“While the average women’s representation in parliament across Africa is 19%, Nigeria is at 7%.”
On every March 8 since 1975 the World’s International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world. This annual event is ‘to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women’. The theme for this year was ‘The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum’. Gaining momentum in this sense would mean making progress in education, business and entrepreneurship and most importantly, representation in governance.
Progress, stagnation and retrogression have been recorded in different sectors but for this discussion; we will focus on politics and policy because this translates to governance that impact on all other sectors.
According to the 2012 UN Report, Africa has made progress in the last decade in women representation in parliament. By January 2012, women held 41 of the 271 speakers posts, compared to 1995 when they held only 24 posts. While the average women’s representation in parliament across Africa is 19%, Nigeria is at 7%. However, we must commend the gradual gains that have been made over the years.
One of the gains is that gender parity is now a burning issue in the polity. With the adoption of the MDGs (specifically Goal 3) in 2000, awareness on gender issues and women political participation increased significantly. There are now more Civil Society Organizations working on gender advocacy and international development partners have invested enormously to advance women development programmes. They have gender component programmes that now run for as long as seven years. The Federal Government is now more interested in promoting gender issues as it is seen in the establishment of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund through the auspices of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and the Office of the Senior Special Adviser to the President on the MDGs. In 2011 when women lost some grounds in the parliament, there were notable gains in the state parliaments where the number of women in the State Houses of Assembly increased. In the same year, we recorded the highest number of women in the Federal Executive Council with 33 women holding key policy positions.
The appointment of the first female Chief Justice of the Federation shows we are ‘gaining momentum’ within the Judiciary. Lagos State is leading the pack in terms of the number of female judges in the Lagos High Court with 35 female judges out of a total of 52 and quite a number of states have recorded female chief judges.
Within political parties, the election of Mrs. Jumoke Anifowose as the State Chairperson of
Ondo State Chapter of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2011 is note worthy for elevating the status of women from just being heads of party wings. Although women representation in parliament dropped slightly in 2011, more women are vying for political posts and taking part in party politics.
Having looked at the gains it is important we review the constraints that have retarded progress. It is factual that compared to countries like South Africa, women representation in governance in Nigeria is poor. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) report shows that as of 1st of February 2013, South Africa has 42.3% women representation in the lower house and 32.1% in the upper house while Nigeria has 6.7% and 6.4% in the House of Reps and Senate respectively. Kenya has 9.8% and Zambia has 11.5% women representation in government. Percentage of women representation in Nigerian parliament is therefore unacceptable.
What could be the reason for this poor result? As we have always emphasized, one of the reasons for this is lack of internal democracy in political parties. Political parties in Nigeria are male-dominated; the youth wings are virtually all-male. The women wings have little influence on major decision-making. In gaining momentum, this must be addressed and it is important to engage political parties to make structural changes before the 2015 elections.
Other factors include lack of mentorship for young female politicians, electoral violence, low level of education, patriarchal systems in governance, unfavorable religious and traditional beliefs, poor legal framework and bureaucratic bottle necks restraining gender policy implementation, indifference and lack of confidence on the side of some women, disconnection between woman leaders in politics and women activists and poor use of the media.
Looking ahead to the 2015 general elections, CSOs must organize millions of women around a common agenda and ensure that aspiring female politicians start early with their campaigns and ramp up the effective use of media. Finally, the political parties must be encouraged to adopt a framework for gender sensitive guiding rules and to level the playing field to ensure the best women (and men) are encouraged to devote their talents and passion to the development of Nigeria.