The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)’s recent ranking of women in parliaments, which scored Nigeria 179 out of 187 countries worldwide, has once again drawn attention to the issue of active involvement of women in the political process and the patent refusal to implement various international instruments to which the country is a signatory.
When the issue is examined on a continental scale, it becomes glaring that the widely acclaimed giant of Africa is, indeed, lagging behind most other countries in the continent. South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and Egypt, for example, have scaled the bar by registering between 25 and 33 per cent on elective positions and appointments for their women.
Right from the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1985 to the 1990s Beijing Convention, which urged countries to reserve 35 per cent for women in the administrative and legislative structures of government and the 2005 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, Nigeria has continued to pay lip service to issues on women’s inclusion.
Indeed, the National Gender Policy in 2006 recommended a benchmark of 35 per cent of seats in the National Assembly to be filled by women. What is more, the country has no formal barriers against women taking office as the 1999 Constitution, amended, guarantees equal political rights.
Clearly, while the government has ratified and endorsed the relevant international instruments, it is yet to implement them due to lack of political will. If it must fit into this continental bracket, then it must embrace affirmative action, which has contributed to boosting women representation in the aforementioned African countries.
Blaming the Nigerian condition on cultural and traditional barriers, as has often been the case, is half truth, if not an illusion. The global demand to give more room to women in governance is not based on fancy or intended to placate feminists; it is a realisation that with the acquisition of education, civilised conduct, skill sets, capacity and competence, women deserve to be included in governance to deepen participation and social engineering.
In fact, one of the characteristics of a civilised country is the political development of its women. How far down the political road have Nigerian women travelled?
Studies have shown that in Nigeria the greatest challenges affecting or obstructing women’s participation in politics is the lack of internal democracy, particularly in political parties, and failure on the part of the parties to comply with the regulations guiding party primaries; inadequate training and knowledge, political violence; limited financial resources; and poor portrayal of women in the media. Gender stereotypes and stigmatisation are also prevalent in the coverage of female political leaders.
Most political parties have a position for women leader, which often appears as a token as the structure is heavily weighed against whoever occupies this position, in terms of policy formulation and execution. So-called provisions for a waiver of fees for election nomination forms turn out to be a ruse as the women have been known, in many cases, to be asked to step down for their male counterparts who purchased the forms.
Successive governments in the country, no doubt, have been giving ministerial appointments to women. Lagos and Akwa Ibom states rank as the most women friendly states in this regard, but the issue for emphasis here is the intentional implementation of policies that favour women’s inclusion in the political process and not pointless movements that depend on the whims and caprices of the political elite.
That is the point in the recent push in the National Assembly to pass a bill seeking to reserve a constituency in each of the 36 state for female senatorial candidates in future elections. Sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip in the House, Nkeiruka Onyejocha and 85 others, the bill has passed second reading. If it becomes law, the Senate will have a minimum of 37 women, while the House of Representatives will have 74 women. Accordingly, the State Houses of Assembly where three seats per state are expected to be reserved for women.
At the level of senior lawmakers, women can strengthen their voices to make and pass legislation with stiffer penalties against defaulters to stop the bad experience of the past.
While expecting favourable outcomes on the bill, we call on the government to respect the instruments it is signatory to by implementing them, even if it is for the sake of saving its image among less endowed but compliant countries in the continent. Initiating policies and implementing them will institutionalise the import of the referenced international instruments.
Also, we encourage women politicians, related NGOs and other stakeholders to put the issue in their agenda and continue to strategise until it becomes a national policy.
They should look into many areas of decision making and participation that can quicken this advocacy through women involvement as candidates, voters, electoral officials, party agents, security personnel that are deployed to monitor elections.