Women across the world are still fighting for equality – Bolanle Oduyale

    Bolanle Oduyale

Today, Tuesday, 8 March 2022, is the International Women’s Day. The theme is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.” In other words, the attention, this year, is on the environment and how this affects women globally.
Bolanle O. Oduyale, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of CreditWise Financials Limited, a Nigerian financial lending company fast becoming a known brand in the Micro and Retail lending sector, in this interview with TheNEWS, offers her thoughts on this year’s team and the condition of women generally. She suggests ways by which women can fare better in many areas of life.
She has operated in the Financial Services Industry successfully for over 25 years. Amongst other institutions, she worked with Standard Chartered Bank in Nigeria and South Africa for over 12 years where she rose to the position of Director of Financial Institutions before relocating to Canada.

While in Toronto, she joined International Financial Data Services, a world-leading provider of outsourcing and technology solutions to the financial services, where she led the team in charge of regulatory compliance advising North American and European Financial Institutions (FI) on the implementation of Regulatory and Tax Reporting Standards.
Until recently, Bola Oduyale was CEO of Safetrust Mortgage Bank in Nigeria where she worked with regulators and investors to spearhead the recapitalisation and restructuring of the Bank. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Ibadan and an MBA from the University of Lagos. She is a member of the Institute of Directors (IoD) and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers. She is also an Alumnus of Lagos Business and London Business School.

The International Women’s Day 2022 comes up today, Tuesday, 8 March 2022. Let us take off on a lighter mood. What do you say to the joke that females are more favoured in terms of the international days than men? We have mother’s day, the day of the girl child, women, and others. Men have only Fathers Day…

Are you aware that 80% of history was written by men and about men, 80% of legislation, religion and scientific advancement, has also been written by men and about men? For most of history, there has been this huge emphasis on the male point of view. Men are favoured every day!

We live in a world where women need to have their special days as a reminder of a struggle for equality. The International community has chosen to celebrate women and the female gender on these few days every year to create awareness and focus attention to this glaring inequality. Gender Equality is so important that it was included as the fifth of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations amongst serious sustainability issues.

Women across the world are still fighting for equality in all aspects of life, equal pays for equal jobs, sexual harassment, etc. Only once we have all the rights men have and there is full equality regardless of gender then there will be no more need for special days to celebrate women.

Essentially, are you a feminist? Put differently, do you believe in feminism?

It seems that the word “Feminist” has been misunderstood over the years. Feminism has been associated with forceful and angry women who want to take over the world and that men will eventually lose out of power, influence, control and economic activities. What is wrong in asking for the abolition of underage marriages or female genital mutilation, and other cultural and religious tendencies that undermine and hinder the female gender?

A feminist is someone who supports equal rights for women. Feminism is gender-neutral. If you do believe in equal rights, equal pay, and the end of rape culture, then I’m here to tell you today, you’re a feminist

Chimamanda Adichie in her book “We should all be Feminists” gives her definition of a “Feminist” as someone, male or female, who “says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better’”. In that context, then my answer is Yes! I am a feminist and yes, I believe in Feminism!

Have you been involved in feminist advocacy from the University of Ibadan or at work in Canada or Nigeria?

I wish I could say yes. but the answer is No. All I was interested in when I was in the University was understanding Chemistry as a subject, hanging out with my girlfriends, attending parties and boys ..in that order!

Do you believe in affirmative action for women in all spheres?

Yes, I do support affirmative action for the female gender as there is significant discrimination that needs to be addressed on an urgent basis.

Women constitute roughly 50% of the Nigerian population and contribute in vital ways to societal development generally. They assume key roles including motherhood, caregivers, educators, entrepreneurs, political activists, just to name a few. But despite that, women are still being excluded, marginalised and underrepresented in political realms and other leadership positions, due to some cultural stereotypes, abuse of religion, traditional practices and patriarchal societal structure.

Countries like Rwanda and South Africa have used affirmative action in form of a quota system to pave the way for women’s representation in politics. In Rwanda, over 50% of political positions are held by women. Seeing women in positions of power can encourage others to confidently aspire to leadership positions.
Affirmative action also promotes diversity and increases opportunities for a disadvantaged group. It can decrease the potential for conflict as members of society begin to find themselves at the same level, politically, economically and socially.

Is Nigeria doing enough in terms of sustaining the environment?

Nigeria is not doing enough because they do not see the need to focus on sustaining the environment as a priority. The truth is that majority of Nigerians are still at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Basic physiological requirements are yet to be met – Food, shelter, water etc. If someone is extremely hungry, it’s hard to focus on anything else besides food. You can imagine a typical Nigerian being concerned about the damage Fossil fuel or deforestation is doing to the environment when he cannot afford to pay for food or housing and there is no clean water. Once these basic needs are met, the next level of needs will be a safe and sustainable environment.

The United Nations SDGs have 17 goals. However, by the time you undertake an ESG materiality assessment on Nigeria as a Country and you prioritise the issues that present sources of risk and opportunity you will see that the first 9 goals are the most material to Nigeria and its people at this time.

