Nigeria: Women Seek Better Deal Ahead of 2015 Elections

Lagos — Two years away from the general elections, Nigerian women who converged under different organizations and auspices at a two-day summit organized by Nigerian Women in Parliament with the support of United Nations Development Programme and Democratic Governance for Development (UNDP/DGD), have started strategizing on how to gain more political relevance ahead of 2015.

Though, third in the series of such summit, the impressive turnout of major stakeholders at the latest Abuja summit helped in the frank discussion as to how Nigerian women can scale the numerous discrimination hurdles often thrown on their paths by the society which include but not limited to poor political outings.

Leading the crusade was the Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal who was at the event with principal officers of the House which included his deputy, Emeka Ihedioha and the House majority leader, Mulikat Akande, among others. According to Tambuwal, it is unfortunate that one of the saddest aspects of gender discrimination is the abuse that women suffer simply for being women.

The Speaker pointed out that there is growing evidence that gender inequality and discrimination contribute to increase in poverty “because it does not only deny a large part of our citizens their rights to achieve their potentials, but it also denies the nation the benefits of the contribution of these people.” He, however, assured the gathering of his leadership commitment to combat menace of discrimination against women.

“The legislature, which represents the interest of every Nigerian, has a duty to defend anyone against discrimination. We are determined to make sure that there are no second class citizens in this country and we shall do everything possible to protect the rights of women,” Tambuwal said.

Speaking in the same vein, the minister of women affairs and social development, Hajia Zainab Maina who was represented by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Dr. Habiba Lawal, said more than any other time, Nigerian women have the opportunity in the on-going constitution review process to bequeath a “great legacy” to the coming generation by sustaining active participation and ensuring that the language of the constitution and its entire content become gender-friendly. “We simply can no longer afford to deny the full potential of one-half of the population. The world has since realized the need to tap into the talent and wisdom of women as partners in national development,” the minister said.

With the same sentiment, Binta Maigari Bello, the House Committee chairman on women in parliament said women’s population in Nigeria is a factor that must not be undermined as the concept of democracy will only assume true significance when “political policies and national legislation are decided upon jointly by men and women with equitable regards for interest and aptitudes of both halves of the population.” According to Bello, the impressive representation of women in the nation’s Federal Executive Council notwithstanding, women representation at the legislative arm of government still remain at abysmal level. This, she noted, “repudiates the basic tenet of democracy”.

“There is no gainsaying in the fact that women play a critical role in community and informal organization. However, their representation in parliament over the time has remained considerably lower than that of men in Nigeria.

“Nigeria is a signatory to United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women which focuses on equal representation of men and women in public life. The international communities have also proposed that. To ensure a critical mass of women parliamentarians in the legislative Houses of countries, a minimum of 35 percent of the seats must be allocated to women. Surprisingly today, Nigeria being a party to all these decisions still ranks 117 amongst democratic nations with less than 6.8 percent of both the upper and the lower House being women,” Bello said.

Yet, Bello wasn’t the only person fretting over the abysmal statistic of women representation in Nigerian parliament. Mourtada Deme, the UNDP/DGD project Director appeared to be more disturbed when he gave a similar analysis of the development. Deme who made a comparative analysis of representation in Nigeria parliament alongside selected Asian and African countries, attributed the problem to expensive nature of Nigerian politics.

“At present, low levels of economic empowerment of women lead to low levels of participation of women in politics. This is especially so because Nigeria’s politics is extremely expensive. Less than seven per cent of the seat in Nigeria’s parliament is occupied by women, well below the figures for Bangladesh, Pakistan, Angola, Tanzania, Nepal, Lesotho and Uganda, six times less than Senegal and seven times less than 52 per cent held by Rwanda, the world leader,” Deme said.

The UNDP project Director further narrowed his concern to the executive arm of government, saying the inhibiting factors that have prevented women from occupying legislative seats appear to be responsible for similar difficulties of having female state governors, President or Vice President. Deme spared no political party in this regard, saying the parties hardly create positions for women in their National Executive Council but only consider them for “the post of National Women Leader and sometimes in the post of treasurer.”

Deme, however, advocated for a political reform process that will accommodate a larger percentage of women in politics and government. He noted that countries from Southern and Eastern part of Africa have demonstrated how simple a political reform process can lead to increase in the number of women occupying legislative seats and ministerial positions. “The rise of women as stakeholders in political decision-making processes has strengthened the nation building initiatives of Rwanda and Uganda, and has also made important contributions to rebuilding the nations after the end of apartheid and apartheid-related conflict in Southern Africa,” Deme added.

While delivering her keynote address at the summit, Professor Olabisi Aina who is also the Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo Univeristy Ile ife, said if the current political stakeholders are serious about reflecting gender rights in the polity, it is imperative for the lawmakers especially to start focusing on how to amend certain laws that are inhibitive to women potentials and development.

To start with, Aina said gender bias language in the constitution must be amended alongside citizen/indigene rights, rights to family life as well as immediate ratification of gender-friendly treaties such as Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), among others. The varsity don also seeks amendment to Nigerian Penal Code and Criminal Act, especially relevant sections that hinge on indecent assaults on males and females, marital rape, spousal abuse and wife battery, discrimination in marital battery as well as the Police Act and Regulations, the Labour Act and the Land Use Act of 1978, among others.

In her appraisal, a member of the House of Representatives from Oyo State, Dr Abiola Adebukola-Ajaja said more than any other time in the country’s political history, Nigerian women are determined to go all out and exercise their rights as enshrined in the constitution. She added that summit of this nature has been of immense value in re-orienting the women folk and that Nigerians should just be on the lookout for a resurgence of interest from women, ahead of 2015.

“When you look at the kind of society we operate in, you will agree with me that a lot still has to be done, especially in changing men orientation and perception because some men still see us as threats when it comes to achieving their political ambitions. That notwithstanding, this summit for instance has stepped up the campaign on women liberalization and entrenchment of fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution. Already, the women are displaying more confidence and I can assure you that many will go all out to vie for positions in the 2015 elections,” Adebukola-Ajaka said.

A political consultant and a delegate from Ogun State, Abiola Balogun also described the summit as an eye opener to many women who have been suffering in silence and do not know how to go about enforcement of their fundamental rights when such are breached. She said as a participant, she has acquired more knowledge and that she is particularly interested in seeing that the issue of citizenship/indigeneship is favourably resolved in the constitution review process so as to open up the political space for more women ahead of 2015 elections.

At the end of its sessions, the summit came up with a nine-point communiqué. Parts of the issues raised include: increased mentoring of emerging female politicians by women within the political space, strengthening the law and policy regime for increasing women’s access to the political space through the passage of relevant bills into laws and strengthening the partnership between Women in Parliament and Women in Politics; Women in Parliament and CSOs; Women in Parliament and Development Partners and women in executive/appointive positions to build synergies that will push forward the gender agenda, among others.

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