Lagos-based media NGO, the International Press Centre (IPC) recently held a one-day Stakeholders’ forum on Advancing Women Participation Ahead the 2019 Electoral Process in Lagos.
The event, in furtherance of a series of citizens engagement programmes which began in 2014 drew participants among community members from 18 communities across six Local Government Areas in Lagos State including Amuwo-Odofin, Surulere, Shomolu, Ikorodu, Lagos Mainland and Ifako-Ijaiye.
The project held under the Strengthening Citizens Engagement in Electoral Process (SCEEP) project implemented in Lagos by the IPC had robust support from ACTIONAID Nigeria and the UKAID through the Department for International Development (DFID).
About 100 participants participated at the event cutting across politically active women, women leaders from political parties, women-focused civil society groups and aspiring women politicians from SCEEP communities, amongst others.
The objective of the forum was aimed at bringing to fore issues affecting women participation in politics and governances and foster strategies that ensures for increased women representation in governance, and more inclusive participation in the electoral process.
Deliberations at the forum were also aimed at deepening the discussion around the participation of women in politics and the electoral processes and provide content for the development of a manual that will serve as an advocacy tool to advance women’s participation in politics and governance.
In a welcome statement, Mr. Tunde Aremu of ActionAid Nigeria said it was time female politicians start defining their constituencies such that when they stand up, everyone in their constituencies, in spite of their political leanings, will rise and follow and vote for them.
Mr. Waheed Ishola, Director at the National Orientation Agency (NOA) Lagos office in a goodwill message encouraged women to mobilize and vote for women reminding them that 2019 is around the corner. He encouraged the women to engage their political leaders, particularly in writing and demanding for their rights. He urged the women to register as a first step to being eligible to vote and be voted for. He also charged them to always present their demands verbally and refrain from unnecessary praise singing.
Also at the event, Mrs. Ijeoma Oke-Igbokwe, a Director at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said the time has come for women to come out and vie for political offices. She disclosed that INEC has gone out to encourage women to contest adding that women have the numbers that should give them advantage as politics is a game of numbers. She also encouraged women to see women contestants as their constituents adding that gender balance should be considered in a true democracy.
In her presentation, Mrs. Jumoke Anifowose, a lawyer, politician and gender advocate who gave the lead presentation on the theme: “Advancing women in political participation and Governance: Overview of the issues and prospects for strategic positioning and networking,” noted that section 42 of the 1999 Constitution protects citizen against discrimination of any sort. She added that she had vied three times for elective position but met a cul de sac because the electorates at both the primary and main elections are motivated by money. She added that male politicians are not comfortable with strong-willed women and identified Nigeria’s patriarchal society, culture, religion, money, education, violence as some of the factors that work against women’s participation and success in politics. She noted that the leaderships of all political parties are mostly men and this situation works against women’s interest.
She also pointed out that women suffer sexual harassment and that this discourages them, noting that majority of women in politics are low wage earners and so are hardly policy makers in politics and that these are the sorts of women the men prefer to work with because they can easily control them.
Finally, she urged government to implement international treaties on affirmative action as well as the Beijing Plan of Action by legislating for 30% elective and appointive positions for women.
Mrs. Remilekun Adeniji, a grassroots’ politician and political activist at the event also, addressed the sub-theme: “Taking the spaces through grassroots political positioning”, said there needs to be trust between a man and his wife in order for men to support the women in their political aspirations.
She encouraged women to participate in politics and ensure that they contest party executive positions in order to be able to make and influence decisions. She also encouraged aspirants to have the backing of most of the executives of the party covering their constituencies from ward to zones, to local government and states etc.
Executive Director, Gender and Development Action (GADA), Mrs. Ada-Gina Ude, who spoke on “Imperative of Support Systems to enhance Greater Women Participation and Representation” noted that there are not enough women in policy making and governance positions in political parties in Nigeria. She argued that support systems including affirmative action were imperative for women to overcome the various barriers against their effective participation in governance especially through elections.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Comfort Idika-Ogunye, Executive Director, Female Leadership Forum (FLF) whose contribution focused on the sub-theme: “Imperative of support systems to enhance greater women participation and representation”, identified party systems as one of the factors that impede women’s participation in politics. She noted that participation from ward level is vital for political relevance and therefore urged women to participate in politics beginning at the grassroots level.
In setting the scene for the practical sessions to generate needed inputs for the development of the manual, Halima Sadiya Sarki, a Ford Foundation Fellow and consultant for the forum presented an “Overview of Issues Affecting Women in Politics and Governance.”
Following the presentations and discussions, participants observed that:
- There is gender inequality in politics and all facets of life in Nigeria as studies have revealed that there is only 8% women participation in governance while men occupy the rest 92% space.
- Women have not been helpful to women aspirants either in party primaries or at elections: women neither support nor vote for other women seeking elective or appointive political offices.
- Low self-esteem, lack of funds, stiff opposition from men, patriarchal society, and cultural barriers, ethnic and religious norms, etc, remain factors impeding women participation and success in politics.
- Nigerian politics is seriously monetized at all levels thus limiting the chances of women.
To overcome the various obstacles, participants recommended that:
- Since politics is a game of number and the women have the number, they should rise up to the challenge by making use of their numbers to elect more female aspirants into elective positions.
- There is the need for systems that help enhance women’s participation in politics such as independent candidacy and affirmative policy to be written into the constitution or the electoral law and party constitutions.
- The National Assembly and all relevant agencies should enact gender equality law to ensure adequate women representation in elective and appointive positions, just as the federal character policy is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
- Relevant electoral laws should also ensure that the amount spent by political parties and candidates are restricted so as to create level playing ground.
- Women should be determined to participate in politics in spite of the perceived negative perspectives about politics. With determination, they will succeed, as women have succeeded in other countries and can succeed in Nigeria.
- Female politicians should ensure that their businesses do not suffer, while aspiring for political offices.