Amid growing concern about the decline of women participation in both elective and appointive positions in Nigeria, the House of Representatives last week, demanded that the percentage of elective positions set aside for women be increased. KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL writes on the development
In the modern era, women in government are generally under-represented in most countries worldwide. They are constantly faced with the lack of adequate opportunities in social participation, particularly in striving for political rights. Women, the world over at every socio-political level find themselves under-represented in parliament and far removed from decision-making levels. Regrettably, such exclusion limits the possibilities for entrenching the principles of democracy in a society at large.
According to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), women’s equal participation with men in power and decision-making is part of the fundamental right to participate in political life, and at the core of gender quality and women’s empowerment. Women have to be active participants in determining development agendas.
Although, there has been a notable trend of women’s participation in politics in a few countries like Rwanda, France, Egypt, Senegal, Netherlands and South Africa thus allowing for the advancement of gender and family-friendly legislature, Nigeria on the other hand, falls short in that regard its commitment as the tendency for women to be denied more space in government persists despite the government’s commitment to 30 per cent affirmative action.
This was reflected in the last general elections which saw a sharp decline in the number of women elected into various legislative positions. This is despite the increase in the number of political parties that participated in the general polls. With such increase which also allowed for more women to declare their interest and contested in party primaries, it was expected that women would have a better chance at getting into elective positions, especially the legislature and the issue of under-representation curbed.
However, that was not to be the case as party primaries (deliberately or otherwise), served as a platform to, deny more women the opportunity to take a shot at elective positions or return to positions they once occupied. During the elections, of the 235 women that contested for senatorial positions, only 6 were elected meaning there was no increase or decrease from the 8th Senate.
For the House of Representatives, 533 females vied to represent their respective constituencies, but only 11 were elected. Thus, drastically reducing the number of female representatives in the lower chamber which hitherto, stood at 22, like is the case in state assemblies where the number of female legislators saw a reduction from 55 to 40.
According to the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), only 62 women were elected in the last general elections representing a meagre 4.17 per cent of elected officials in comparison to the 5.65 per cent recorded in 2015 polls.
Analysts have attributed this decline to a number of factors. Notable among these is the political structure which more often than not, does not provide women a level playing field. Also, women who are interested in going into politics find that the political, public, cultural and social environment is often hostile to them.
Gender equality advocate, Mirian Akachukwu, submits that “in most countries, parties determine which candidates are nominated and elected, and which issues achieve national prominence. The role of women in politics is therefore, a key determinant of their prospects for political empowerment, particularly at the national level. Any government that sincerely seeks to advance the participation of women in elections, must focus on the role political parties play.”
But in a bid to change the narrative, the House of Representatives last week, pushed for an increase in the percentage of elective positions for women in future from thirty to fifty per cent. This is in line with the United Nations affirmative action document which seeks thirty-five per cent political representation for women.
The demand was jointly made by the House committees on Women in Parliament and Women Affairs, at a summit in Abuja on Monday. It also threatened that women will boycott the 2023 general elections if the demand is not met.
Jointly organised by the European Union, Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, and the committees, the summit had as its theme, “Roundtable on Improving Women Political Participation and inclusion in Nigeria”.
Chairperson of the committee on Women in Parliament, Hon. Taiwo Oluga, who lamented that women are faced with strenuous hurdles in their quest to represent their constituencies in the legislature, called for a radical reform to better their chances at the polls.
Oluga while also insisting that 50 percent should be the minimum in the next general elections in line with the 1999 constitution, regretted that despite Nigeria’s gender policy and its commitment to the global affirmative action, the national average of women’s participation in politics has never exceeded 6.7 percent of both elective and appointive positions in the country. This is far below the global average of 22.3 percent, the west African regional average of 23.4 percent.
“From the theme of this roundtable discussion, it is important to state that there is the need to improve women participation in politics and governance in Nigeria; the theme is in itself is an admission of low level of women participation in politics; the essence of the summit is to create awareness on the need to improve women’s participation in politics in Nigeria, and come up with an achievable action plan on how to improve women’s participation in politics in Nigeria.”
She further called on political parties and the government to do more for the female gender even as she assured that women, if given the opportunity, will perform excellently in quality representation.
Similarly, the chairperson of the committee on women affairs, Hon. Wunmi Onanuga, in her presentation, stressed that rather than the 30 percent affirmative action plan, which is yet to be attained, Nigeria should raise the percentage for the 2023 elections in line with the constitutional requirement of “equality among genders”.
Critics have however, faulted the demand saying that rather than increase the percentage, the legislature should come up with legal instruments that will ensure the attainment of the existing thirty per cent.
Political and gender activist, Hannatu Deshina argues that the percentage is far from the reason why women’s participation remains low. And charged the lawmakers to take a critical look at factors that deprive women the opportunity to participate in politics.
“I don’t think the representatives know where the problem lies. It is not about the percentage given to women. No, far from it. It is the society itself; it is the violence, the thuggery and intimidation. It is the money politics. And until these are tackled and done away with, women’s participation will continue to decline;
“What have we done with the 30 per cent? I’m not sure we have even attained 8 per cent yet, they are demanding for 50 per cent. Even if it is announced that women are given 80 per cent, nothing will change because we don’t match our words with action. And by that, I mean the government is yet to put in place modalities to ensure the realization of the affirmative action.
“I am calling on them to go back to the drawing board and find a way to make the thirty per cent a law; they should find a way around it. Government in general should come hard on those involved electoral violence because it’s getting worse by the day and I assure you that a very good number of Nigerian women will not jeopardize their lives because of politics”.
For women to take their rightful place in politics in Nigeria, political environments must be free from discrimination and violence, and ensure recognition of women in decision-making capacities amongst other things. This is important considering the fact women constitute about 49 per cent of the country’s position.
It is important for the government and political parties to put in place, modalities that not only encourages women participate but also protects them as women’s participation in politics and governance can empower women, is necessary to achieve gender parity and advance the rights of children.