A few months ago, LEGENDARY LEADERSHIP LESSONS (4) CONFERENCE, organized by Dr. Dipo Awojide & BTDT Ltd was held at the Lagos Oriental Hotel.
WWN sponsored 10 participants to attend the conference and each shared the highlights of the event..
“Kai madam! If you weren’t standing in front of the Imam eh! Hmmmm…..”
Then what will happen? She retorted deep within her.
The above is part of a reminiscence of an encounter shared by Ms. Lola Shoneyin, as the only woman standing in a bus filled with men, during her work as a campaign aide with the Nigerian president, somewhere in Northern Nigeria.
The point here is not just how intolerant men from different parts can be when a woman defies their notion of acceptable behaviour and ‘cultural values.’ Rather, how huge this barrier can be in a society seeking fundamental reforms.
As I listened to Ms. Shoneyin and other amazing speakers at the Legendary Leadership Lessons 4 conference held at the Oriental Hotel Lagos, my mind couldn’t help but wander, as I tried to put her experience in the context of my personal history.
I looked back on my childhood, particularly in primary school, and I recall that in social studies we defined culture as the beliefs and way of life of a group of people. I now wonder if harmful cultural practices like FGM, child marriage, can ever be changed, discarded or improved upon. How and through what processes can we evolve our culture to embrace healthier practices and beliefs, especially those that relate to women and children? These and many more thoughts were ignited at the recent LLL4 conference.
The leadership conference had so many high profile speakers like award-winning actress Kate Henshaw, Laolu Akande (Special Adviser to the vice president of Nigeria), and Victor Mathias, an anchor of Channels TV, to name a few.
They discussed various topics: politics and journalism, gender and identity, turning barriers to leadership opportunities, the importance of visionary leadership on the economic development of Nigeria and how young people can make a difference.
I don’t know why Ms. Lola’s story continues to stand out in my mind. Perhaps, because I have been there, in similar situations, over and over again due to the nature and environment of my work as an education and youths advocate, in Northern Nigeria.
Like a flash, an AHA moment hit me recently.
If a community perceives it as offensive for a woman to share the same bus with a man, to mix up in classrooms, to be ambitious like (or more than) a man,..then it means most things we try to improve upon such as gender equality, education, empowerment, may often hit that brick-wall called ‘culture’.
At the end, my take away lesson from this experience is that for me to be a successful development agent, encouraging students engagement in education in diverse communities, I must constantly learn, unlearn and relearn the vital skill of integrating with the various cultures of people I work with and live with.
This means, not learning ‘culture’ as a static skill or with certain protocols like project management, or salesmanship but learning it like a dynamic, integrative process. To be open and willing to understand people’s model of life/view points.
This is vital before any true communication, acceptance and change work can be achieved. Communication means respect of the right of others to have their perspectives, even when we do not agree with them. I will use this approach at least until I learn what else I can do about the interference of culture to development.
At the end, people will only embrace your intentions and plans only when your approach and message resonate with them. Patience, persistence, consistency, empathy and resilience become powerful tools of change.
A huge thank you to the organizers of this conference and to Whole WoMan Network, for making my attendance possible.