By Ayo Oyoze Baje
‘When some women try to get involved in politics, they are despised and as such they are at the defensive. Even their co-women would despise them and refuse to support and vote for them…First, women are not as financially buoyant as the men. Secondly, the political environment and conditions are often unfriendly and hostile to women” –Prof. Funmilayo Adesanya-Davies (former candidate of the Mass Action Joint Alliance in the 2019 presidential election)
The recent protest by hundreds of placard-carrying, concerned Nigerian women at the National Assembly, Abuja against the rejection of five bills seeking gender equality in the country is not only justified but has passed a potent message to prick the conscience of the powers that be.
According to the protesters this was a clear denial of Nigerian women the golden opportunity of inclusion and representation in governance by voting against the bills. In precise terms, one of the bills sought to grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of a Nigerian woman. Already, a Nigerian man’s foreign-born wife is automatically a Nigerian citizen. Another bill sought to allocate 35 per cent of political positions based on appointment to women but the legislators settled for a meager 20 per cent. Yet, another legislation sought to create special seats for women in National and State Assemblies.
According to Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, a lawyer and civil rights activist: “Women have questions that we want to ask them. Why is it that in this country, we seem not to be relevant because the attitude we saw show that we are not taken seriously? This is 2022. The country should have grown up by now” But has it? I have my doubts. What would the likes of Margaret Ekpo, Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti and Gambo Sawaba feel were they alive today? Precisely, on 18th December 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It entered into force as an international treaty on 3 September 1981 after the twentieth country had ratified it. Incidentally, Nigeria is a signatory to this international agreement. But has it walked the talk? No! Besides these, the laws protecting women’s rights include: RA 6949: (Declaring March 8 as National Women’s Day), RA 7877: (Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995) and RA 8353: (Anti-Rape Law of 1997). Others are: RA 6949: (Anti-Trafficking in Person Act of 2003) and RA 6949: (Anti-Violence against Women and Their Children Act of 2004). But these heinous crimes against our women folk keep pushing their ugly heads up in Nigeria, don’t they? Yes, they do!
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s gender representation in the National Parliament (National Assembly) is still a far cry from the Affirmative Agreement of 35 per cent for women. For instance, according to Statistahttps://www.statista.com › website, from 1999-2003 there were 454 male legislators to 15 women. From 2003-2007 there were 445 male to 25 female lawmakers. Ditto from 2007-2011 it was 435 male to 34 female lawmakers, while from 2011-2015 there were 438 male to 31 female legislators. The current dispensation is no better as there are 440 male legislators to 29 female counterparts from 2019 till now.
Contrary to the campaign promise made publicly by the then presidential candidate for the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari before the 2015 election to give 35 per cent ministerial appointments to women only seven of them made it in his First Term in office. That was a paltry 16 per cent! In response, a women coalition group under the aegis of 100 Women lobby group insisted that the President must respect and adhere strictly to the 35 percent affirmative action as enshrined in the National Gender Policy of 2006. Nigeria must also respect its commitment to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, goal 5 of which is specifically targeted at achieving gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. But their protests fell on stiff deaf ears. It would be recalled that in 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan administration’s cabinet had women occupying 33 percent of the available political positions. The difference, as the 7-Up advert goes is now patently clear! Interestingly, the 35 percent affirmative action is being practised by some African countries. For instance, Rwanda became the first country in the world with a female majority currently in parliament, at 61.3% for the Lower House and 38.5% for the Upper House. In Senegal, 64 women make up 42.7 percent of the total 150 seats in the lower house; and South Africa’s lower house has 166 women out of 396 seats and 19 out of 54 in the upper house. These figures represent 41.9 and 35.2 percents respectively.
All these political anomalies in Nigeria bring to mind, my novel titled: ‘Our Women’s Anger’ written in 2009 which chronicles the tempestuous trials and tribulations of some highly determined female activists who want to make history-to produce Nigeria’s first ever female president. But their collective dream can only be realized through one woman- Bintu Bawa.
In that book, the main character, Bawa has this to say: “Politics, as the late Kwame Nkrumah stated, ‘is for the realization of what is possible.’’ Let me illustrate it this way. From 1960 up till 1979 there was not a single woman in any notable position of political authority in Nigeria. No state female commissioner, no female federal minister, not to talk of a female member of parliament. It was Shehu Shagari who broke that jinx. Even then it was only one female member each at both the State and Federal Executive Councils.
“In the political scene back in 1988 late Mallam Aminu Kano, recognizing the inalienable role of women as supporters of the men chose Mrs. Janet Akinrinade as his running mate. Mrs. Ndidi Edewor because the defunct Bendel State Chairman of Nigeria’s Peoples Party, NPP. And with the concerted efforts of women of substance such as Mrs. Oyibo Odinamadu, Franca Afegbuna, Biola Babatope, Grace Bauaye, Mrs. Biola Ogunbo and Sawaba Gambo the women started to flex their political muscles. And thank God that today, political awareness for the women is increasing. “Even then we cannot rest on our oars. What we need is more of women empowerment. The target is 50 per cent participation by the year 2020, according to Gender and Development Action (GADA), with the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
“After both the 1985 Nairobi Conference and the 1995 Beijing Conference in China, women the world over have come to realize that they need to struggle much more for their own empowerment. In doing this, we realize that we have to be less belligerent and more male-friendly. The era of burning the bras, being antagonistic with high-flying feminism has come and gone.
“Luckily, in Nigeria today, we have the Women Commission in place. The State Ministries of Women Affairs is a right step in the right direction. More women are entering the labour force now. So, with a female president more pressure would be brought to bear on the Senate and Houses of Assemblies to enact enabling laws against female circumcision, early marriages, maltreatment of widows and exclusion of female children from their fathers’ wills. Others include laws against female child labour, female child trafficking, sexual harassment of female workers, the inability of women to fully participate in labour activities, or even bail suspects will be done away with”.
The crux of the matter is for members of the National Assembly to reconsider its stand, listen to the cries of our women and accede to the 35 percent Affirmative Action for female participation in politics. Women, as yours truly has often highlighted are the vessels of life and therefore, should be seen as men’s partners in progress.
Baje writes from Lagos