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Strengthening institutional frameworks for improved women participation in politics  

By Grace Yussuf News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

After the just-concluded party primaries, many stakeholders are at loss as to why the participation of women in politics this time around has been abysmally low.

The stakeholders, especially women activists, have decried the decline in women’s political fortune and their political entrepreneurship in this dispensation.

They have attributed this development to the patriarchal nature in the country’s environment, while others have pointed to the culture that does not encourage women to go into politics.

However, the most important factor, they aver is the mercantile politics that is practiced in Nigeria.

The mercantile and monetisation of politics, make the political terrain not to be favourable to women, who obviously mostly cannot afford such political enterprise.

Statistics by the Gender Strategy Advancement International (GSAI), on the low political participation of women in Nigeria showed that their participation falls below the world and African continental standards.

According to the report, the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria remains at 6.7 per cent in elective and appointive positions.

This is far below the global average of 22.5 per cent and Africa regional average of 23.4 per cent and the West African Sub Regional average of 15 per cent, according to the report.

Prof. Joy Ezeilo, the Founder of Women of Aid Collective (WACOL), an NGO, and an activist with over 20 years experience, frowns at the dismal participation of women in politics in this dispensation, saying they have continued to be disenfranchised.

Ezeilo said it was unfortunate that the efforts to get affirmative action entrenched in the nation’s constitution or to get gender equal opportunities bill passed have not yielded expected results. The moves were meant to enhance women’s chances at running and winning election.

She says the country has never seen this type of retrogression in women’s political fortune and a decline in their political entrepreneurship.

“In Nigeria, to get gender equal opportunities bill passed that would have enhanced woman’s chances at running and winning elections, failed.

“And then, now the results from the primaries have shown poor performance for women and we are really worried. I have done this work for two decades and I am saying when are we going to get it right?

“We have done it in other countries, and we have seen how they succeeded. In Rwanda, I was part of the movement for affirmative action and getting it into their constitution and more women are participating in politics in that country.

“And since 2015, it has declined, and people are pointedly not too happy with APC for this declining women’s fortunes because you expect the ruling party to be the one that will set an example and have significant number of women.

“And there is no way we can make claims to sustainable development without full participation of women in governance and indeed in all sectors including the economy,’’ she said.

According to her, because of the mercantile politics that is practiced in Nigeria, the political terrain is not enabling, the monetisation is huge and most women cannot afford that.

“And of course, we know they are interrelated, sometimes women’s economic status also affects their political careers,’’ she said.

The law professor also attributed political violence and the current insecurity that pervades the entire country as contributing to women lagging behind in terms of being aspirants as their participation this time around is not as large as it was in 2015.

Others also affirm that the rejection of the five Gender Bills presented to the National Assembly early this year, which resulted in weeks of massive protests by women activists has also contributed to the low participation of women.

The demonstration described as the “mother of all protests” was aimed at calling on the federal lawmakers to reconsider all the gender bills that were rejected during the Constitution amendment earlier in the year.

The National Assembly in early March voted against bills providing for 35 per cent affirmative action for women in political parties’ administration, they also voted against the bill to create special seats for women in the national and state assemblies.

Both bills got an abysmal number of votes during the clause-by-clause consideration during the constitution amendment at both chambers in the parliament.

Another activist, Ms. Ene Obi, the Country Director of ActionAid, also lamented the low participation of women in politics in this dispensation as compared to 2011 and 2015.

“I think there are several factors responsible for low participation of women, there are very few women right now in politics, because of the patriarchal nature we have in our environment.

“And because of our culture and also not receiving the encouragement from the political class from the government of Nigeria,’’ Obi said.

She said governments lacked the political commitment to implement the 35 per affirmative action for female participation in governance, both appointive and elective, even though the National Gender Policy has stipulated it.

According to her, with the present 6.7 per cent of women representation, whether it is an appointive position or elective position, the impact of women cannot be felt.

This, she said stemmed from lack of recognition of women in the political parties.

“Do the major parties recognise women participation? Let’s come down to the current one where we have 109 senators and we have only eight women and we have 306 house of representatives and we have about 13 women.’’

“So, what we should be saying now is that we are at a point where things need to be done and that is why the gender bills were sent to the National Assembly, because we try to review and reflect on what is done in the other parts of the world,’’ she said.

Obi says the 35 per cent affirmative action women are seeking for now is that political parties need to make it as a rule to insert in their own constitution 35 per cent of women representation in both appointments and elective positions.

She also cites Rwanda, which is in Africa, as a country which deliberately encourages women’s participation and the percentage of their women in governance “is very impressive.’’

Making reference to the Federal Character Commission, she says it came into being because of diversity in the country’s representation.

She advises that the concept should be reflected to correct the imbalance in the quality of the population in the national life that will lead to quality decisions.

“When decisions are taken in the board room; who are those present in these boardrooms? And the reason why we are taking it seriously now is because women are dying in the maternity wards, dying in road accidents, and through terrorists attacks, they are dying, their husbands and children are also dying.

“But women are not there to make decisions that will help them survive the vagaries of the system.

