If Kate Azuka Omenugha had allowed the limitations normally imposed on the girl child in Nigeria’s rural settings weigh her down, she will not today be a Professor of Mass Communication. Her life’s narrative, therefore, is a classical example of a local village woman who brazed the odds of socio and cultural limitations not only to attain the topmost height in her profession but to intellectually engender women’s’ concerns.
It was with passion that she spoke on ‘reckoning with the gender factor in election reporting’ as a resource person during the IPC/UNDP DGD11 training workshop for journalists in Enugu last February. Shortly after, in this interview, she offered more insight into her thoughts and perspectives on the empowerment and development of women in the context of gender.
Having held sway as the Director of the campus radio of Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK fm), Akwa, Anambra state, and Head of Department of Mass Communication of same institution, she currently serves as the Commissioner for Education in Anambra State.
On the issues with women and gender equality
Globally, there are gender perspectives on issues, which most times favour men to the disadvantage of women. Also, all over the world, there have been agitations with efforts to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women, but we are aware that a lot of factors have actually impeded the transformation that we so much desire. Some of these impediments are cultural issues within the society which put women down in so many areas. We also have a lot of gender based violence like rape which affects women, but there is a lot of resistance mainly from the men folk who want the status quo to remain. Men see any effort you make as a form of competition; that is, women competing with men. But what we are asking is that we be treated equally as human beings.
On how gender advocacy affect the market or village woman
Gender issue affects her because what we are advocating for is that she, as a woman be treated equally as human beings; that her husband treats her with love and she be treated as a human being. I have lived in the village all my life. My father was a school principal going from one village to the other and I lived in the village and got married in the village. It is in the village that I had operated all these years and it is from there that I got my scholarship to Britain. When I finished, I came back and stayed in the village and it is from there that I got my professorship and all other things. I have been a leader of Catholic Women Organization in my village and have brought a lot of changes to their lives by the way I talk and relate with them and by the role modelling I do and the structures I put in place for them.
On what keeps her connected to the grassroots despite being a professor
It is my passion for women and my love for people who are dis-empowered in so many ways. When people see me, they ask, ‘why are you in the village, why not come and live in the city? I tell them: ‘I am a role model for many people who seeing me drive past them in the village say to themselves, I want to be like her’. Some times when I am driving and see an old woman on the road, I stop and ask her to come inside the car, and this makes me connected to them because I understand their plight. I understand what it means to be a woman in every sense of the word and I understand what it is to feel a form of dis-empowerment. I have been staying there for twenty five years and I have a connection with them.
On the common view that women are women’s enemy
When people say that, I tend to see their point of view but I know that most times, women don’t act alone. They have a lot of pressure from their husband and their own family members so it is not only about them taking decisions. Most women would need to ask the husband or ask a male friend or male relative before they take a decision because right from time, it has been imbued in them that women lack voice and a will of their own. So it is not that women do not want to support women, but it is a result of the pressure that they have from men; their husband, a male companion or relative, a male son, etc, and this is an endemic problem. Unless women are aggressively educated to take decisions on their own that will continue. So it is not that women don’t support their fellow women, but it is due to pressures from male influences.
On the values that keep her going
My parents were very close and carried each other along. I learnt that from them. So I call or send several text messages to my husband each day. This is one of the things that I learnt from my parents and that is why he could allow me to leave him and my six children to go and study in the UK all alone and he was able to support himself and keep the family together till I came back. So it is a question of trying to balance the two. My husband supports my gender and feminine cause and he lets me be at anytime and I also let him be.
On the question of women not confronting men in order to keep the peace
I don’t know whether it is a general thing but perhaps most people do, but this is because from childhood, women have been told and taught to keep quiet. “Don’t talk, you are a woman, sit like a woman”, and this and that. So it is possible that these things make women to be quiet, but what I tell people is that they should decide what will become of them. You see, that is so because women have not been trained to be assertive. The training from society is that it is the man that has to be assertive. So when you see a woman being assertive, they call her ‘iron lady’ and such other things which I find derogatory. So these are what we need to change.
On how women can take their issues further
Through mentoring – I tell older women to mentor younger women and that is what I try to do. I groom other women. For example, the person who took over from me as Head of Department of Mass Communication at UNIZIK is a woman and I mentored her up to that level. Women who are already in good position should mentor other women into that position and even to surpass them. I think mentoring other younger women is what women should do.
On how soon Nigeria can have the first female president
It will happen. It may not be soon, but it will happen. How long did it take America to have its first black president? It was right from the time of ‘I have a dream’, but it happened. So I have a dream that one day in this country Nigeria, a woman will be the president. I have a dream that one day all the shackles of poverty and the encumbrances affecting women will be a thing of the past. I have a dream that one day, Nigeria, under a woman leadership will be one of the greatest countries of the world. It is a dream that will come to pass.