Over the years, I’ve seen a prevalent low rate of women’s involvement in politics in Nigeria and this has left me wondering if politics is a “men’s affair”. According to this paper, the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria, has remained 6.7 percent in elective and appointive positions which is far below the global average of 22.5 percent, Africa’s regional average of 23.4 percent and western African sub regional average of 15 percent. For so long, women have been perceived as second–class citizens not just by men, but by women themselves as well. A lot of women do not even believe they have the capacity to lead politically.
Last year I analyzed the number of women who won the elections for positions in the Senate, House of Representation and State Houses of Assembly. Apparently, there was a decline in the rate of women who won elections to the senate as compared to the previous dispensation. Only 7 women won senatorial positions in 2019 as against the former number which was 8. This left me wondering why women hardly win elections or even vie for positions in Nigeria.
Politics in Nigeria since independence has been dominated by men and only few women have been able to break through the barrier. Barriers to women’s participation in politics in Nigeria are culturally and economically imposed. In Nigeria, a woman is often seen as a man’s property and must therefore only do what her man approves, and her man may not approve of her involvement in politics. An average Nigerian woman’s role starts and ends in the kitchen and “the other room”. Economically, most women often are unable to cope with the financial requirements of political involvement.
The proportion of the female population of Nigeria stands at 49.34% yet the population of women in political leadership does not reflect this. Women’s leadership prospects have not been adequately maximized politically. Women being involved is better off for the society. Their non-involvement in sectors whether political or economically haven’t been without a consequence. According to the director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa “since 2010, African economies have lost $95 billion yearly because of gender gap in the labour markets”, meanwhile, UN women had projected that investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth.
So, what do I recommend?
- Constitutionally, every person is entitled to freedom of association therefore, involvement in politics should be by choice. Women everywhere should understand that they have the right to choose to be involved in politics, and this can only happen by re-orientation and training, like what we do with our Citizens Platform project. Women must come to the realization that they are capable of making the change they want to see through politics.
- Seeing that the cost of political involvement is seemingly high, an enabling environment and widened opportunities that allow for women engagement in decision making processes in a sustainable and effective way free from political harassment should be put in place. To solve this problem, there are initiatives that have been founded to support women who are interested in politics and some of them are;
- Nigerian Women Trust Fund (WF): WF’s target beneficiaries include women considering participation in leadership processes and decision-making processes. These also include CSOs, groups, networks and CBOs focused on gender and increased representation and civic education; constituencies and political parties; women leaders and young women; and persons with disabilities. For more information visit www.nigerianwomentrustfund.org
- Global Funds for women: Global Funds for Women helps to advance the movement for women’s rights by directing resources to and raising the voices of women worldwide. One of the ways they do this is through political empowerment. For more, visit www.globalfundforwomen.org
3. There is urgent need for education in all parts if the country, but more so in underprivileged parts across the country where little have been done. Enabling environment for education, as well as an increase in the demand for education through organized sensitization on the importance of education are a prerequisite.
4. There is also an urgent need for mentorship. Women who have succeeded should put more effort in helping other young women become better through mentorship. To find a mentor, here are some tips:
- Define what you want in your career and what you need to learn to get there.
- Approach a mentor relationship as if it’s a business friendship – be casual and friendly, and try not to ask weird questions like, “will you be my mentor?”
- Start with your own professional network, or build one if you don’t have. We often already have mentors who provide advice in various ways, and all it takes is a little effort from us to grow that connection into an ongoing relationship. For more check here .
A few coalitions and groups like the Young Women in Politics Forum under the umbrella of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, exist to serve as a network of young women interested in or already involved in politics, and to support women to run for office and engage their constituencies. Being a member in such forums as this is a huge way to getting access to and finding a mentor(s).
Women like men, have every right to vie for political positions or get involved in political activities, and the benefits of women’s participation can only be experienced if the untapped capacity and talents of women are maximized. Then we can have a more democratic, equal and inclusive society.
This article was written by Ogechi Ekejiuba