Nigeria has been recording low participation of women in both elective and appointive positions. This is a growing concern to many Nigerians. However, efforts have been made by government and non -governmental organizations to increase the level of participation of women in politics in line with the declaration made at the fourth World Conference on women in Beijing, which advocated at least 30% affirmative action (1).
Comparatively, the rate at which men participate in politics is incredibly higher than their female counterparts. This is not to say, however, that there has not been a progressive increase in the trend of women participation in politics in terms of appointments and elections, but the participation is considered low considering the international standard of 30% benchmark. In 1992 for instance, under the Babangida’s administration, out of 300 gubernatorial aspirants, only 8 were women and none of these women was elected as governor. Research has shown that exclusion of women in the party executives contributes in no small measure to the marginalization of women in politics, especially during party nominations (2).
For the past 27 years, election of women into the National Assembly has not gone beyond 8.3%. There was upward movement in 2003 where women occupied 39 out of 951 seats. In 2007, women occupied 54 seats out of total of 990. In the House of Representatives, in the year 1999, out of total 360 seats, women occupied 13. In 2003, men occupied 318 out 339 leaving 21 seats for women. The number was increased in 2007 with women occupying a total of 25 seats. The story was the same in the Senate, where in 1999 women occupied 3 seats out of a total of 109. In 2003, men occupied 105 out of 109 seats leaving 4 for women. There was an increase in 2007 as women occupied 9 seats out of 109 (3).
Under international standards, both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities to everything worldwide, most especially to participate fully in all aspects and at all levels of political processes. Women constitute over half of the Nigeria’s population and contribute in vital ways to societal development. In most societies, women assume some key roles, which are: mother, producer, home -manager, and community organizer, socio-cultural and political activists, etc. Of these many roles mentioned, the last has been engendered by women movement(4). In line with global trend, Nigerian women constitute nearly half of the population of the country. But despite the major roles they play with their population, women roles in the society are yet to be given recognition. This is due to some cultural stereotypes, abuse of religion, traditional practices and patriarchal societal structures (5). Available statistics revealed that overall political representation in government of Nigeria is less than 7 percent. This shows that Nigeria has not attained the 30 percent affirmative as prescribed by the Beijing Platform of Affirmative Action. Nigeria has been recording low participation of women in both elective and appointive positions this is a growing concern to many Nigerians(6).
Several efforts have been made to address the low representation of women in elective and appointive positions in Nigeria among such efforts are the establishment of Women Political empowerment office and Nigerian Women Trust Funds, Women Lobby Group, etc. Other efforts include the institution of an INEC gender policy, the national multi stakeholder dialogue, the initiation of several interventions to actualize affirmative action and the convening of the Nigerian Women Strategy Conference. National Center for Women Development in collaboration with National Bureau of Statistics are making efforts to have evidenced based data about this issue. Presently the available data are not harmonized(7). The data collation covers the period 1999 – 2015. The data collation exercise is ongoing. Hopes are high that the result will improve evidence-based planning and programming involving women in decision making; increase the support of key stakeholders on measures to increase representation of women in decision-making and further improved awareness of new advocacy tools among stakeholders to support the campaign for increased representation of women in decision making in Nigeria. It will also erase the un-harmonized data at present(8).
WHY IS REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN POLITICS IMPORTANT?
As about half of the population of Nigerians are women, their participation will create a balance of power between genders. This is an indicator of development in any society. Over the years, there has been a rise in the number of women serving in elected and appointed political position all around the world. But that is not the case for Nigerian women. The full and equitable participation of women in public life is essential to building and sustaining strong, vibrant democracies. When women are not participating in politics, it’s less likely that policies will benefit them. Women need to participate to bring attention to issues that uniquely affect them, and to change attitudes towards gender(9).
