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International Women's Day

Women should fight for equal opportunities - Nigeria's French ambassador

Nigeria's ambassador to France, Irele Modupe Enitan (centre) joins other Women Ambassadors for a cocktail to mark International Women's Day at the National Assembly, 7 March 2019
Nigeria's ambassador to France, Irele Modupe Enitan (centre) joins other Women Ambassadors for a cocktail to mark International Women's Day at the National Assembly, 7 March 2019 Christina Okello for RFI

"Women should be brave enough to fight with the men for the same positions because we’re not any less qualified," Irele Modupe Enitan, Nigeria's ambassador to France said Thursday. And she should know. She broke barriers in 2017 by her appointment as ambassador to France, becoming the first woman to hold this senior diplomatic position. But there is still work to do, warns the head of Nigeria’s top children rights organization.


"Women are used to being helpers, people who assist their husbands and not putting themselves forward," says Irele Modupe Enitan.

"That is one barrier that has to be broken," she told RFI on the sidelines of a Women's Ambassador's conference at the French National Assembly Thursday.

Enitan put herself forward in September 2017 when she was appointed the first female Nigerian ambassador to France, a role she describes as allowing her to make an impact at "the national federal level." Particularly, as a woman.

"I think that it is very good that there is at last a woman in France," to represent one of the largest countries in Africa, she comments. "It is an important mission that brings another dimension to policy issues, to political issues."

Female leadership Enitan argues, can offer greater scope. "You know, men tend to have a very macro view," while "we bring different strengths."

On condition that women work together to achieve gender balance in the workplace.

"I believe in creating a very big pool that has a lot of water for a lot of people, and so that’s what I do," says the ambassador, who promotes small and medium-sized companies, "which are very much women-driven and very much grass-roots driven to expand the economy of Nigeria."

Poor representation

When it comes to female representation in politics however, the pool may be drying up, according to a new report released Thursday by the children's rights group Plan International Nigeria.

In it, the organisation's head, Hussaini Abdu, accuses Muhammudu Buhari's government of failing to empower women, pointing to the dearth of female candidates in last month's presidential elections. Out of the 73 candidates who competed, only five of them were women.

"The disappointing trend does not only underscore the fact that political parties across the federation are not giving space to women, but also draws attention to the (...) barriers and violence women are subjected to," Abdu said in a statement Thursday.

“We’re not where we want to be," says Enitan, acknowledging that female empowerment in Nigeria is often the result of appointed positions rather than elected ones.

However, "I definitely believe that it is a lot easier now for girls," she insists, embracing feminism.

"I had never really thought of myself as somebody who was a feminist (...) but I believe that in the heart of myself I am.

I am somebody who believes that one should be able to confront tradition, and expected norms and do something differently."

She reckons that in 10 years from now, the playing field for women and girls "will be interesting."

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