The creation of small political parties in Nigeria, especially during the general election, increased the participation of women in elections, a report has shown.
The report, tagged ‘Gendered contests: women in competitive elections’ was jointly produced by the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies African Studies Program (SAIS-AFP), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD).
The report, which analysed women’s participation in the 2019 general election, states that the multiplicity of political parties “advanced, to a degree, women’s political participation while the debate on the utility of multipartism for democratic consolidation continues”.
‘Widening political space’
More than preceding cycles, the 2019 electoral cycle opened up the political space, which served to boost political engagement for marginalised groups which was especially the case for women and youth, the report states.
It also noted that a younger and more diverse crop of candidates took advantage of the platform provided by the proliferation of new and smaller political parties to run for various positions at the state and national levels.
“The proliferation of small political parties helped to widen the space in 2019. In turn, this has enabled women’s increased participation; all six female presidential candidates in the 2019 elections were from small or new political parties.
“Nonetheless, evidence suggests it is mostly through these smaller parties that most women enter political processes and gain relevant experience in electioneering and politicking,” part of the report said.
The report stressed the need for the proliferation of political parties in the 2019 elections to be analysed within the context of the broader debate about the relevance and value of smaller political parties, especially ones whose candidates do not win electoral offices.
Women interviewed for the study had noted that smaller parties expanded opportunities because of their grassroots structure.
“Contesting on the platform of smaller parties allows women politicians to build a base and political following as well as develop a dense network of allies in the political arena. Nevertheless, the derived utility of women’s political participation through small and new parties is questionable, when most of them fail to win when votes are cast or withdraw from the process before it begins,” the report noted.
Social media impact, barriers
The advent, and effective use, of social media – Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp – provided women with the tools to reach their constituencies and target audiences in a more cost-effective way; to facilitate increased interaction with prospective voters; and in providing them with a platform to control and better shape their narratives, the report further noted.
The survey, however, shows that popular support for greater gender equality in politics does exist.
Fifty-one per cent of respondents think political parties should increase women’s participation by 30 per cent.
The report listed party dynamics, nomination process and fees, internal party democracy and patriarchal barriers as challenges women face during elections.
Other challenges include religious and cultural norms, women as gatekeepers, ‘secularisation’ and security.
The report further recommended democratising political parties to expand women’s roles, leveraging changes in societal norms as well as preventing political violence against women.
It also recommended private sector support, educational/training support for women candidates or politicians.
Women politicians are admonished to take lessons from their experience in 2019.
According to the report, part of the issue with women and political participation has been the absence of data to facilitate evidence-based learning.
“Lessons can be learned from the opportunities highlighted in this report, as well as the challenges. Pooling strengths can help women present a more united front and leverage this bargaining clout to negotiate better affirmative action policies at party and national levels.”