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Towards Increased Participation Of Women In Politics



The inability of women to take centre stage in Nigerian politics have dominated major discuss in the country. In this report, CHIKA OKEKE examines the discrepancies and the need for increased women participation in political affairs

According to the National Population Commission (NPC) statistics of 2017, women constituted 49 percent of Nigeria’s population while men formed 51 percent of the population.

Available data reveal that out of the 1,534 elective positions available at national and state levels, women only occupied about 86 while men had 1,449.

Comparing the elective positions at national and state levels, the difference between women and men visibility in politics is 89 percent.

Also, the percentage of women occupying deputy governorship seats in Nigeria is 16.7 percent nationally as seen in six states of Osun, Lagos, Ogun, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Enugu according to Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).

Out of 469 legislators in the National Assembly, the senate has 109 and House of Representatives 360.

Leadership Newspaper findings revealed that only 29 (7 from the Senate and 22 from the House of Representatives) were female legislators, constituting only about 6.2 percent of the total number of legislators while male legislators constituted about 93.8 percent.

At the State Houses of Assembly, there are about 51 women out of 990 members, representing a total of 5.2 percent.

Given the huge gap of women occupying political positions, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), with support from UN Women and Canada organised a training workshop for journalists on gender sensitive coverage.

The crux of the training was to highlight the nexus between gender, development and journalism in Nigeria as well as to examine how participants could drive gender reporting agenda in Nigeria.

It was also intended to arm journalists with the necessary skills to actively promote and contribute positively towards changing the narrative around women’s participation in Nigerian politics.

Worried by the shortfall, the UN Women country representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Mrs Comfort Lamptey disclosed that poor participation of women in politics is currently undermining Nigeria’s democratic growth, aspirations and developmental potentials.

Lamptey noted that overturning the bleak required concerted efforts across different sectors saying that the role of journalists in supporting the agenda cannot be over-emphasised.

According to her, “Globally including Nigeria, we have consistently witnessed the power of the media in helping to shape and influence public opinion around critical socio-cultural, political and development priorities”.

Lending his voice to the issue, the head of cooperation, Canadian High Commission to Nigeria, Daniel Arsenault said that UN women and Canada remained committed to promoting inclusive and peaceful elections in Nigeria.

He emphasised that the 2019 general elections provided an important opportunity to increase the current level of representation of women in politics and to create a more conducive environment for women to run for political office in the future.

Arsenault noted that journalists are important stakeholders in safeguarding the integrity and inclusivity of the electoral process as well as helping to create an environment where violence including gender-based electoral violence would be prevented.

One of the factors militating against women’s poor participation in politics is campaign of calumny and gender-based invectives.

The director of CDD, Mrs Idayat Hassan lamented that media reportage militated against women representation in politics even as she called on more women to emerge as candidates in the forthcoming election.

She pleaded with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that women accessed the polls early, noting that government should priotise the agenda of women.

Despite existence of National gender policy and signing of international and regional treaties and conventions focusing on development, she stated that equality and rights of women in Nigeria, the relative power held by men and women, and the dynamics of the relations between them directly affected the demographic process and gender issues.

According to her, “In societies where women have lower literacy and less access than men to mass media and economic resources, women may know relatively little about how to sway through the very complex and difficult political terrain.”

Hassan disclosed that Nigerian women belonged to the disadvantaged group in the society compared to their male counterparts adding that the disparities between Nigerian women and men have hindered women from contributing meaningfully to the nation’s development.

She noted that the debate on how women benefitted from development led to the emergence of three distinctive models such as Women in Development (WID), Women and Development (WAD) and Gender and Development (GAD).

Hassan said that women are rarely newsmakers in the media adding that even if they are reported, the media focused more on their domestic life, lifestyle and physical appearance, negative narrative of their capacity, and often attach their success to men.

She added that development journalism has lots of attraction in developing countries such as Nigeria where poverty, authoritarianism, gender inequality, closed/controlled civil social and media spaces and among others have become norms.

Examining the importance of development journalism, she said that it should focus on raising the voice of the voiceless women by dealing with important issues such as gender-related development index and gender empowerment measure.

While noting that gender-related development index highlighted the difference between men and women in relation to poverty, she stated that gender empowerment measure revealed gender inequality in economic and political participation and decision making.

She listed the challenges of media and gender reporting in Nigeria as ownership pattern, insensitivity of journalists to women political issues, evolving state of development journalism, lack of capacity for reporting, commercialization of news, among others.

Hassan stated that development journalism emphasised the need for journalists to adapt to new ways of covering development issues as being the ears and eyes of society and the voices of voiceless through bottom-up reporting.

She hinted that development journalists should be able to integrate gender equality perspectives into the media and producing sensitive stories.

In a bid to improve women’s involvement in political offices, the director pointed out that it is imperative to see what lessons could be learnt from states, zones and regions where relatively huge successes were recorded. 

“For example, 35.3 percent of 17 states in the Southern region have women as deputy governors with most of this coming from South West Nigeria,” she concluded.

The use of social media has been seen as a major tool for creating awareness on women’s involvement in the political space.

The Communication officer of UN women, Mr James Bigila described social media as a collection of online communication channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration.

He listed websites and applications dedicated to forums, microblogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, and wikis as different types of social media.

Bigila noted that though there are over 100 million worldwide views per day on YouTube, that the 350 million Facebook users are bigger than 309 million US residents.

He admitted that Facebook has over 1.3 billion users worldwide, more than the population of China, adding that twitter may likely process about 10 billion tweets this year.

Highlighting the difference between new media and social media, he added, “Social media is a subset of new media and what sets social media apart as a distinct category inside new media is its interactive nature, the nature of the social network.

“Through channels like search, other people can locate our media and derive benefit from it while new media has intrinsic value, regardless of the mechanism of distribution.”

He listed the top five social media platforms as Facebook, twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and pinterest adding that new media comprised of blogs, you tube, streaming, ebooks.

Bigila categorised radio, television, newspapers and books as old media.

Moved by the shortfall, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said it is concerned about women participation in politics.

The national commissioner of INEC, Prof Antonia Okoosi-Simbine enjoined the media to assist Nigeria in repositioning itself as a democratic polity with a strong commitment to equality and human rights.

She hinted that equal participation of women and men in all aspects of public life is a key principle of democracy, stating that women’s participation in politics is a major goal in the global development agenda as embodied in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Goal No.5 in particular, enjoins all member states to ensure women’s full and effective participation and provide equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life.”

Okoosi-Simbine informed that stakeholders have a role to play in developing a gender balanced democracy for Nigeria and generations yet unborn.

She posited that enhanced awareness of the role of the media in development generally and political participation specifically has been demonstrated by the current steep rise in the use of information technology in varied social processes world-wide.

The INEC commissioner disclosed that numerous local, regional and international instruments like the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1979) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966 among others, prohibit all forms of discrimination in areas of sex, creed or race.