As the 2019 elections draw near, stakeholders, male politicians, political parties and all have been called to give women the chance to participate fully during the forthcoming general elections. Given that the place of a woman is a disadvantaged, deprived, and disempowered entity in the societies of many a developing country and it has been validated in several works, activists, and international organisations. It has become a contentious issue over the years in African history that women’s legs have been bound with chain from politics either by tradition, murky waters of politics, chauvinism or otherwise.
All groups including women seek to influence the dispensation of power in line with their articulated interests as a fundamental motive of political participation. Women, in their Conscious state of mind in recent times, are increasingly seeking power equation, distribution and redistribution of resources in their favour. It is a common fact that the involvement of women in Nigerian politics is largely noticeable at the level of voting and latent support; and the men continue to wax stronger while participating in politics.
Looking at the level of political participation of Nigerian women and the form of hindrances, it becomes very obvious that women are really being relegated to the background as far as politics and public sphere is concerned. This is not to say, however, that there has not been a progressive increase in the trend of women participation in politics in terms of appointments and elections, but the participation is considered low based on the international standard of 30% benchmark. It therefore has become a very argumentative issue over the years in African history, and not just an ‘African thing’; it has been a norm for women even in the western world to be discouraged as politicians.
After watching closely what played out in Liberia when Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was voted by Liberians to become their first female president, one then asks, is it that Nigeria as the giant of Africa has not come of age to trust elected political positions into the hands of women? The low level of their participation hampers women from contributing their quota to the development of the country.
Estimations have shown that women in position of responsibilities are noted to be hardworking and firm in their decision.
It is on record that exclusion of women in the party executives contributes in no small measure to the marginalisation of women in politics, especially during party nominations. No woman in Nigeria is the chairperson of any registered political party.
In 1992 for instance, during the reign of former president Ibrahim Babangida’s administration, out of 300 gubernatorial aspirants, only 8 were women representing 2.6% and none of these qualified women was elected as governor.
Mrs. Sarah Jubrin contested to become the president of Nigeria but went home with a ‘lone vote’ apparently her own vote.
The very few female stalwarts who have shown great interest in politics are chauvinistically pushed out. Former Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Kema Chikwe has been a strong politician and a stalwart in her party; she contested election in Imo state, but couldn’t clinch it. What about the likes of visionary political leader like Chief Mrs Kemi Nelson in her party in Lagos State who transformed women politicians within the party? What stops her from being the flag bearer or at least the deputy? The men who are pushed out like sore fingers are not better than her. The reason is simple…She is a woman.
Recall that following the Supreme Court judgement on 14th June, 2007 which declared Mr. Peter Obi the elected Governor of Anambra State, his deputy was Mrs. Virgy Etiaba. Andy Ubah’s deputy was Stella Odife. Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State had Kofo Bucknor- Akerele as his deputy before they fell out and several others. Even Sir Michael Otedola has a female deputy, why are women not presented as deputy governors in some areas. Though some women are not interested in politics, but the fascinated ones should be allowed and given their rightful place of honour.
If we must recall to mind, one of the recommendations in the Beijing platform for Action stated that: ‘Women’s equal participation in political life plays a pivotal role in the general process of the advancement of women. Their participation in decision-making is not only a demand for simple justice of democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account. Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.’
Taking a look at different democratic elections over the years in Nigeria, one discovers that women’s positions are still a far cry compared to that of men. Women Advocacy, Research and Development Centre (WARD-C) in the year 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, shows that out of 360 contestable seats in the 36 Houses of Assembly, men occupied 339 leaving 21 seats for women representing 1.8%. There was upward movement in 2003 where women occupied 39 out of 951 seats representing 4%. In 2007, women occupied 54 seats out of total of 990 with the percentage of 5.5%. In the House of Representatives, in the year 1999, out of total 360 seats, women occupied 13 representing 3.6%. In 2003, men occupied 318 out 339 leaving 21 seats for women of 3.6%. The number was increased in 2007 with women occupying a total of 25 seats representing 7%.
It is worthy to note that women constitute more than a half of the population, yet they are grossly underrepresented in public spheres and within the decision making bodies. The population of Nigerian women would presently be about 55million which is significant considering the total population of about 110 million; however their potentials have not been fully tapped due to traditional beliefs and other constraints.
In order to ensure active participation of women in politics, civil society organisations, governments as well as political parties should increase the level of awareness of women by organising seminars/workshops not only in the cities but also in the villages. Attendance to such seminars and workshops should be open to all participants especially women. This is necessary as most male are of the opinion that women prostitutes are in politics. Also that women in politics are irresponsible house wives.
In addition, governments at all levels should encourage girl child education. It can be made compulsory that all female children of school age should get scholarships and go to school free of charge. This will give them equal opportunity with their male counterparts.
Emeadi writes from Lagos