The value of political equality is central to normative theories of democracy. It is argued that women are equal citizens and therefore should share equally with men in public decision-making.
Otherwise, there is a democratic deficit. By contrast, since the return of democracy in Nigeria, women are at the forefront in growing and developing our electoral process, despite their narrow inclusion but still the percentage that voted in the previous elections was an indication that women deserve to be included in the democratic governance. But why is violence against them in election is always increasing from one part of the country to another?
In Nigeria, there is a lot of identity-based violence against women running daily offline and also on our social media platforms. During the recent primaries, female aspirants faced challenges from their male counterparts. For example, a female aspirant posted on her social media handle that she failed to get ticket from her party because of her refusal to sleep with some of the party chieftains. Another also said that they forced her to step down for a male candidate just because of her gender.
This violence often spikes around elections because it is used as a tool for political intimidation, but little is known about how much of and in what ways this violence is directed at women. In the 2011 general elections, for example, there were reports that female National Youth Service Corps volunteers experienced sexual harassment, threat and hate speech at polling units across the country. In a nutshell, women are targeted for violence during elections specifically because they are women and to stop them from exercising their democratic or civic rights.
On September 1 in Abuja, an non-governmental organization, National Democratic Institute, designed and launched a campaign titled: “Stop Violence Against Women in Election,” with the aim of documenting and reporting the incidence of violence against women in election to the relevant stakeholders such as election officials, security agencies, women group, religious bodies and other organizations that are interested in elections.
In spite of this effort, women are still confronting violence on daily basis. The Punch, Vanguard and Thisday newspapers on September 24 reported 60 cases of violence against women recorded in the during the Osun State governorship elections.
Violence against women takes different forms and dimensions. The violence can be seen as physical, psychological, sexual, threat, cultural and economic violence. For the lack of space, let me cite some examples of violence against women in election. Denying the female aspirant ticket because she refuses sexual advancement from the political party chieftains, denying them access to financial support, assault, hate language, and cultural barriers attached to the issue especially in the Northern Nigeria.
Moreover, women receive threat from their opponents, members of their own party and even from their own family members. These forms of violence have become a big hindrance to inclusive participation of women in the democratic process. The number of aspirants released by INEC indicated a gender gap or disparity.
If one compares to other democratic countries of the world, violence against women in elections is a threat to the integrity of the electoral process – it can affect women’s participation as voters, candidates, election officials, activists, and political party leaders, and it undermines the free, fair, and inclusive democratic process. With this, it has become imperative for the stakeholder to develop new strategies aimed at promoting peaceful and violence-free elections, which necessitate full gender inclusivity at every step of the electoral process.
Also, women should be encouraged to report issues of violence against them to the appropriate authorities.
► Idris Mohammed Funtua, a Program Officer with Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement wrote from Abuja