Meanwhile, the developed countries have long moved past these first 9 goals and are focused more on the last 8 which include sustainable environment and the reduction of carbon footprints, etc. These are at the higher level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Bolanle Oduyale

Let us take logging or depletion of the forest, as an example.

Deforestation has negative implications on the environment in terms of soil erosion, loss of biodiversity ecosystems, loss of wildlife and increased desertification among many others. The cutting of trees releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere which in turn depletes the ozone layer.

Nigeria currently has the highest deforestation rate in the world according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations with between 450,000 and 600,000 hectares of forest lost annually mostly from illegal logging activities.

The situation of illegal logging in Nigeria is heart-wrenching and happens at multiple levels. There are the foreigners that are raping the forests and illegally exporting our timber for heavy financial gains in cohort with Nigerian security agencies. You also have increased logging as a result of poverty given the increasing demand for firewood and charcoal due to the exorbitant prices of kerosene and Liquified Natural Gas (LPG) otherwise called cooking gas which have become unaffordable.

This suggests a relationship between poverty and deforestation. Poverty leads to the felling and burning of trees for fuel. Again, we see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at play here. Why would anyone care about deforestation when they are hungry and need to cook but cannot afford cooking gas or Kerosene.

Gas flaring still occurs. In Port Harcourt, people find it difficult to cope with soot.

In 2018, Port Harcourt was rated as the worst polluted city in the world with an air index of 188 and has become Nigeria’s poster city for adverse respiratory, skin and reproductive conditions, chronic respiratory diseases, heart problems and cancer, thanks to the presence of soot in the air. The residents of Port Harcourt are being killed slowly and en masse due to soot poisoning.

Governor Nyesome Wike had commissioned a technical team to investigate the problem in 2016 and found that the activities of illegal oil bunkers and gas flaring were the major causes of soot pollution in the state. However, he seems to be at a loss regarding the solution because the bunkering activities are again being seriously enabled by corrupt security agencies and there is simply no political or financial will to stop gas flaring.

The toxic fumes cause many environmental and health problems, and the practice increases the risk of global warming. The crude combustion process of illicit gas flaring releases substantial greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The Nigerian Government needs to do more by working with affected stakeholders including community leaders, state government, Oil companies and the security agents to curb this very dangerous menace

You have lived in the Western world where the attitude of people to killing and consumption of wild animals is different from ours. Here, many women trade in wild animals. Is there a way to balance business with concern for ecological balance? What is your advice to the government, women and rural community leaders?

Wildlife preservation is taken very seriously in developed nations. Hunting is heavily regulated, and people are required to treat animals with respect. The indiscriminate killing of wildlife is a grievous offence that attracts jail sentences. The situation has so improved in some of these countries that authorities have resorted to culling to control the explosive proliferation of these animals and maintain the desired ecosystem.

While it is impossible to ban hunting in Nigeria, we need to adopt actions that will help preserve our wildlife and reverse the dwindling population of game animals.

The danger is that if animals continued to be hunted with such reckless abandon, especially large mammals that have slow rates of reproduction, many of these animals would become extinct in a few decades. Years ago, the sight of cheap bushmeat for sale at almost every stop in Nigeria was rampant, but these days, bushmeat is scarce and very expensive, because these animals have been overhunted.

The government needs to carry out a mass campaign on the need for hunters to regulate their activities by working with community leaders. Moral suasion is the key. In some countries, the local government decides days appointed for hunting activities, as well as the number of animals permitted to be killed. Government can also create incentives that will encourage rural hunters to moderate their activities.

We can also explore alternatives to meat. On the sustainability scale, the carbon footprint that accompanies meat consumption is very high anyway. According to experts, about 90 per cent of the fish consumed in Nigeria is imported. This means there is a big market for fish farming and as such, people should be encouraged and incentivised to invest in fishing and poultry farming.

Beyond the environment, let us extend the scope of this interview to other areas. Are you satisfied with the percentage of women in politics?

Absolutely not! In a country where almost 50% of the population are female, currently, only seven out of 109 senators and 22 of the 360 House of Representatives members are women.

There are also societal factors that impede women’s representation, mostly cultural, a sad portrayal of women as subordinate to men. Some are related to the political party systems and structures. For instance, the high cost of politics and election campaign prevents women from standing for elective positions
It is particularly sad that in a month globally dedicated to celebrating women worldwide, our National Assembly which is currently dominated by men has chosen to deny women basic human rights by rejecting the Gender Equality bills that were presented on the floor of the house. These are rights enjoyed by every Nigerian except women.

If not, what is your advice?

There needs to be a collective attempt to change the situation. These changes cannot be done without the men because they are currently the decision-makers.

There are presently dozens of women advocacy groups that are actively working with women, mentoring and providing the requisite sponsorship to interested candidates. However, the most impactful step would be an affirmative action targeted at ensuring women are allowed to participate in and win elective positions.

Are you ready to also join politics?


What do you think is also responsible for the low percentage of women in the boardrooms. How can this be corrected?

