As part of its mandates, the ECOWAS Commission has worked extensively on electoral matters but for the first time has extended its efforts to enhancing women’s participation in electoral processes in West Africa, which is in line with existing instruments that the Commission and its member states have adopted in enhancing the situation of women in the region. This prompted the conduct of a Gender and Election BRIDGE training which was organized from the 4th to the 6th of February, 2015 in Abuja, Nigeria by the Commission in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development (FMWA&SD) with the support of DANIDA. It was under the theme: Enhancing Women’s Appointive and Elective Participation in Governance and Democratic Processes. It brought together a total of seventy-eight (78) men and women (69 female and only 9 male) from three zones, i.e. South-South; South-West and North-West zones of Nigeria from among civil society organisations that are engaged in promoting and developing women’s skills and strengthening their role in society. Staff of the FMWA&SD and ECOWAS also participated in the training. The training was aimed at enhancing capacity to assess the challenges being faced through analyzing the women representation in previous elections as well as the status quo on the candidature for the 2015 Elections, as well as finding enablers to address the gender imbalances in the country, The honourable minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Haija Zainab Maina, CON, FCIA indicated that she strongly believes that the training will enhance engendered political engagement and strengthen support and action for inclusion of women in the national democratic processes. The ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, Dr Fatimata Dia, SOW impressed upon participants, the importance of men and women in any country to participate in decision making processes as voters, candidates, elected and appointed representatives; and stressed that the training is to address gender issues holistically not just women issues. The participants were divided into 3 zonal groups, due to the high number, and the training was held at 3 venues simultaneously. Each venue had 2 facilitators (one national & 1 international). A 6 member facilitating team comprised of the following:
Issues discussed during the training include:
Electoral systems in Nigeria and Barriers for Women in the electoral processes and possible interventions (using Problem Tree analysis and Solution Tree analysis & Case study) including video on Liberia’s Nobel prize laureate Leymah Gbowee’s presentation in Australia was very inspirational. Other topics discussed include Causes of Election Violence and the Impact on Women; Electoral Cycle from a Gender Perspective; Regional Gender Statistics comparison; Quotas and Reserved seats; Enhancing Women’s Participation in Governance and Democratic processes (elective vrs appointive position debate); Gender goal and objective setting for Pre, during and post election period; Stakeholder identification, analysis and management for Elections; and Strategies to enhance women in Elective and Appointive positions. The causes of election violence as well as barriers to women participation prompted the participants to commence their action towards improving the status quo. This exercise led to the participants creating a vision for addressing the challenges in both elective and appointive position using the gender lens. In-depth analysis and discussion also centered of figures on Women in State Houses of Assembly 1999-2007; Women in the House of Representatives 1999-2011; Women in the Senate 1999-2011; and the current status (2015 Elections) in terms of candidate lists was also tabled and discussed. The following were noted, observed and deliberated upon by the participants: There will be fewer women in the National Assembly following the 2015 elections; 2 of the current 8 female Senators secured their party tickets to return to the Senate; 8 out of the current 24 female members of the House of Representatives have secured their party tickets to return to the House; 737 candidates are vying for the 109 available seats in the Senate. 618 of these candidates are male (83.3%). 119 candidates (16.7%) are female; and For the House of Representatives, a total number of 1720 candidates are vying for the available 360 seats. Out of this number, 1456 candidates are male (84.7%). 264 candidates (15.3%).
One of the important outputs of this BRIDGE training is the development of 3 zonal action plans to guide the promotion of women’s political participation and representation in Nigeria for, at least, one electoral cycle. A template was created to ensure uniformity of presentations. Key in the strategy development was the identification of goals as well as relevant stakeholders and resources required. Participants also had to identify risks and how they intend mitigating such.
Participants indicated that the exercise on the strategic development “making it happen” and what kind of a legacy would they want to leave for the next generations got them thinking and revived their passion for their need to ensure that women are in both elective and appointive positions. All but one participant had never been exposed to BRIDGE and they indicated the need for similar workshops in their communities
By Theo. Dowetin & Bridget Masuluke