• Sunday, May 26, 2024
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BusinessDay

A case for women in politics

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The question of women participation in politics has been an ongoing one. And nowhere is this more pertinent than in Nigeria where it was reported in 2011 that out of the 109 senators in the National Assembly, only nine are women; only 27 out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives are women; while out of the 990 members of the state Houses of Assembly, only 54 are women.

“The picture markedly depicts a lopsided membership of the legislatures in favour of men and observers say that the story is similar at the local level, where only a few women function as chairpersons or councillors in local government councils. The observers say that no woman has ever become the country’s president or vice president. They, however, note that the first female governor in Nigeria, Virgy Etiaba, only functioned as Anambra State’s governor for six months, following the impeachment of her boss, Gov. Peter Obi, on November 2, 2006. They lament that Nigerian women are obviously marginalised in all the country’s democratisation processes, saying that in spite of the fact that many women are literate, they still hold less than 5 percent of important decision-making positions in the country,” the report said.

The question comes to the fore once again as the 2015 general elections approach. And we need to ask: what role are the political parties willing to assign to the women who constitute a sizeable percentage of party memberships?

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To begin with, a cursory look at the structures of most of the political parties in the country shows an overwhelmingly lopsided all-male composition of both the principal officers of the parties and of the candidates being presented for top positions in next year’s election.

Without a doubt, the composition of the top hierarchy of the political parties does not reflect demographic reality. Although women constitute 51 or more percent of the nation’s population, they, at best, account for only about 10 percent of appointive and elective positions. A comprehensive view of the rallies of the political parties shows that women’s roles are relegated to mainly chanting party slogans and praise-singing male candidates. If democracy, as espoused, is about numbers, then women in Nigeria are inordinately marginalised in our present democratic process.

The problem is that the political parties, because they are mainly funded by men who make, interpret and enforce party rules, do not readily give women a chance. As such, women are, generally speaking, denied a voice – their opinions are often considered irrelevant and valueless, and those that are daring enough to challenge the status quo are sometimes labelled deviants.

Other ploys used to scare women away from active politics include religion and chauvinistic interpretations of African tradition/culture. And when all those fail, sometimes outright violence is used.

But the situation of women in Africa has not always been that of subordination and relegation. An overview of the history of pre-colonial Africa shows that the continent possibly had more female participation in governance than any other part of the world. Indeed, Africa had female monarchs who successfully ruled their domains thousands of years before any other continent had female rulers. Isis and Hatshepsut are two legendary women who set precedence of superlative woman statesmanship.

Nor is the phenomenon relegated only to the ancient world. One cannot help but recall Nana Yaa Asantewa of Ashanti, Queen Nzinga of Angola and Queen Amina of Zaria.

We commend the Goodluck Jonathan administration which has set a record in appointment of women into positions of authority. And the women so appointed have clearly proved their mettle in their different capacities.

But more needs to be done. Beyond political appointments, political parties must make rules that encourage women to vie for and win elective positions so that they too can contribute their quota to the development of this country. Perhaps it is time to consider a full implementation of the 35 percent affirmative action.

Indeed, anyone interested in seeing Nigeria develop into an egalitarian, productive and economically vibrant nation cannot object to the empowerment of women or straddle the fence. To actualise the Nigeria of our collective aspirations, it is incumbent on us all to foster a non-repressive, balanced and inclusive political process.