With the increasing tempo of political activities in Nigeria as well as the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, which was “ Break the Bias,” one had expected more women participation in politics in Nigeria. But that seems not to be the case.
At the last count, very few Nigerian women had indicated interest to contest the over 2000 elective offices ranging from state houses of assembly, House of Representatives, Senate, 36 state governors and deputies to the president and vice president, respectively.
It is a necessity, because discouraging or ignoring half of the country’s human, mental and emotional potential is translated into an unpardonable economic inefficiency
For instance, despite all the hue and cry for gender parity by several gender-oriented organisations in Nigeria, only seven women had shown interest for the office of the president in the upcoming 2023 presidential election. These women are Khadijah Okunnu-Lamidi of the Social Democratic Party (SDP); Uju Ohanenye, All Progressives Congress (APC); Carol Nwosu African Action Congress (AAC); Ibinabo Joy Dokubo, also of the APC; Patience Key, Peoples Redemption Party (PRP); Olivia Diana Teriela, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Angela Johnson of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Compared to 38 male presidential aspirants, the number of female aspirants is a far cry. And this is despite the waivers on nomination fees extended to women by various political parties.
Suffice it to say that the active participation of women in a country’s public life is both a right and a necessity. It is a right, because it is written in the country’s constitution. It is a necessity, because discouraging or ignoring half of the country’s human, mental and emotional potential is translated into an unpardonable economic inefficiency.
Regardless of the individual achievements of a few remarkable women in the public and private sectors, the gender gap has been increasing over the last years. It is even more visible if we compare the regression in the number of women showing interest in politics now to those before. This gender gap makes Nigeria a country that has a lot of work to do in order to achieve a respectable level of gender equality.
Being in politics for a woman certainly means to challenge men, but also to cooperate with them. Being in politics for every honest human being means to do your best to hand over to our children a country that is in many ways better than the country our parents handed over to us.
Inside every woman there is sufficient capacity, courage and strength to be an honest, successful and good politician. Drawing from this is the fact that overtime the world has known many women who have served as sources of inspiration for several generations. Women in politics excel through their dedication, through their love for their country and through their political talent.
That is not all. Women play key roles in shaping our lives. The traditional and even modern society sees them as mothers, wives, and school teachers. At any rate, their participation and their contribution are becoming more and more known, recognised and formalised in all domains.
The more women are visible in the so-called non-traditional gender roles, the more impact they have, the more creativity, added value, problem-solving skills and energy is transmitted to the society as a whole.
In Nigeria, many women are held in high esteem, even more so those women who brought something new in those fields that have yielded an influence upon the society. Education is one of those fields. Financial management is another. Regardless of the obstacles, which may include threats to their own lives, women should follow their dreams.
It is unfortunate that from the rural communities to the national level, women’s leadership and political participation are still restricted. Women are under-represented as voters, as well as in leading positions, whether in elected office, the civil service, the private sector or academia. This occurs despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change, and their right to participate equally in democratic governance.
According to UNWOMEN, women face several obstacles to participating in political life. Structural barriers through discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s options to run for office. Capacity gaps mean women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.
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As the 2011 UN General Assembly resolution on women’s political participation notes, “Women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalised from the political sphere, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes, low levels of education, lack of access to health care and the disproportionate effect of poverty on women.”
However, on a good note, some women in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world have overcome these obstacles with great acclaim, and often to the benefit of society at large. But for women to excel, the playing field needs to be level, opening opportunities for all.
Aside liberalising and expanding the political space to accommodate more women players, the female folk should develop the habit of supporting other women, regardless of their political affiliations. This is because, apart from the unbridled male mentality and ‘old boy’ network, the biggest obstacle to increased women participation in Nigerian politics remains women’s lack of support for fellow women.
We wish to complement much of the above with the incontrovertible fact that, one of the best places to live in the world happens to be the Scandinavian countries. Incidentally, in these social formations, conscious attempts have been put in place to ensure the inclusion of women in their various political spaces.
We believe that Nigeria can take a leaf from this, in our quest for inclusion in the important area of political participation. Needless to say, any society that shuts out half of its humanity from the political space does so at its own peril.