost its shine even with the passage of time.
It is the reality, and as citizens, we must work hand in hand with our mothers, sisters and daughters to create the world that we need. And to build that world that serves the interest of everyone, mankind must provide education, empowerment, protection, appreciation and support for the womenfolk; and humanity must also do everything possible to engage them meaningfully. Again, engagement is key; and I will say it again even at the risk of sounding repetitive.
This mindset or disposition, I must say, actually inspired my last social intervention in Onicha-Olona, one of the towns in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. And that experience will remain unforgettable for many reasons. It all started like this: during one of our visits (my husband and I) to his ancestral home in Onicha-Olona, I needed to buy some common condiments for the family. So, I was directed to the town’s major market.
When I got there, I was shocked at the environment and the level of decay. The women were trading in the open under the scorching sun. Apart from the inconveniences of harsh weather conditions and the unstructured space, the women were exposed to risks of a car running into them and other dangers. As a matter of fact, trading was actually taking place at the centre of the town, known as Abua Ano. The condition was appalling, to say to the least.
To my surprise, I later discovered that these women had been in that difficult condition for about 20 years. Immediately, I called my husband, and I told him that I wanted to build a befitting market for those long-suffering women because I appreciated the fact that they deserved better.
I also called the then President-General of Onicha-Olona Development Union, OODU, Mr. Okey Aligbe who encouraged me. To say that the market was in a terribly poor physical condition would be an understatement. The market was in a dilapidated shape as there were no functional infrastructure. As a matter of fact, the original market location had been overtaken by weeds and trees. Sadly, the old and decrepit market remained unattended to.
Therefore, traders and customers converged on that Abu Ano spot every market day for business activities, and for many years, it remained the community’s centre of commercial activities because there was no alternative. It was an awful sight, and I felt it was completely and utterly unacceptable for people to function under such conditions, no matter their circumstances.
Since we are all in agreement with the fact that progress is not possible without women, I did not spend much time rethinking a trading arena that offered no meaning for the mass of the people. Right there and then, I resolved to mobilize resources towards rebuilding and making the market habitable. A few months after, God answered me by providing the will and the wherewithal to fulfil my promise.
I rebuilt the market and eventually tarred a feeder road linking a local market
For women in the hinterland, what is life without a functional market where goods and services are exchanged?
To the glory of God, I am currently expanding the frontiers of my non-governmental organization, Doris Amaka Ochei Foundation, (DAO) to build additional projects, engage more women, build capacity, provide micro credit, pay WAEC, NECO and JAMB fees of less privileged people around us, engender hope and assist with other social services within and outside my catchment area.
I hasten to add that I have also extended some of these social services to Ubulu-Uku, my home town in Aniocha South Local Government Area, also in Delta State. In Ubulu-Uku, we successfully organized empowerment programme for Garri producers and we are currently paying light bills for many people because community billing method had become a real pain in the neck for many of the town dwellers. In addition, we constructed 18 solar powered boreholes, and these boreholes are ameliorating the challenges of water scarcity and improving life.
I know that my efforts so far is like a drop of water in the ocean because there are still many areas of need, not just in Onicha-Olona and Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State and my community but everywhere one turns. On our part as an organization and a people conscious of history, we have resolved to keep moving, no matter the discomfort or pain. We are also prioritizing our agenda as events unfold because we fully appreciate the fact that we can significantly impact on the lives of the people we meet by continuing to be focused and conscious.
Yes, women remain the first line of defence, both at home and outside because everybody knows their enviable place in society. Therefore, this is a clarion call to action, there could not have been a better time. The time is now. So, as we step out, let all of us, (men, children, corporate bodies, government, non-profit organizations, fate based groups, social organizations) think women. They are the key to building a better society.
Dr. Ochei, a Development Expert and Gender Advocate, writes from Lagos.