World over, women have always been marginalized in decision making processes. In ancient times, several instances exist in the Holy books where women were admonished or chastised for daring to seek to perform roles originally reserved for their male counterparts irrespective of the fact that such roles had no biological inclinations.
Today, in many parts of the world, especially in most African countries, the story has barely changed. 21st Century politics in Nigeria is marred with socio-political biases, primordial values, stereotypes and cultural beliefs which help to create a male dominated political terrain and atmosphere. There is dire need therefore, for the political emancipation and subsequently the realization of the leadership dreams and aspirations of the Nigerian woman.
Presently, statistics released by Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) indicates that in 2011, women in decision making positions account for only 19.5% both in elective and appointive positions in Nigeria.
According to UN Women Survey, Nigeria is currently ranked at 115th with an average of 7.7% in its lower and upper houses, well below the global and regional average in women representation in Parliament.
The persistent imbalance or disparity in both elective and appointive positions of leadership in Nigeria prompted the Gender Division of Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) DGD project to organize a BRIDGE workshop on Gender and Elections to sensitize Staff of the Commission on the urgent need for devising strategies that would engage the militating factors hindering the process with a view to actualizing the Nigeria’s National Gender Policy (NGP) which advocates 35% gender representation in Public Services.
Participants in this BRIDGE Gender workshop have been adequately armed with convincing information through the very rich and exciting BRIDGE module on Gender and Elections covering Sex and Gender; Potential Gender Issues in Electioneering; Quota Controversies; Enforcement and Sanctions of International Conventions and Protocols; Gender Responsive Governance; Gender and Election Violence; Voter Education and Women in Election; etc. The Workshop facilitators, Molly Nawe Kamukama, Dorothy Bello, Anthonia Ikuru and Aliyu Bello, exposed participants to Gender Advocacy and networking as an imperative to facilitating gender/women empowerment in the political space in Nigeria come 2015 election and beyond.
During the workshop, it was observed that though Nigeria is signatory to various International Instruments that ensure women’s active participation in politics, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act (2010) (as amended) addressed some of the international obligations regarding Fundamental human rights (Universal Adult Suffrage) without making particular reference to enhancement of women’s participation and representation in the male dominated political arena.
The National Gender Policy (NGP) of 2007 which aims at the adoption of special measures, quotas and mechanism for achieving critical mass of the set target of 35% Affirmative Action for women’s participation in all spheres of leadership has not been able to achieve the desired results. As at 2011, the percentage of women in lower and upper houses in Nigeria account for only 7.7% of total seats.
It is therefore not far-fetched to conclude that women’s political empowerment in Nigeria can best be achieved through quotas.
Quotas, whether by permanently reserved seats, Legislated Candidate Quotas (LCQ) or Voluntary Political Party Quotas (VPQ) will have a huge impact as incentive to motivate Nigerian women and build confidence for them to venture into politics and politicking.
An overhaul of our Electoral System is not too difficult a demand to fulfill. A change from First Past the Post (FPTP) to Proportional Representation (PR) systems which is more gender friendly ought to be considered by our Legislature to give women opportunity for a level playing field with their male counterparts in politics.
Participants noted that, in line with Nigeria’s stated commitment to the affirmative action, rather than paying continuous lip service and tokenism to gender issues, our Legislature should go back to the drawing board and devise fast – track strategies to redress the political marginalization of the Nigerian woman towards achieving their much desired political emancipation.
To ensure a better gender balance of power in our political system, there must also be a gender/women friendly legislation and reform of the electoral process to promote participation of women in politics.
On the part of INEC, participants understand that the Commission is not unmindful of the inequalities of gender imbalance in political participation which seems inexorably skewed against women. Even though INEC has been pursuing reform processes and policy initiatives aimed at substantially improving gender equity, a lot still needs to be done both within and outside the EMB. The EMB must generate internal policies to promote gender main streaming within the organization. INEC should also make gender inclusive submissions to the Legislature on the on-going review of the Electoral Act (2010 as amended).
The Electoral body is charged with voter/civic education. INEC must endeavor to carry out Gender targeted voter education and sensitization to educate the Nigerian women on their rights and the need for them to seek political leadership positions in all tiers of government.
All hands must be on deck. The absence of networking and cooperation among women political aspirants makes it impossible for them to pursue a common goal or protect each other’s interest. Women politicians must look out for themselves and support each other especially across party lines. That way, they ensure that the parties acknowledge, respect and work towards other concerns which are valid and constant, irrespective of party affiliations.
Women need to understand that it is important for them to regroup and form effective pressure groups to push for ratification of International Conventions, Charters and Protocols.
Participants resolved to bring our experiences at the workshop to bear on our various individual/official capacities in furthering the gender cause and affirmative action in Nigeria.
The ball is now in our court: Let’s make it happen!
We also danced and had fun as well.