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Interview: Constance Chiogor Ikokwu

Interview with Constance Chiogor Ikokwu Published on: 14th March 2017

Constance Chiogor Ikokwu is a journalist, political analyst and communications strategist. She is currently the Strategy and Communications Adviser to the Nigerian Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment and previously worked as Media Adviser to Former Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Ikokwu was the host of “The Encounter” and co-host for “Democracy Now” radio shows on WEFM 106.3 Radio Station, Abuja, Nigeria. Her work has appeared in Aljazeera, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), the Africa Report, Africa Confidential, and Turkish National Television (TRT World).

How have you managed to infuse your support for gender equity in Nigeria in the things you’ve done?

I think just upholding your values, in the workplace, especially. I believe in equal opportunities for the sexes, in equal pay for equal work, and I believe in the right of a woman to choose and determine the life that she wants to live. I’ve chosen my path and, irrespective of what other people think, I continue to forge ahead on that path. I have pretty strong opinions, and I don’t hesitate to pass them across, especially when it comes to women’s issues.

For instance, when I was hosting the radio show last year, we had to talk about the Gender Equality Bill, which was just thrown out by the National Assembly. We felt very strongly that we needed to say something about it so we gathered both women and men in the studio and we discussed it exhaustively.

When such opportunities come up, we try to utilise them to educate the public. I also try as much as possible to mentor young women when I come across them. I’m not a “man hater” and that is why I find it difficult to put myself in a box.

I find it interesting that every time a Nigerian woman talks about gender equality she has to put the disclaimer that she is not a “man-hater”. Why do we feel we have to make those sorts of qualifications when we talk about gender equality?

We need to, because there is this perception that if you believe in gender equality and you believe in the cause of women you don’t like men and you’re a man basher. It’s not so. The man that had the greatest impact in my life is my dad.

When I was growing up, he allowed both his male and female children to excel equally. More than half of the things I’ve achieved in my life, I wouldn’t have been able to if my dad did not support me. When I started to work, one of my best-loved editors was a man. When I came on board as his reporter, he did everything possible to push my case. On the other side, I worked very hard and did not have anything handed to me.

We live in a society where women find it very difficult to advance on all fronts. So those of us who have had the opportunity to get to this stage owe a duty to explain and put things in perspective, to help people understand that the goal is not to fight the opposite sex. The goal is to work together to advance the course of humanity because at our core, we are human beings first before we are men or women.

It’s not a zero-sum game is it? It’s not that you take from one to give to the other; it’s that there is more than enough for everybody.

I agree, but in a society where women are more likely to be neglected, I think that sometimes you have to provide some opportunities for them – sort of like Affirmative Action in the United States. We definitely have to provide opportunities for both men and women, but where the women folk have been sidelined it is necessary that we put policies in place to create balance.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in getting people to see your point of view?

The greatest hurdles in Nigeria are cultural. Once they see you’re a woman, people don’t want to hear anything else. Even in the workplace there are attitudes that have been carried over from family training, and orientation in school that are then brought to this environment, and it can be very difficult to break them down. So what I continue to do is to use my life as an example of what a woman is capable of – not seeing myself as the weaker sex. When I have to do a job, I do it well.

In environments where there is competition I compete as well as my male counterparts to get things done, and I think that’s a powerful message. When you’re in a position of authority and you’re able to show that women can do it, I think it sends a message to society that women definitely should be given more opportunity.

How do you think something like Gender Hub would help women like you?

If you have a resource where people can go to and find solutions and answers, it would definitely be very useful. We live in a country where there are so many problems to tackle and so many issues, and people don’t always know where to go or who to speak to. So if you had a gathering or a point of contact for people seeking answers, I think this would go a long way to advancing the women cause.

In my mentoring I don’t have a formal structure, but I want to impact the lives of women. So whether it’s in church, or in social gatherings or at work, wherever it is that I come across women who look like they need help and guidance, I’m always available. One thing I’ve discovered in the process of doing that is that a lot of young women are actually victims of sexual harassment in their schools and workplaces – and are terrified of coming forward and sharing their experiences. Particularly at work. Nobody wants to speak up for fear of being stigmatised.

That’s why I go back to the Gender Hub, there needs to be somewhere that people can go to where they know that someone can answer their questions; that would be very helpful.

What are the knowledge gaps you face in your particular industry?

When I was a journalist working in the field there was a sense that if you wanted information from the government, they deliberately wanted to keep it away from you. Though this was still a relatively new democracy at the time, and we were still developing, so such things were to be expected with our level of development.

But working on the other side now, advising our government officials, I’m very mindful of the fact that people want information and I try as much as possible to provide it. I have a strategy, I have a plan and I work to implement that plan.

You’re better off saying that you don’t have the information than creating something that does not exist. So in my work, I try as much as possible to remedy those problems that I experienced as a reporter.

Do you think that you’re doing things differently because of your beliefs around gender equality?

Professionally, I have a value system and I try to stay true to myself. When it comes to women’s issues, I am definitely more sensitive. I just believe that we need to do the right thing and that’s what I do.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger social movement – something that is changing the way society works?

I don’t know if I would describe it as a social movement, but I think that wherever I have found myself operating, I have made it my goal to touch lives. I want to add value wherever I find myself and I think that I’m doing that in work that I do. I also think that other people in other spheres are doing their bit. I believe that someday, maybe we’ll reach a critical mass and turn things around – hopefully.

What would a gender equitable Nigeria look like?

That’s a big question because we haven’t even scratched the surface. I will tell you something, though, I was inspired by a lot of my aunts when I was growing up. They didn’t carry the tag of feminists, but you could see that those women were liberated and independent. They lived with their husbands, they had their children, but they knew what they wanted out of life and they didn’t allow anybody to stop them from doing it. So this has been going on for a long time, just not at the level that we would want.

I want to see a Nigeria where there is equal pay for equal work. I think that it is so unfortunate that people look at you as a woman and ask: “what do you need money for? It is not just to get your hair fixed, buy your lovely clothes, and buy shoes and bags for yourself?” No, that is not the point! The point is that we have been given similar responsibilities and sometimes I might even outperform you, so see me as a human being and pay me for my work

I want to see a Nigeria where women have access to education, where women have the right to choose what they want to be in life and they’re not inhibited by culture and tradition. Let them fly.

Definitely we want to see a National Assembly that supports gender equal legislation and are advancing the cause of women. If more than half of the population is women and you are trying to suppress them, it’s your loss because you need the entire population to achieve their full potential in order to be a thriving and robust economy. Women have a lot to contribute to society.

I hope to see that Nigeria one day.

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