Dr. Hajara Umar-Sanda is the first woman to move into the professorial cadre in Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano. Hajara Sanda, an associate professor, was recently honoured by MassMediaNG as one of the top 10 female professors of Mass Communication in Nigeria and the only Northern Muslim on the list. In this interview, she shared her experience of being looked down upon for her wearing hijab and her other challenges.
What was it like to be honoured among the top 10 female professors of Mass Communication in Nigeria?
On the 26th of August 2020, I received a message on my WhatsApp and when I opened it, I saw a video showing Top 10 female professors of Mass Communication in Nigeria. It was an amazing thing and I don’t even know those who packaged the video. I got worried that my name was mentioned on the list because I knew I was not yet a full professor. I was able to get the contact of the founder of MassMediaNG and he also happened to be an associate professor of mass communication. He told me that they celebrated women in the professorial cadre and not only full professors. He said they normally look at the uniqueness of a few women in the professorial cadre and they selected 10 of us as a way of celebrating our profession during this year’s award with the theme “Women’s Equality Day 2020”. They also included two emeritus professors on the list. He said I was selected among the top 10 because I was the first woman to move into the professorial cadre in mass communication at Bayero University, Kano. And they saw it as an inspiration for many young girls from Northern Nigeria especially as it had to do with developing interest in education. They also felt that I have made remarkable contributions to our profession.
Three women were selected from Northern Nigeria. One from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the other from University of Jos and my humble self. It was a very huge honour for me. They acknowledged that my area of research interest was very unique i.e. Studies on women health issues in Northern Nigeria. They also mentioned that I was among the very few mass communication female scholars in Northern Nigeria that were awarded a Fulbright Scholarship.
What motivated this dedication to your chosen career?
There is an adage that says what a man can do a woman can even do better. I found myself in the midst of many men but few women. That motivated me to work harder. I was also further motivated when I got the Fulbright Scholarship to travel to the US to complete my PhD. Another motivation was to be a role model for young women in Northern Nigeria so that they can also aim high.
There must have been challenges along the way. What were they?
After being employed as a graduate assistant, my mode of dressing–because I always dress in full hijab—a lot of people looked down on me like someone that cannot perform academically or intellectually because of this. That was a challenge to me, which made me to prove them otherwise.
Going to the US and leaving my entire family behind was another big challenge, but with the support of my dear husband and loving mother, Alhamdulillah, I was able to overcome this. I remain very grateful to them.
Another challenge was when I was denied an accelerated promotion after my Masters programme on the mere excuse that this had been stopped. But, later on, a male colleague with the same situation from another department was promoted. I can never forget this.
Also, in 2012, after returning from the US where I went to do my PhD bench work, I came back with a bound copy of my thesis after completing everything under the supervision of my US academic adviser.When I came back I was abandoned for two years, deliberately, for two years without being able to defend my thesis. That was why I graduated in 2014 instead of 2012 without any justifiable reason. As a woman, I left my entire family behind for this but instead of encouraging me so that I can finish my defence on time, I was abandoned.
Was there a moment when you nearly gave up your goals because of these challenges?
Never. We spent five years pursuing our master’s degree and in our class, there was one of my colleagues who left for the United Kingdom and was able to complete his master’s degree in nine months. He almost even finished his PhD before we could even defend our MA at the department. But I never gave up. I believed in continuing with the struggle with the belief that one day I will make it.
How were you able to overcome these challenges?
I believe in hard work. With the ups and down, patience and perseverance were vital. Also, I received good support from my husband and my mother.
How difficult was it leaving your family to pursue your education?
Before I got the Fulbright Scholarship, people told me that even if I get it, I will not be able to go to the US. When they invited me for the interview, a lot of people also discouraged me. They said my husband would never allow me. But my husband, being a lawyer, is very supportive of women education. He supported me throughout. Even when I was in US, he came towards the end of my stay as a form of support/encouragement and we came back together. I also received support from the university authority as well as my senior colleagues in the university. I also appreciate the US Embassy Cultural Affairs Department, Nigeria for the wonderful opportunity. I remain grateful to all.
What do you think can be done to improve on girl-child education, especially in the North-West were you hail from?
There is an adage that says,when you educate a man, you educate an individual. But when you educate a woman, you educate the whole society. Based on this, we know that education of the girl-child is very crucial for the society, especially in the Northern region where the situation is very backward or pathetic. Most of our girl-children are subjected to hawking, early marriage and so on with the excuse of poverty and illiteracy. I believe that government should step in by giving free and compulsory education to the girl-child at all levels, especially in Northern Nigeria.
I have joined many associations that advocate for women empowerment, including my secondary school association, i.e. Shekara Old Girls Association (SHOGA) where we have done a lot of activities to improve our alma mater including providing a school clinic. Similarly, our alumni association of BUK class of 1992 have also done a lot of laudable projects for the development of society. This, I believe, will influence others to try and emulate us. I also belong to a foundation with the focus of awarding scholarships to indigent students especially the girl-child and students with special needs.
Do you consider your achievements as a sign that women in Northern Nigeria are breaking ‘the glass ceiling?’
Yes, indeed, I believe we are just starting. This is just the tip of an iceberg. I believe the important ingredients to success are hard work, honesty, patience, not being found wanting as well as upholding morality/integrity and above all, fear of the Almighty in all things.
I advise women to try harder so they can break the glass ceiling and excel to be heard and seen at the same time.
Source: Daily Trust