“So, when we look at women representation, we have to look at security, it has to do with people that are making choices for them; when we have conflicts it is women that are being raped.

“Many women and young girls are carrying children of their enemies, children of their rapists and we are having hundreds of children roaming around with no body wanting them,’’ she said.

Obi praises the role played by the late wife of the military president, Mrs. Maryam Babangida, after the Beijing Conference of 1995, when through the Ministry of Women Affairs, the National Women Commission was created.

“You remember that under her husband then, she was very active and very concerned about the women of Nigeria and so because of her, women that were not ordinarily coming out had to be coming out.

“She will ask for the wives of the local government chairmen to come out, likewise, when she goes to the states, she will want the wives of the state governors to come out and that was the time that many women in the north were not coming out.

“And that made it look like a fiesta but then it actually brought women out and when you come out and learn about new things, you would go back and do the same. Women started becoming politically active then,’’ she said.

The ActionAid boss is of the opinion that men are just being insensitive to the choices to be made for quality living, quality population and quality decisions by not including women in the scheme of things.

She says the call for the creation of an extra seat in every senatorial zone, to bring them on board for quality discussion was not taken.

“ There is no way men can represent women. We have how many committees in the senate, how many women are there? And we have only 13 women in the House of Representatives. Does that mean that we don’t have qualified women?

“This extra seat in the house of representatives for example accounts for only one per cent of the budget and you can easily accommodate it because the Nigerian parliament is one of the highest paid in the world in a place where is the poverty capital in the world,” Obi said.

Obi describes the situation now as unfortunate as the country has millions of female lawyers, medical doctors, engineers and women in different professions “and they cannot be encouraged to be brought on board in governance?’’

“Unlike the time before we got independence when the women then with their standard six, went and challenged the colonial government and participated in the struggle for the emancipation of Nigeria,’’ she said.

According to a GSAI report, Nigeria ranks 181 of 193 countries on the Gender Equality Index, for countries with low women representation in governance.

The ranking took into consideration reasons such as poor resource allocation in the economic and social sectors, frequent conflicts, forced displacements and inadequate inclusion of women and girls’ perspectives in policy-making decisions.

The report says other reasons include low representation of women in governance and politics; and inadequate legal framework and limited capacity to support women’s empowerment and equality efforts, (UN Women, 2020).

“Despite all efforts to promote the contribution of women in the domain of politics and decision making, women have continued to record low representation at all tiers and levels of governance although they constitute almost half of the electorate.

“Findings reveal that males constituted 94.2 per cent of the members of the National Assembly in the periods from 1999 to 2015 (on average), while female participation remained low at 5.8 per cent (National Bureau of Statistics, 2019),” the report said.

The Executive Director, GSAI, Ms. Adaora Onyechere, wonders why the Federal Government has not considered certain policies on gender inclusion.

Onyechere spoke at a two-day capacity building workshop with the theme: “Capacity Building Workshop for Reporters and Editors on Media Independence to Promote Women’s Economic Inclusion and Gender Accountability in Governance”, in Abuja.

“Statistics of women from 1999 to date both in governance, in politics and the way government has tailored their implementation of gender budget has totally been null and void, for a population with over 49.2 per cent.

“It is a serious problem and the need to evaluate and look at what government has done, is very important.

“From our investigations, there is no sense of duty to women’s inclusion at the community level. So, it seems as if there’s not enough effective implementation of policies at the grassroots,’’ Onyechere said.

In the same vein, Hajiya Lami Adamu Lau, the National President of the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) calls on political parties to restructure their policies to reflect gender balance.

Lau says that is why the council has been embarking on advocacy drives to all political parties seeking ways of working together with them to strengthen the country’s democracy to ensure that women are actively involved parties politics.

“A truly egalitarian nation is possible when we embrace our differences and give every Nigerian a sense of belonging, irrespective of gender and other mundane considerations,’’ she said.

Lau decries that Nigerian women have continued to register poor representation in politics and leadership in spite of the huge numerical strength and various national, international legal instruments on gender inclusion and mainstreaming.

According to her, in the history of Nigeria’s democratic rule, women have not attained up to 11 per cent representation in both elective and appointive positions.

“Thus, denying the huge population of capable and credible women with robust credentials and sound moral values the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the economic development of our dear nation.

“Political parties play very key roles in leadership selection in any democratic system”, she said.

Lau also condemns the National Assembly recent rejection of five gender bills, saying women have continued to experience subtle discrimination bias and stereotyping within the party leadership structures.

“None of the major parties live up to the recommendation of the 2008 Electoral Reform Committee of 20 per cent of women in governing boards of political parties,” she said.

She says this discrimination has kept women at the bottom level of the party hierarchy and outside of the circles where decisions are being made on candidate nomination and selection.

She urges that all the parties to be known for zero tolerance for all forms of violence against women in the political space as enshrined in their constitutions.

Another activist, Ms. Ene Ede, the Executive Director, Equity Advocates says apart corruption and corrupt practices which are the bane of political parties, there has been no will for women to push hard in making demands on leaders on their exclusion and marginalisation.

