“[Gender equality] can be achieved through awakening of our consciousness, though it may take time to guarantee [it] at all levels of governance.”
Honourable Juliet Awa-Obasi represented Nkwere/Nwangele/Isunjaba Federal Constituency of Imo State in the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011 on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it took extra effort for her to successfully combine politics and marriage.
The former Senatorial aspirant accused past and present administrations of marginalizing women in both elective and appointive positions, saying while other nations have honoured the 1979 United Nations charter on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), Nigeria is yet to come to terms with gender equality.
In this interview, with Daily Sun, she faulted the economic policy of President Buhari-led government describing it as anti-people. She gave reasons there is decline in women participation in politics.
There is a saying that “Women’s education end in the kitchen, but you swam against the tide because you have been able to combine marriage and politics successfully. What is your selling-point?
It requires extra effort to be a good housewife and a public servant. As a wife you must know your limit. You must be humble to your spouse but above all, you must have the fear of God.
As an advocate of gender equality, are impressed with the ratio?
I am not only an advocate of gender equality, I am gender sensitive. The ratio of women to men in terms of elective and appointive positions is low. The ratio of men is extremely higher than that of the opposite sex.
How can gender equality be achieved?
It can be achieved through awakening of our consciousness, even though it may take time in this part of the world to guarantee gender equality at all levels of governance. All we need is opportunity to compete with men through increase of positions for women seeking elective or appointive positions in government at all levels.
There is need to reactivate the 35 percent affirmative action for women in government and in politics. As you know, marginalization of women in politics is a universal challenge and a sensitive issue which cuts across many salient developments. If you recall, the struggle for involvement of women in politics began with the first world conference on women in Mexico held in 1970 which arose global consciousness on women issues.
Five years later, a second world conference on women in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in Nairobi, Kenya in 1975 and it was at the third conference also held in Nairobi, Kenya that the conference adopted forward looking strategies for advancement of women. The frontier for gender equality was further pushed by the United Nations in 1979 when it adopted convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW).
The Nigerian government followed suit with the establishment of women development section in the Federal Ministry of Social Development and Youth which further generated awareness that led Nigerian women towards participation in politics and setting up of the National Commission for Women. Therefore, the importance of women in nation building cannot be over emphasized.
Which other areas of critical concern do you think is limiting women towards participation in politics?
Women’s participation in politics is important for influencing policy making and resource allocation for development that affect the lives of women. It is time to give adequate attention to policies that affect women or are of particular concern to women that are not adequately addressed. It is on record that the rate of women living poverty is more when compared to men in the increasing rate of poverty in Africa.
No doubt, development can only occur when women achieve better social, economic and political status and take active part in the management of public affairs. So, state governments must be able to create enabling environment that will allow women participate in the development, enhance the capacities of women leaders in order to achieve social justice. However, it is clear that most women cannot afford basic necessities of life, such as shelter, clothing, food, adequate healthcare services, lack of empowerment, access to education, training and cultural belief. The worse type of impoverishment is poverty of ideas as a result of lack of exposure. These are some of the factors that limits women from attaining their full potential.
The immediate past administration allocated 35 percent of positions for women yet, you are complaining that women are marginalized?
How do you come about the figure or how did you calculate it? How many women are in the National Assembly? How many women are appointed ministers? Board members of ministries, departments and agencies, how many are women? Directors in the federal establishments such as ambassadors, how many are women? If you add it up it is not up to 10 percent.
We have women professors, had any woman become Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)? We have female police officers. How many were appointed Inspector General of Police? So, women have not been treated fairly.
Isn’t it the fault of women because when Sarah Jibril contested to become President, women did not vote for her?
The question is, had she won any election before contesting the presidential seat?
But women were naturally expected to support their own?
No, it doesn’t work like that. In politics you have to start from the grassroots or from the bottom to the top. Just like Sera Jibril, you can’t just come out from nowhere to become President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She should have started from seeking to be either, a member of the National Assembly then governor before eyeing the presidency.
What are you doing presently or are you out of politics entirely?
No, I am not out of politics. However, I have not been active like before. When I left the House of Representatives I contested for the Senatorial seat twice and lost. Now, I am focused on business and my family.
How would you evaluate the 8th National Assembly as compared to your era?
It is not about evaluation rather, I want to enlighten the people on the duty of the legislature which is to make law, raise motions, and listen to complaints of people from various communities and oversight. The job of the legislature is huge that people tend to misconstrue.
Most times, they misunderstand the responsibility of lawmakers in a democracy. So, instead of comparison, it should be what did the lawmaker representing your constituency in the National Assembly achieved. I think they have achieved stability in the polity. Nigerians are becoming aware of the duties of the National Assembly unlike our era when people believed that going to the National Assembly was a jamboree. Today, legislature and executive relationship has improved
But people still believe that their representatives at the National Assembly have not impacted them positively. Do you share the same view?
People are complaining because they don’t understand the role of the legislature in a democracy. A legislator is a lawmaker. He doesn’t have a budget and can’t do what governors are doing. So, it is misrepresentation. People think that their representatives have a budget while in the actual sense, there is nothing like that. The expectation of the electorate is high, but they forget that the lawmakers have no running cost.
What is your take on Eteh’s impeachment?
The attitude of men towards women is caused by culture and tradition. The cultures of most regions don’t encourage women to be their boss. It does not encourage parents to send their girl child to school. In those places before a girl gets to age 15, she is given out in marriage. So, parents focus much on the environment and family. But above all, there is a lot of pressure on the mother. Therefore, to me, women are less privileged in the family and in the society. Most parents prefer to send their male children to school than the girls and that affects the girls emotionally. Because of this, you hear women say, I can’t go far because I’m a woman and that amount to self-defeat.