By Ngozi Nwoke
Mrs. Dolapo Fasewa is the general manager of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA). In this interview with Daily Sun, she talked about the need to involve women in politics, leadership, entrepreneurship and technology to achieve sustainable development and for the purpose of nation-building.
As the first female general manager of LASEPA, how do you use your position to aid gender equality?
I would like to refer to this year’s International Women’s Day. The purpose of celebrating the annual International Women’s Day is not exclusive to women of high class alone. It is for all women and girls, including those at the grassroots. Every woman is an entrepreneur and homemaker. Women are amazing species that have the ability to multitask at the same time. It is mind-blowing to see a woman strap a child on her back and hawking her wares on the streets. The same woman gets home to face domestic chores, cater for her children and husband.
If you go to the Olososun dumpsite in Lagos, the majority of scavengers are women. Most of them have families to feed. For women like these, what the Lagos State government does is to encourage and empower them. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, as it is said. I am happy that we are having this conversation about breaking the bias today. The key actions that must be involved to achieve this goal are advocacy, empowerment, education and information. These are the keys we need to break the bias. It is a good feeling to be the first female GM to head LASEPA.
How have you succeeded in the industry to this point?
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It is important for women to know that the way we bring up our daughters determines their future. I am a medical doctor by profession. This industry is a male-dominated industry. I had to work extra hard. Part of what I considered a challenge was having patients come into the clinic to say, I want to see the doctor, and when I came to attend to them, from their expressions, you could see that they were disappointed to see a female doctor.
Their expectation was to meet a male doctor. Some would insist that they wanted to see a male doctor. Even in the theatre, they expect the surgeon to be a man. Society has given us the impression that a doctor is a man with a stethoscope and a nurse is a woman wearing a gown. This happened on several occasions and it was so bad.
I fought this stereotype by standing my ground and pulling my strength. Some of the challenges women face is that people judge them by what they see. My father also helped me become a strong woman. He raised four daughters and a son equally without bias. He taught his daughters how to drive. My father had a very strong influence of who I am today. He is my hero. He taught me how to survive in a male-dominated industry. I felt safe in the middle of all the men because I had confidence. He instilled confidence in me. He taught me that there was nothing like “I cannot do it” as a woman.
It’s unfortunate and disheartening that being a woman is a challenge on its own. As a woman, your gender has already extracted some respect from you. It’s that bad. They call women the weaker sex. I find that statement demeaning. Women are strong. Women should be celebrated. Nothing good comes easy. I encourage all women to rise and fight for this recognition. We will continue to fight to break the bias and inequality.
Today, women are succeeding in male-dominated industries and it is relieving. Women are now footballers, athletes and so on.
How do you suggest women can break free from this bias?
Breaking the bias starts from breaking the social, cultural, traditional and local laws that hinder women from having a sense of belonging. The onus is on all women, including the media, to break these biases and stereotypes that are pulling women down from excelling to the level they ought to. Most women have succeeded in a male-dominated industry. For instance, when you look at the menial industry, you will see women who are bricklayers, bus conductors, bus drivers, carpenters, shoemakers, mechanics, they are doing the same jobs that society had designed to be strictly for men.
That stereotype is gradually changing, but we need it to get to the point where women are not discriminated against in doing what they desire to do. That point where a woman can be whatever she wants to be without having to worry about what society will say or think.
Another way to break the bias, which I think is the best way, is by having women support and encourage one another. Women cannot seek and fight for equality at the same time when they don’t treat themselves right. Women cannot be talking about equality when they hate themselves, envy one another, try by all means to destroy their fellow women. That would be hypocrisy.
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Mothers must do better at home in the manner they raise their female children. We were brought up with biases, so we are likely to raise our daughters in the same way. But with the level of unfair treatment and neglect women experience today, it is best for mothers to change that wrong pattern of raising their daughters. You see a family with boys and girls and the girls are made to clean, sweep and cook. While the boys are made to wash the car, mow the lawn. The question is, when did it become the duty of the girl to cook, clean and wash? When did it become the boy’s duty to wash the car and mow the lawn? You see a family where it is the mother’s duty to bathe the children, cook and clean the home. While it is the father’s duty to do the electrical and technical works. Who made these laws?
So, my recommendation is that parents should raise their children without attaching a particular responsibility to them. Both genders can perfectly carry out any house chore, if well tutored. This is where the bias began in the first place and we have to consciously break this bias.
I must say this without apologies, the fact that women are still fighting to be heard, fighting to be represented, fighting for laws that enable gender equality, fighting to be given a chance to exhibit their potential, skills and talents in the industry in today’s century shows that we still have a lot of work to do. It sadly shows that we have missed it.
What areas do you think the government should improve on to achieve better treatment for women?
Gender disparity is a big war in our society. And it can only be fought and defeated if every government social agency becomes active. The fact that every state has a ministry of women affairs is a relief that the government is very much aware of this war on gender disparity. But the main focus should be to ensure that these offices and ministries are productive and are fulfilling their purpose.
The Lagos State Ministry of Justice has an Office of the Public Defender and it would interest you to know that a large percentage (of the issues there) is always towards domestic violence against women, sexual abuse against women, emotional abuse against women. A woman builds a home with a man, when the man feels he is tired of the woman, he sends her away from the home they both toiled to build. Lagos State frowns at any form of abuse against women. So, the state government has put in place these offices to handle gender-related cases. What needs to be done is active and aggressive awareness, informing the public about the existence of these offices. A lot of people do not know that such offices are available.
How best can Nigeria curb the menace of ritual killings, rape and domestic violence, which have made women endangered species?
When it has to do with curbing domestic violence against women, I can confidently say that the Lagos State government has done well to manage gender-related issues with the measures put in place. We have laws against domestic violence, laws against rape, laws against maltreating women; we have alternate dispute resolution departments in all local government areas, and I can tell you that these ministries are adequately funded and functional. A lot of people do not know that such offices are available to them.
Women can report any form of abuse to these offices, their information is kept in confidentiality, and all services are free of charge, at least in Lagos State. I believe, if more women know this, these issues can be reduced to a manageable rate. Another way to curb domestic violence against women is by ensuring that these molesters and offenders are jailed.
When men start going to jail even for hitting their wives or any woman at all, and are made to face stringent punishments, then others will learn. These issues are prevalent because we don’t see men going to jail for abusing women. Most cases are swept under the carpet, and it goes on and on. When parents also start to punish their sons for hitting their sisters or any woman at all, then these cases will reduce.
We must note very importantly that men and boys also face abuse and discrimination. The focus is on women because they are more vulnerable. We need non-stop enforcement of these laws on abusers, perverts, rapists and molesters to be able to curb this ill-treatment on women.
What is your impression of including women in ministerial appointments and leadership roles?
Every woman in any position should fight for gender inclusion. The men will not fight for us. It is all of us that will fight this fight. I am the first female GM of LASEPA. I am gender sensitive. I have an equal number of men and women in my agency, if not more women than men.
In the Lagos State Government, in the Executive Council, in the House of Assembly, Permanent Secretaries, and Local Government Councils, women are more in percentage. This is not by accident or sentiment. It was deliberate and conscious. These women were not accepted to head these positions because they are women. They were accepted because of their commitment, dedication and competence. The Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu fought for gender inclusion in the House of Assembly and he won that fight.
What would you like to be remembered for when you retire from active service?
I want to be remembered for my advocacies and contributions towards achieving a gender-sensitive society where women are respected, regarded, treated better and encouraged by all.