Ede says if legal actions are taken against violations of compliance to affirmative action principles of minimum of 35 per cent reserved positions on both elective and appointive are for women, then the attention of the government will be drawn to their issues.

“If all opportunities and privileges anywhere, 35 per cent are exclusively reserved for females. Also if the national, state local government lawmakers and other two arms of governments effectively make legal.

“Finally if media as watch dog keeps track of published documents, then the issue of women participation in governance and politics, will be effectively pushed to the front burner,’’ she said.

According to Ede, women and other people of conscience must stop this democratic retrogression.

“See the composition of Presidential campaign organisations of the two main political parties – APC and PDP is very retrogressive by standard and intention. The two parties are ready for war and distraction,’’ she said.

Other stakeholders have called on political parties to reserve the positions of female running mates in their parties.

Specifically, the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute has expressed concern over the exclusion of women as running mates in the presidential primaries for the 2023 elections.

It, therefore, emphasises the need for the media to beam attention on the marginalisation of women in the last presidential primaries by political parties.

These recommendations were among the highlights of a communiqué issued at the end of a two-day media training in Calabar for 25 journalists on gender reporting.

The event was organised by Women In Politics Forum (WiPF ) for selected journalists, and the communiqué was signed by the President of WiPF, Ebere Ifendu.

Ifendu said that the media needed to be intentional in projecting women in politics through the publication of stories that would focus on issues rather than irrelevant personal matters.

The communiqué read, “Participants also observed that as a prelude to the 2023 presidential election, none of the major political parties made women their running mates, thereby, fueling the continued marginalisation of women.

“The media should beam attention on the marginalisation of the last presidential primaries in this regard.

“Journalists should generate story ideas and write stories on women in politics and amplify women’s success stories either in politics or other spheres of life.

“The media should ensure that more women are featured regularly on guest programmes.’’

“Media organisations should deliberately create special programmes or allot slots for women-related programmes. Women groups should partner with media executives through advocacy visits to establish women-focused programmes.

“Media organisations should avoid the use of stereotypes in their description of women holding public offices.

“Media organisations and reporters should commit to reporting women-related stories every two weeks or perhaps, once a month for visibility.

“Reporters and media agencies should compile a data bank or compendium of women open to interviews,” Ifendu said.

Also on the way forward, Ezeilo expresses belief that women can raise the quality of leadership, adding that for 2027, women have to start working towards that now.

She expresses the hope that the female members of National Assembly will not give up the good work of pursuing the passage of the gender bills, which she describes as “ a beautiful piece of legislation, progressive piece of legislation’’.

She says the problem is deep seated and women have to get to the root of  it.

Ezeilo says it is time for decisive action by women to negotiate power.

“We have to negotiate this power. We can’t be waiting for them to serve us. We just have to serve ourselves. We have to just serve our interests.

“We have to stand up in solidarity. We have to take concerted action to make sure we begin now to bargain that patriarchy, that power from men and make sure that there is division of power and that power is shared in a way that represents women and women interest,’’ she said.

For Obi of ActionAids, a lot of education is going on about the continuous voters registration for people to make sure they get their PVCs.

“If I see a woman on a ballot paper and no matter the party, and if you are bold enough to come out to contest, you will get my vote,’’ Obi said.

She also stresses the need for unity among women to overcome the patriarchal struggle.

“If we can unite and come together it will result to a lot of bonding. And we are working with other organisations to make sure the needful is done.

“We have not given up on the gender bills, because there are conventions that Nigeria that signed into that have not been domesticated, so will continue until those gender bills are represented,” Obi said.

Beside recommitting and reconsidering all the five gender bills, women are also asking the lawmakers to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill currently before the Senate and immediately domesticate the African Charters Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which Nigeria ratified in 2004.

The National Assembly is also being asked to domesticate the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Nigeria ratified in 1985.

For Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, the Nigeria’s legislature, which is male-dominated with a very poor women representation, which spreads across political and elective positions, must be changed to also favour both genders.

“Nigerian women have resolved to continue to struggle to push back on the misogynistic attitude of some of the lawmakers and the pattern of neglect toward women concerns and disregard for “womanity’’.

“We reject further dehumanisation of Nigerian women. The constitution should cure the defect and we will continue to protest to show our dissatisfaction.

“We call on the Senate President and the Speaker to call an urgent meeting to discuss how to redress the wrong, if not we shall continue to occupy the National Assembly,” Akiyode-Afolabi, the Co-convener of Womanifesto, said on behalf of protesting women.

A member of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), and former Deputy Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Adefunmilayo Tejuosho, says nobody will give any woman free position; rather, women will continue to ask for affirmative action.

“We will continue to encourage more women to be in positions of authority. We should be able to come together as women to say, “No Women, No Vote”.

“If we do not put women in positions of authority, women will not vote. I think this affirmative action will help to bring women on board.

“Stepping down is not only a woman’s issue. I think we need to re-organise ourselves to make sure that our grassroots are intact, that the delegates that will vote are those who will vote for women.

“When we look at the population of women in Nigeria, we have more women than men. When we look at the population of voters, we have more women than men,” Tejuosho said.

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