CHALLENGES AFFECTING WOMEN PARTICIPATION IN POLITICS IN NIGERIA
These challenges facing women are enormous and some of them are:
1. PATRIARCHY: It refers to a society ruled and dominated by men over women, which in turn has given rise to women being looked upon as mere household wives and non-partisans in decision making process in households not to talk of coming out to vie for political positions. (10)
2. STIGMATIZATION: following the way politics in Nigeria is played, it is being perceived that it is for individuals that have no regards for human right and are quick at compromising their virtue for indecent gains. Therefore, women aspirants who ventured into politics are looked upon as shameless and promiscuous.(11)
3. MEETING SCHEDULES: The time scheduled for meetings to strategize and map out political plans either for the pre or post- election periods are odd and is not conducive for responsible and family women. The slated time are often time which women are expected to take care of their children and family. This method of schedules is viewed as an attempt to side-line women from engaging in political process. (12)
5. FINANCING: Competing for political positions in Nigerian requires huge financial backup. Most Nigerian women who seek these positions could not afford meeting the financial obligations therein, despite the waivers given to women aspirants by some of the political parties. And so, they could do little or nothing to outweigh their male counterparts. (13)
6. POLITICAL VIOLENCE: Nigerian elections have always been characterized by one form of violence or another since the return of democracy. Female aspirants of various political parties cannot withstand political violence; therefore, women participation in politics is drastically reduced. (14)
7. CULTURAL PRACTICES: Viewed from the perspective of culture and tradition, women actually face massive resistance from participating in politics. Both Christianity and Islam do not accord women much role in public life, and same is obtainable in most cultural values where women are seen culturally as quite submissive and image of virtue. However, they are not to be seen in public domain. And so it is a challenge to women’s participation in politics. (15) A number of barriers are imposed on women’s active participation in politics by cultural practices. Nigerian society is permeated by patriarchy whereby women are expected to conform to and confine themselves to male dominance and female subservience. Women are seen to belong to the home, be incapable of making sound decisions and it is unbecoming of women to expose themselves in public for political activities such as campaign rallies, etc. Men often find it incredible and impracticable to see women participating in politics. (16)
8. NATURE OF POLITICAL PARTY FORMATION: At the level of political party formation, it is usually in form of club or informal meetings initiated by male friends and business partners. Other members of the society, including women, are contacted for membership at a much later stage when party structures are already put in place. So, women are naturally excluded from the formation stage of political parties thus denying them of benefits accruing to foundation membership. (17)
9. INADEQUACY OF WILLING AND EDUCATED WOMEN: Some women in Nigeria naturally subject themselves to domestic activities and the need to prevent broken homes. This inevitably reduces the number of qualified and willing women for both appointive and elective positions. (18)
Other impediments preventing women from actively participating in politics and governance are: god-fatherism, intra-party rigging, political violence, thuggery and high level of intimidation. (19)
The former Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, has identified the low number of women in politics and other leadership positions as a major setback to the country’s development. (2O) Women Participation in Nigerian politics is a topic of importance. Politically, women have been relegated to the background, despite the tremendous effort put forward by government and nongovernmental organizations following the declaration made at the fourth World Conference on women in Beijing, which advocated 30% affirmative action and National Gender Policy (NGP) recommendation of 35% affirmative action for a more inclusive representation of women both in elective and appointive positions. It is worthy to note that Nigerian women are still being marginalized due to the style of leadership inherent in the country. Despite the challenges women are facing, women activism and advocacy, education of women, positivity on the part of successive governments towards women empowerment and interest of women to participate in politics is getting a lot of positive energy. This is an indication that the participation of women in politics has a bright future. Therefore, the relevant stakeholders are advised to advocate for the protection of women from abuse, empower them economically and politically and review the necessary legislations to accommodate the growing interest of women. (21)
Following the trends and happenings around the political environment in Nigeria, it is becoming clearer that women may never achieve the mandated 30% affirmation as enshrined in the Beijing plan of action except the following recommendations are adhered to:
1. Political parties should create a support network for prospective aspirant by pairing them with established women politicians who will be playing key role as mentors and provide capacity building for young or aspiring female politicians as to enhance and develop them ahead of subsequent elections (22).
2. To create enabling environment that allows women to engage meaningfully in decision making process in a sustainable and effective way that is free from violence and harassments of any kind. (23)
3. Establishment of legal funds to assist women politicians to challenge electoral malpractices of any form at all levels of political processes. (24)
4. Introducing quota system at all levels of government and Identifying and engaging relevant stakeholders such as Independent National Electoral Commission and political parties to ensure strict adherence to it. (25)
5. In order to ensure active participation of women in politics, civil society organizations,
Governments as well as political parties should increase the level of awareness of women by organizing seminars/workshops not only in the cities but also in the villages. Attendance to such seminars/workshops should be open to both women and men. Men need to be orientated about the need to allow their wives and daughters to participate in politics. This is necessary as most of the male respondents are of the opinion that women in politics are prostitutes and that any women in politics are irresponsible. (26)
6. In addition, governments at all levels should encourage girl child education. It can be
made compulsory that all female children of school age should go to school free of charge. This will give them equal opportunity with their male counterparts. (27)