Women have traditionally been underrepresented on boards of companies, but after some social and legal pressure, their presence has been increased in recent years. Many Companies are now intentional in their quest for diversity on their boards.

The percentage of women and men entering the workforce is typically equal but as they progress in their career, the women tend to focus more on family, getting married, having children and sometimes leaving the workforce completely to raise their children. Meanwhile, these women are hardly considered for promotion in the same year they embark on maternity leave. This makes their pace of progression signi­ficantly slower than their male counterparts. Eventually, we find more of the men in senior management and Board positions while the women are still at junior or middle-level management.

The increase of female presence on corporate boards is being promoted either by imposing legal quotas or by issuing softer recommendations concerning the codes of good governance. For example, the Central Bank of Nigeria mandates Banks to have a board composition of at least 30% female.

Strong advocacy and corporate will to change the status quo have also yielded fruits. Reduction of bias in recruitment and development processes and roll-out of mentorship and sponsorship initiatives to support women. Companies need to encourage the retention and promotion of more women in the workplace, they should also implement programs to increase flexibility for new mothers returning from maternity leave and establish programs to smoothly transition those reentering the workforce from a career gap.

In your area of business, you have a lot to do with the empowerment of people. As the founder and Chief Executive Officer of CreditWise Financials Limited, a Nigerian financial lending company fast becoming a known brand in the Micro and Retail lending sector, is there a conscious effort to target or help women?

At Creditwise, we are committed to supporting the eradication of poverty and accelerating gender equality by enabling financial access for women, MSMEs and the bottom of the Pyramid. We deliberately target women and assist them to grow their businesses.

An overwhelming majority of these women have problems accessing finance and the ones that do have to pay exorbitant rates for the financing. Our SheBiz loan product helps women gain access to the capital they need to grow their businesses, unlock their unrealized ability, strengthen their skills and encourage their participation in business.

We also work closely with these women entrepreneurs through capacity building and financial advisory. Some of the women have been in business for years without having any form of registration and no insurance. Cash flows from the Business are mingled with personal accounts and there are no proper sales and expenditure records.  We assist the customer register with CAC, and any other relevant regulatory body required for the Business to operate effectively. We also provide advisory on the right insurance product that will adequately cover their risk exposure.

If so, what is the percentage? Or you can supply figures.

It is embedded in Creditwise as a rule that at least 65% of our Board, Staff and Clientele must be women.

 Religion and culture affect the trajectory of women in many parts of Nigeria. This is not something that can be corrected overnight. In the long term, what is your advice to the government, religious bodies and parents?

The challenges confronting the girl-child in Nigeria are multifaceted. They range from insecurity mostly in the northern part of the country, leading to more girls dropping out of school, sexual assault, early marriage, gender discrimination, poor sanitation, among others.

Unfortunately, the desired change cannot happen overnight. There is a lot of resistance to change because of entrenched beliefs and culture which is mostly for selfish reasons. A situation where even our lawmakers and governors who are the custodian of the law are offenders, marrying underage girls. Again, there must be the willingness on the part of the Government to enact laws and at the same time enforce those laws as a deterrence to potential offenders.

In addition to legislation, public awareness is also key because parents are active participants in these atrocities. They pass on their girls to these paedophiles under the guise of marriage for financial gains due to abject poverty

Many also hide behind religion to commit crimes against the girl child, but even the majority of the largely Muslim countries have updated their laws and have banned practices like girl child marriages, polygamy etc.

This also brings to the fore, the issue of girl child education in Nigeria. Many parents still believe that when you educate a girl, she will end up in her husband’s house. What is your advice here?

Poverty, illiteracy and Ignorance are the key factors. With about 67 per cent of Nigerians living in poverty, parents will be faced with the challenges of choosing between sacrificing the education of some of their children which is usually the girl child.

Some traditions stipulate that a woman’s place is in her husband’s kitchen and her primary role is centred around her home. These beliefs have kept many girls away from education as such families see investment in girl-child education as a waste. Even after some girls narrowly get the education, they face social and cultural barriers to obtaining leadership and management functions because they are women.

Public awareness and legislation are important steps to take. The government needs to make education up to Junior secondary school mandatory for all Nigerian Children. Rather than wait for the government, NGOs both local and International are lending their support to educate and empower girls and also provide scholarships to deserving girls to enable progress in their education which is laudable.

Early marriage in some parts of Nigeria is another big issue. What is the way out? Worse still, women are victims of domestic violence. It is a universal vice, though. Many women do not believe they can leave such matrimony because of the “for better for worse vow”. What is your take on this?

I am a Christian and I believe in the sanctity of the marital vow. However, when it comes to a matter of life and death. I chose life! A woman needs to know when it is time to throw in the towel and leave a marriage that has become life-threatening.

Let us end the interview on a humorous note. Do you believe that since many claim that women are more than men in number, polygamy should be the solution?

God made us in His image, and He is a jealous God. So expectedly His children are also jealous. Women are not more than men and I believe there is a man out there for every woman. Polygamy is just too emotionally damaging, especially for women that tend to validate themselves and their sense of worth through their men.