When you include women, youths in governance, the tendency for success is high — Prof Helen Bodunde
Professor Helen Bodunde is a Professor of Communication and Teaching English as Second Language at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, and the founder of Education, Gender, Youth and Family Network, a non-governmental organisation that provides intervention for families. In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, among other interesting issues addressed, she says gender equality can only be achieved when there is gender mainstreaming.
How was growing up like for you?
I am from Ekiti State. My father is a civil servant so we travelled a lot. I had my primary and secondary school in Ekiti. I attended Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo State, for my Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE), then proceeded to the University of Benin (UNIBEN), where I had my first degree in Education, English and Literature, that is Language Art. I got married in 1985. At the time, my husband was working in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, so, I joined him there. I had my Master’s degree in Education and Psychology at ABU, and was working in Government Day Secondary School, which was close to the university. When I finished my Masters, I started teaching at ABU and had a PhD in Teaching English as a Second Language. At the completion of my PhD, I joined my husband who had moved to FUNAAB in Abeokuta in 2000. I came in as a Lecturer 1 but by the grace of God, in 2014, I became a professor.
What was your childhood fantasy?
My father was an educated person and loved education passionately. As early as age six, we were reading newspapers, so, the urge was there to go places. Though he was looking at Medicine, all I was focusing on was to read and get to the pinnacle of whatever profession that I am involved with. I could remember that I loved Nursing but in Form 5, I took two Nursing exams but along the line, I lost interest in it and just decided to read and read. Eventually, my husband after his National Youth Service (NYSC) programme got a job to lecture at ABU as a graduate assistant. This probably influenced my going into academics. I pressed on until I reached the pinnacle of my career.
What has been your experience as an academic?
It has been challenging but very interesting. In academics, you must have your PhD, you must be a prolific writer and a researcher. In academics, you have to be focused. I love my job and my students. I do research to help my students and not just to write papers. The essence of research is to generalise that I did this and got this result, so if you have this problem you could also do this and get the result. Once you do your PhD and you write papers, you will get to the top. It might not be as easy as I say it, particularly for women that have to take care of the home front, but you can’t do that at the expense of your job. So, you must strike a balance. There are times you find it difficult to find a balance, so it might affect one, but you have to make up for it. However, when you have a supportive husband, it makes things easier. There are times you close late; there are times you are given other responsibilities apart from teaching. If a woman is in academics, the man must be supportive; if not, you might have to choose between your home or career. Also, a woman in academics must work twice as hard as the man so you can compete favourably with your male counterparts.
What price did you pay to get to where you are today?
You lose your sleep because there are things you need to get done. Also, as an academic, you don’t really have a social life like others. The job we do as academic staff has a quality assurance, so you allow it to play in all you do. You weigh your options before taking decisions. The price is enormous, but you must pay it to get to the top.
What was the most defining moment of your career?
After my first year at the college of education, I got admission to the University of Ife to read Kinesiology. In the college of education, I was reading English. My friends were excited, but I was bothered and worried on whether to leave. I was confused but in my naivety at the time, I told God to, please, tell me what to do. I decided I was not going. If I had done Kinesiology, I might still be where I am today but English Language is a mobile course, and that is the reason I could lecture in a specialised university. It was really a difficult decision for me to take but I thank God I did. That is why I am where I am today. Education is the link to getting the knowledge you need.
What is your Non Governmental Organisation all about?
Based on my experience in counselling, I discovered that families go through difficult situations, maybe as a result of wayward children or spouse. When you look at all these, you begin to wonder what the way out is. When people come for counseling, you see and hear different things. Also, counseling students in the university and seeing what they go through, we decided to talk to adolescents on their sexuality, what goes with it, how to manage attraction to the opposite sex. We also talk about gender issues and the need for couples to respect each other. Gender equality is about giving one the opportunity to be who God has made one to be. It is the opportunity to bring out the endowment in one and be able to contribute to the progress to the nation. What we do basically is to raise awareness in people that they have potential and power to be what God has purposed them to be.
We are in a new decade. Do you think we can ever achieve gender equality, especially in this part of the world?
We have been talking about gender equality; the major way towards achieving it is gender mainstreaming. Unfortunately, even in tertiary institutions, the issue of gender mainstreaming is what everybody is running from. I tried to conduct a research looking at gender mainstreaming in public universities in leadership, admission and so on and another one in private universities but the issue is, when you get there, nobody is ready to give you the information you need. Nobody is ready to provide the data to do the work. So, we don’t really have data. For us to achieve gender equality, we must be ready to do gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming is not about the female gender alone; there are areas we need to look at the male gender vis-a vis the potential. Any society that refuses to key into the policy of gender mainstreaming to achieve gender equality is actually shortchanging itself. It is not a new thing. When you bring a male and a female together to contribute to a particular thing, you have a robust contribution. When you are making a decision and you have only one woman present, nobody will listen to the solo voice. The parochial system is what is working against gender equality in Africa. When you make governance inclusive (women, youths and people with disability), the tendency for success is high. It can’t continue, if it does we are reducing the level of progress and that is why in Sustainable Development Goal, it is goal 5. If we don’t talk about it, even when we have development, it will be difficult to sustain it.
What can women do to change the narrative?
Women have the power; they are more in number. I think education is key. We are not talking about the bookish education but the one that permeates you as a person and gives you the opportunity to see things objectively and try to know more about the subject matter before you begin to contribute or castigate. Until women are educated and knowledgeable in all domains of life, there won’t be changes. Also, if women are not empowered, they will continue to be tools in the hands of politicians who will give them a token; but when they are gainfully employed, nobody will ask them to come and sit down somewhere and be singing just for N500.
What advice do you have for young ladies?
The sky is their stepping stone but they must be focused. They must not be derailed. There are carrots that people will dangle before you. But will this carrot get you to your destination? Be hardworking. Don’t cut corners. Know that there are times you have to pay be price before you can succeed. Keep on learning, Life itself is not static; it is dynamic. Get knowledge and keep on improving. Also, watch the relationship you go into.