Few weeks ago, the Nigerian Law School, for the first time in history, graduated 161 first-class students. 113 were female. A pro-feminist male announced excitedly on social media that “the future is female”. Many feminists applauded. I remain skeptical. And it’s not because the numbers aren’t impressive but with several years of our investment in female education in relations to the social impact, I’m convinced that our metrics for measuring real progress and perhaps our motive itself is faulty. Isn’t it obvious at this point that some numbers don’t really matter?
From where I stand to observe, the future is not female. In fact, I hope it is not.
In a world of uncensored feminist thoughts and opinions, it is sometimes hard to understand or validate the drive and goal of some contemporary “feminist agenda”. Nevertheless, one truth must remain in view; the honest agenda of Feminism is not the feminization of the world. Not only would that be impossible, it will be counterintuitive to the feminist ideal of equality/equity. Besides, if patriarchy is terrible, matriarchy will be. Mutuality remains the gender relations ideal and our goal should be the conscious adherence to the doctrine of equality/equity in our various social contexts. Sadly, there is a lot of subtle feminization of spaces and male marginalization going on in various sectors including education and at various levels, and caution is critical at this point.
The sometimes noisy involvement with female education is based on the premise that educating girls/women is the panacea for a whole range of world problems. However, data from the everyday shows that education itself is simply not enough even though we cannot disregard that female education has made commendable attempts at leveling gender disparity and the limiting attached vices.
For example, female education is linked to positive outcomes such as increased household incomes which has raised families’ subsistence above poverty levels; decreased rates of teenage pregnancy, maternal and infant mortality; improved family and community health through informed sanitary and welfare practices; reduced occurrences of preventable disease within households and communities; decline in abusive cultural practices often perpetrated on women by women including FGM, widowhood rites etc. Nevertheless, educating more women and girls does not automatically guarantee economic development, balance sociopolitical representation or fix centuries-long gender stifling and oppression if we do not consciously remove the systemic, structural and cultural barriers that keep women disadvantaged in the various social spaces.
All through my years of education I have always been in classes with more girls than boys. Maybe it’s because there are statistically more girls than boys at those times or perhaps the sheer fact that I’ve always be in the Arts which is construed as feminine compared to the Sciences. Regardless, I have always been in situations where more girls were getting education than boys. But with the high girl to boy ratio in those formal education settings, how many girls ended up in the workplace? Of those in the workplace, how many make it to the top of their careers or positions of decision making? How long or easy does it take them to get there?
In my opinion, giving women an education is the least we should be doing. Measuring the impact of that education is more crucial today. Instead of celebrating, let us track these 113 first class female law school graduates for the next 30 years. Then let’s celebrate if after five years 80% of them are thriving in law practice. Let’s raise our glasses if after 10 years, 80% of that 80% are still in practice. Let’s cheer if after 20 years, 60% of the 80% of the 80% have made it to the top of their careers. And if after 30 years 12 of them are recognized as legal experts nationally/internationally, let’s have a Gala! But now, we can only wait and observe as they must first contend with the employment bias against young women joining or in the corporate world who are considered less “stable” and consequently, less suitable for employment/promotion compared to their male counterparts whose lives hardly change significantly by the social forces marriage or childbearing.
In addition to monitoring and evaluating the career advancement of educated females through time, we have to start looking at the kind of education our females are getting. Sadly, the future is not law. The future from where I see it is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) etc which are construed as masculine. How many female interests are we cultivating along these lines? Instead of getting girls to get any education, we need to start prodding them to get education in fields that will make them relevant in the coming decades. How many girls are coding? How many are in the ICTs? How many are in financial mathematics? At this point in our civilization, to simply give a woman any education without taking into cognizance emerging trends in our development and tailoring her towards relevance is simply setting her up for an average career.
We must begin to monitor and evaluate our investment in girls and put in place the policies, systems and practices required to optimize our ROI. We must ensure that girls get the right kind of education and put their education to maximum use. We must remove the gender equality/equity averse bureaucratic bottlenecks in the workplace, seal up the leaky pipelines, clean up the sticky floors and uninstall the glass ceilings. We have to create systems that encourage work-life balance. We have to reorientate ourselves and raise men who are real partners and not alienated from child care and domestic work.
Though the assertion “the future is female” sounds cool, “forward thinking” and has been endorsed by notable figures including Hillary Clinton, fortunately, the future is NOT female. We must remember that we are not in a battle of sexes over relevance. We are not fighting a gender war. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Our passion for and involvement with girls must not be hijacked and used as a machinery to fuel an agenda of gender rivalry. I have seen the future and it belongs to us all. It is therefore our duty to go an extra mile to ensure that it really does. Often times this requires us to look out for our female population but we must never get carried away and leave unattended our emerging male population. The future is neither male nor female. The future is simply fair. Let’s make it happen.