“If the constitution of a political party is gender sensitive, there will be fair representation of women in party leadership”.
It was announced during the inauguration of the APC constitution drafting committee, a week ago, that the constitution for the APC will be finalized in two weeks. Three committees were inaugurated by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tom Ikimi: one to produce the constitution, the second to produce the manifesto and the third to work on Legal and Constitutional compliance. So we expect that a constitution will be out in a week but the question is: will it be gender sensitive?
According to the Social Institutions and Gender Index 2012, SIGI, women representation in
African parliaments are an average of 19%. After the 2011 elections, there were only7% women in the National Assembly, a decline from 9% achieved in 2007.
There may be many factors responsible for this disconcerting position but the one great worry is internal politics of political parties.
This is because the political parties lay the foundation and are the force behind any candidate who eventually wins. And because party constitutions are supposed to drive the processes and decisions of a party, this leads to inevitable questions: ‘Will a party without a gender insensitive constitution create an enabling environment for the emergence of more women candidates?’
‘Will there be fair contest at party primaries if there are no constitutional stipulations that create space for the woman?’ ‘Is it possible, that the constitution of a party can mitigate the socio-political factors that are barriers to the emergence of competent women who can contribute to bringing about the desired change that Nigerians have longed for?
In the words of Tom Ikimi, the constitution should have ‘a robust and defendable
constitution … which will derive its strength from sound democratic ideals and which will deepen our nation’s democracy and ensure a thriving internal party democracy’.
Generally internal party democracy means the transparency and accountability by which party officials and candidates are elected and or appointed and by which decisions for the party, and by default the electorate, are taken. But in a situation where only token women are made part of the decision-making and even then, excluded from critical decision making processes, internal democracy is not evident.
Women are exempted from major decision making meetings of political parties because in the first place they are poorly represented in the leadership of the party. Women representation in the APC merger committee is a far cry from the 35 percent gender representation demanded by Nigerian women. Apparently, if women do not make up a two-third of a party leadership, it is virtually impossible to influence the decision and action of the party. Is it possible for the APC constitution to address this concern and ensure that women are represented in the highest decision making body of the party?
The Nigerian Women Trust Fund believes that obstacles to the emergence of more women in the Nigerian political arena can be scaled if our political parties ensure that their constitutions cover certain areas:
1) Use the appropriate language unlike the 1999 Nigerian Constitution which uses ‘he’ for men and women.
2) The party constitutions should specify as a policy, at least 35 percent representation of women in the executive committee of the national and state chapters of the party. This 35 percent should also be reflected in the number of candidates presented for elective posts in the national and state elections. This specification in the APC constitution will ensure that capable Nigerians are not marginalized because of their gender and that political Godfathers (who usually have patriarchal inclinations) do not stop the emergence of women (and good Nigerians) for particular positions. The quota system can also be used to make sure that some positions are exclusively reserved for women.
The only way to increase women representation is to put in place legal structures and policies to ensure that gender mainstreaming is reflected in every sector in Nigeria and one of these legal structures should be the constitutions of political parties. If the constitution of a political party is gender sensitive, there will be fair representation of women in party leadership which consequently means more women candidates which will eventually translate to increase in women representation in elective and appointive positions in Nigeria.