By GREGORY T. OKERE
Gender inequality refers to unequal treatment or perceptions of individuals wholly or partly due to their gender or sex. It arises from differences in socially constructed gender roles. Thus, ideology is the centre of almost all efforts to explain gender inequalities. People’s conceptions of masculinity and femininity, ideas concerning the fairness of differential treatment or expectations of women and men, help to evoke different judgments of women’s and men’s actions, rules about proper male and female behaviour applied to children. All these and more concern the influence of ideology on gender identities, differential treatment of women and men, and the organization and persistence of gender inequality.
Conversely, each ideological belief that helps to sustain gender inequality is itself a product of gender inequality. Thus, when significant, enduring, social inequality exists, those privileged by that form of inequality will normally have more influence over the state than those disadvantaged by the inequality, and the overall effect of state policies will reinforce the exercise and persistence of the inequality. A fundamental problem for all state theories is who or what decides state policies and actions. To some extent, those “in” the state (i.e. elected, appointed, hired or nominated) make decisions based on their interests and outlooks as members of the state apparatus. To some degree, state actors respond to the influence of power brokers outside the state, such as the economically powerful. In either case, when making policy or strategic planning decisions, those influencing state actions are in part responding to what they perceive will be the responses of all actors in the nation affected by those decisions. States, or the political actors who comprise the government, also have their own interests, most notably preserving their power, and these interests are not automatically consistent with the interests of dominant social groups.
Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ( UNDHR) provides: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. “ Article 2 of the UNDHR also re-emphasises the equality of human persons as follows: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. “
However, Article 2 of African (Banjul) Charter On Human And Peoples’ Rights re-enacted the aforementioned provisions of the UNDHR on equality of human beings, which African countries including Nigeria adopted as follows: “Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social, origin, fortune, birth or other status.”
An article written by Okorie Martha and published online by International Journal of Arts and Humanities (IJAH) Bahir Dar- Ethiopia shows that in Nigeria, only 25 out of 360 members of the Nigerian House of Representatives are women in 2011 and following the 2015 general elections, the number reduced to 17 out of 360. But the statistics as prepared by Mrs. Oloyede Oluyemi of National Bureau of Statistics (NBS, Abuja, Nigeria) in her paper titled monitoring participation of women in politics in Nigeria showed that in 2011 the number of female representatives at the House of Representatives in Nigeria was 26 out of 360 representing 7.2% while in 2015, the number decreased to 19 out of 360 members which represented 5.3%.Thus, whether the former figure by Okorie or the later by Oluyemi is the correct figure, it is undoubtedly a consequence of gender inequality in the pursuit of political opportunities in Nigeria. A number of scholars have suggested that structural problems like the patriarchy and restricted economic opportunities for women are mainly responsible for their unequal representation in the country’s politics. In fact, Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of female entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa.
This situation, coupled with their socio-culturally ascribed roles as being restricted to motherhood or wife only serves to deepen their exclusion. Advocates of gender equality in Nigeria have noted that a viable means of reducing the gender gap would be the use of affirmative action, which provides an institutional and legal framework for marginalized groups of the society to have equal representation. The counter-argument so far has been that the constitution of Nigeria does not prevent any gender from aspiring to electoral position, but prevailing evidence has shown that this is not enough. Thus, Okorie suggested that Nigeria should adopt the quota system in terms of elective positions; appointments etc. to enable her close the wide gap between the two genders in governance and politics. But the recent gubernatorial primaries conducted by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) wherein each ward out of 326 wards in Anambra State was fully represented by a woman leader, and that is to say that the rough estimate of the number of women that voted in the said election is a minimum of 326 but the only female aspirant got no single vote from both the men and her fellow women that participated in the said primaries. In conclusion, the issue of gender inequality in politics and governance in Nigeria is not peculiar to men against women but “is also promoted by women against women”.
Okere writes from Centre for Social Justice, Abuja