Concerned stakeholders including the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR), Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and Leadership Effectiveness Accountability Professionalism (LEAP) Africa recently held an engagement/workshop to discuss ways to address the low representation of women in key decision-making processes in Nigeria and how to close the gender gap in political leadership.
Under the aegis of the Gendered Contentions in Fragile, Conflict Violence Affected Settings (FCVAS) Research Programme, an international study that explores conditions under which women’s social and political action contribute to strengthening women’s empowerment and lead to accountability outcomes, the workshop seeks to address these problems with key stakeholders via policy change and reinforced activism.
In their respective opening addresses, LEAP Africa’s Executive Director, Femi Taiwo and Prof Tade Aina of PASGR said the workshop aims to ascertain key stakeholders to be engaged for the research as well as policy uptake, identify activities that will form policy uptake on research evidence and finally, deepen engagement with key stakeholders to stimulate change.
Participants drawn from all areas including academia and media interacted on concrete steps that should be taken to achieve set goals. Dr Damilola Agbalajobi of the Obafemi Awolowo University revealed that while a sizable number of women register and actually vote, the ratio of men to women in elective offices from 1999 till date is beyond depressing with Lagos state recording the lowest voter turnout for both 2015 and 2019 presidential elections and boasts just two out of 40 legislators in its House of Assembly. She wondered why the gender gap is so wide in political participation despite having the highest number of women in the country.
Mufuliat Fijabi of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund (NWTF) lamented the sad situation, calling for proactiveness. “Nigeria is on the most shameful lists in the world for women’s rights and political participation but she doesn’t seem to be doing much about it. Women’s representation has been dropping and in this last election, we had just 3.8 percent at the national parliamentary level.
“At the inter-parliamentary union, an international platform where countries are judged according to the representation of women in each country’s national parliaments, out of 190 countries, Nigeria is ranked 186. This sadly means that countries like Saudi-Arabia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, and Iraq are better at women’s representation than us. “If you compare women in these afore-mentioned countries, Nigerian women are more empowered and advanced; yet this does not reflect in our representation at the decision-making level. I was recently asked to give one reason why Nigerian women keep losing elections and I wondered how I could give one reason out of the millions of reasons that abound. However, I narrowed it down to power, money, and politics. Power in the sense that men don’t want to acknowledge that women have expertise, experience, they just want to hold on to power.”
She added: “We would be deceiving ourselves if we talk about governance in Nigeria and we don’t talk about the high level of corruption and lack of accountability and this why money-politics thrives. Women are yet to be seen as good key players and this is why we have multiple layers of intervention and the research should focus on the multiple levels of barriers focusing on Lagos State so that whatever comes out of it would be replicated in other parts of the country.”
“This problem must be dealt with from a two-pronged angle, one aspect will deal with the paperwork, research, constitutional amendments and policy changes, reform and implementation. We have a National Gender Policy in place since 2006 that stipulates 35 percent affirmative action but has never been implemented. The second approach is the activism aspect. Recently, the Kwara state governor appointed nine women in a 16-person cabinet (56 percent) and this has led to a meltdown in the state as the cultural men are questioning why nine women were appointed. Lagos has just 32 percent representation and we (women pressure groups) have been mobilising, addressing different fora, press conferences to correct this.
“In 16 states, there is no single woman in their houses of assembly and we’ve seen the impact of the absence of women in these states. Kano, for instance, has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the country and believe it or not, the women affairs committee doesn’t even have a woman in it.
“We must keep holding the government accountable, keep advocating, pushing out the documentation for policy change and so on. Women don’t want to become men or act like men; we just want to close the gap in our governance process. Daily, Nigeria loses economically because women are absent in decision-making processes. We need to look and address the factors and barriers that are holding women back,” she said.
The supervisory councilor for Ikeja Local Council, Honourable Modupe Jessica Bewaji narrated her difficulties getting into politics and the numerous challenges she had to surmount. “When I wanted to get into politics, I was afraid because of the different stories I had heard including people telling me I had to sleep with different men, but I refused to be daunted. Even fellow women were against me, telling me ‘I didn’t belong.’ People were so hostile to me for a myriad of reasons but I took it as a learning curve.”
Listing reasons why women are screened out of politics, she mentioned the late-night political meetings which women are usually unable to attend, norms, culture and traditions that believe a woman should be seen and not heard but “if you want to come into politics, you must have a tough skin.” She listed other reasons as religion, finance and some women using running for political office as a bargaining tool simply for compensation and lack of support from other women.