Promoting Women Participation in Politics
In what can easily pass for calling a spade a spade, a woman dealt a hard knock on her kind in Nigeria, saying women themselves were the greatest barrier to their participation in politics. President Goodluck Jonathan’s historic step of appointing 13 women out of 41 ministers as members of his cabinet might have ignited such soul searching thoughts from a woman, whose other folks traditionally believe that the men are bent on stealing the show from them.
Mrs. Onyema, while delivering a paper at the opening of the National Union Of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union, NUPENG Women Delegate Conference in Abuja penultimate Thursday, identified some obstacles to women participation in politics to include: inferiority complex, weakness and the attitude of some favoured women in not giving “room towards expanding access and space for their fellow women, who may come after them.’’
The union leader, who acknowledged that Nigerian women are now more politically conscious, however, queried thier gross lack of support for Dr. Sarah Jibril during her multiple presidential aspirations since the return to civil rule. She was particularly outraged that the veteran presidential aspirant scored a lone vote at the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP convention last year.
“It is quite unfortunate that even as many countries across the globe are making frantic efforts to bridge the gap between the men and women in politics, Nigerian women are being relegated to the background. Even though their representation has improved more than before, it is still very low compared to what is obtainable in other nations of the world, particularly in the developed nations,’’ she stressed.
According to Gender Without Borders, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to promote a global voice for gender justice, after 12 years of democracy in the country, women are still secondary in Nigeria’s male-dominated political sphere. Over the years, gradual gains have been made in women’s political participation but female political participation needs to go beyond numbers.
The NGO, just as Uche Onyema highlighted earlier, also agreed that social, economic, cultural and religious factors were largely responsible for women’s marginalisation in politics, particularly in the Muslim-dominated part of the country, where politics is seen as men’s exclusive preserve, a scenario which the late Hajiya Gambo Sawaba, waged a battle against to emancipate women in the region.
Meanwhile, keen observers have hailed President Jonathan’s fulfillment of his promise to give women a 35 percent slot in cabinet. “I fulfilled that vow because it is my desire to ensure a level playing field in Nigeria by heading an administration where ethnicity, gender and religion do not hinder qualified persons from fulfilling their potential. It is also the reason I ordered the admission of women to the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, a first in Nigeria. Women should brace up to be all they want to be in life as this administration will be an enabler of your progress,’’ the president emphasised.
While increase in number of female holding political positions is commendable, equality in numbers does not automatically translate into better policies for female citizens. The group, Gender Without Borders, added that the emphasis on number of women ought to be shifted to the quality of women’s participation in politics, noting that focusing on increasing female political participation is important, but so are women’s effectiveness in political positions and their impact on decision-making.
“Simply having females in the appropriate positions is not enough, as once in these positions, women still face a variety of obstacles when promoting women’s interests. On the surface, equal political representation in numbers indicates a sense of gender equality, but women in Nigeria, as in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, still face many struggles in this male-dominated sphere, such as discrimination, both in voting for candidates and in allocating political offices, lack of adequate finance to effectively participate, and views that stigmatise female politicians as loose,” the NGO stated.
As part of efforts to give women a level playing ground, some African countries are already using quota systems to ensure women’s political appointments and institutional integration. Rwanda is a typical example in this regard. Data indicated that 48.8 percent of seats in its lower house of parliament as at 2003 went to the women.