Nigeria has continued to record a low representation of women in politics despite the fact that women constitute almost half of the country’s total population. On #234Vote we look at some strictures that hinder women from participating in politics within Nigeria.
Nigeria has continued to record a low representation of women in politics despite the fact that women constitute almost half of the country’s total population. In the country’s history of elected government officials, there has not been one female president, vice president or state governor. For the office of the deputy governor, the highest number of women to occupy that seat in a single election was 6 in 2007, out of 36 available seats. The situation is no better in the legislative houses at both federal and state levels.
Out of the 109 seats available in the Senate, 3 of those seats were occupied by women in 1999, 4 in 2003, 8 in 2007, 7 in 2011, 2015, and 2019. In the House of Representatives, out of 360 seats available in 2019, only 11 seats were occupied by women, a decline from the 22 female lawmakers elected in the 2011 elections. In the same year of 2019, a total of 40 women were elected into the 36 state houses of assembly (a total of 990 available seats).
At the local government level, the case of low women representation has also played out with a wide gap of men to women local government chairpersons and councillors. Political appointments at both the federal and state levels have not been any better for women. Female ministers account for only 15.91% of the 43-member ministerial list in the current government administration.
Reasons for the low level of women's participation in politics
Several factors have been considered responsible for this trend. First, there is a socio-cultural problem. Nigeria is largely a patriarchal society, where many industries and sectors are dominated by men. The perceived traditional role of the woman as a homemaker has continued to play out in several parts of the country. The late introduction of women’s rights in the world, such as the right to vote and be voted for, echoes the patriarchal nature of many societies, of which Nigeria is one.
In some parts of the country to this day, the right of female children to basic education is under threat by insurgents and terrorists, who believe that it is not in a girl’s place to have a formal education. A message that has been preserved for generations. Despite the fact that more women are beginning to occupy leadership positions in corporate organizations, it is still a fact that in many parts of the country, the role of women does not go beyond household matters. This sort of culture fosters a mindset in women that taking up positions of authority outside the home is wrong and unthinkable.
Closely linked to the first point is the responsibilities of the home. The many responsibilities a woman has on the home front does not afford her the large amount of time that is required to be active in politicking. In the more urban areas where women also have corporate jobs or run businesses, their time is further divided. She can’t compete especially in Nigeria where career politicians are prevalent.
The nature of politics in Nigeria has also contributed to the low participation of women in politics. Politics in Nigeria is seen as a dirty game, one that is filled with corruption and violence. Elections are often fraught with irregularities such as snatching ballot boxes, fighting and death. Receiving political appointments is also said to only be possible upon giving something in return to government officials. Many women often cannot bring themselves to be in the middle of the endless fight to attain power at any means.
The cost of contesting in elections, first at the primaries and up to the main elections is too expensive and discourages many women from trying. The Presidential nomination form under one of the major political parties in Nigeria costs up to N45million. This exorbitant cost only serves to disenfranchise the majority of Nigerians, seeing as recent statistics show that 82.9 million Nigerians live in poverty. As almost half of the country’s population is made up of women, they are also negatively affected by the high cost of purchasing nomination forms and campaigning.
"Women candidates often do not receive adequate support from their political parties, both in the area of nomination and financing."
Another factor that hinders the participation of women in politics is voter bias. Women candidates are often disadvantaged by unfavourable voters’ attitudes towards them. Beliefs that women candidates are not suitable for the offices they contest for, or that the responsibilities under those offices are too rigorous and tasking for the sensibilities of the woman, serve to put her in an unfavourable position as opposed to her male counterpart who is also contesting.
Lastly, political parties in Nigeria's leadership are largely comprised of men. Women candidates often do not receive adequate support from their political parties, both in the area of nomination and financing. It is therefore difficult for women candidates to successfully run for public offices.
Countries with a high representation of women in politics
Several countries have done well in terms of fostering greater participation of women in politics. Some of these countries include Rwanda, Cuba, United Arab Emirates, and Grenada, among others. In Rwanda, women occupy 61% of its parliamentary seats. Over the years, the country has continued to record a consistent increase in the percentage of women occupying seats in Parliament. The 2003 Rwandan Constitution set a 30% quota for women Parliament members, hence the impressive increase from 18% of women representation in Parliament in the 1990s to 61% currently.
The United Arab Emirates has also done well to increase the number of women in the country’s parliament. In 2018, President Sheikh Khalifa called for Emirati women to occupy half of the seats on the Federal National Council. By creating quotas for increased women's representation in parliament, the country made an impressive jump from 85th in the world in 2019 to 3rd in the world in 2021.
What Nigeria can do differently to increase women's participation in politics
All hope is not lost for Nigeria. Taking a cue from the successes of other nations in how well their women are represented in politics, there are several steps Nigeria can take to ensure gender parity in the nation’s political structure.
To start with, the Government has a duty to protect the rights of its citizens. Having noted earlier that insecurity in some parts of the country is targeted at the right of the girl child to education, the Government should relentlessly fight to put an end to the threat. Without an education, a girl is disadvantaged and unable to provide workable solutions to the complex problems in our nation’s economy.
Second, whilst appointments into federal and state cabinets, and other political appointments should be by merit, it is still key that Government should be mindful of striking a gender balance. It is therefore recommended that the country’s 35% affirmative action for women's representation in politics be increased to 40% and codified into law. Having legislation that requires Government at all levels to have at least 40% representation of women in appointive public service positions will be a good way to engender greater participation of women in politics.
Again, whilst merit should always be prioritised in the appointment of people into public offices, there is a disproportionate number of men in those public service positions. This proposed legislation will also help to encourage the training and empowerment of women with knowledge and skill, relevant to the various appointive offices so that when it is time for appointments, the excuse that there are no qualified women will not hold water.
"The cost of nomination forms should be determined having due regard to the economic standing of the majority and not the minority."
Third, having noted the high costs of purchasing political office nomination forms, it is recommended that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) set a limit for political parties as to how much their nomination tickets should cost. One of the functions of INEC is to “Provide rules and guidelines for...the operation and conduct of political parties”. The cost of nomination forms should be determined having due regard to the economic standing of the majority and not the minority. The goal is to preserve the right of citizens, women inclusive, to be voted for, and not to disenfranchise them.
Fourth, sensitization programs, focused on young women, should be regularly organized. These programs can target females in tertiary institutions, those undergoing their National Youth Service Corps programme and other women. The purpose should be to sensitize these women on the need to get actively involved in politics, as well as provide them with information as to how to get involved. This exercise can be undertaken by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, and the Ministry of Women Affairs in each state of the federation.
Following the fourth point above, training and mentorship for female political candidates/women in politics should be aggressively embarked upon. INEC can include it as part of its guidelines for political parties that the parties should have a training/mentorship session, at least once a year, for women aspiring for political offices. The Government can also partner with international bodies like UN Women to run such training.
In the 2013 Kenyan elections, the number of women legislators rose to more than 20%, more than double compared to the previous elections. As reported by the UN Women, they contributed to this result by providing training to nearly 900 female candidates in all 47 countries and running a Campaign for Women in Leadership to encourage voters to vote for women. In Nigeria, the training for female politicians and those aspiring can be focused on leadership and decision-making, as well as political campaigning.
To address the issue of voter bias, it is recommended that INEC should organize regular sensitization programs, targeted at the voting public to correct the notion that women are not suited for politics or cannot handle the demands of public offices. It is important that the public understands that both men and women have an equal right to contest for public office, up to the seat of the President of the country, and that women are not disadvantaged by reason only of their gender.
On another pedestal, there should be an end to discriminatory practices like fixing meetings of political parties at night.
Finally, INEC should develop stronger structures to ensure that elections are free of violence. Snatching of ballot boxes, shootings and other forms of violence at voting centres discourage Nigerians, both women and men from going out to vote.
Nigeria still has a long way to go to achieve gender parity in politics. However, it is not an impossible task. What is required is a determination by policymakers, government and interest groups, to aggressively tackle the challenges that prevent Nigerian women from being actively involved in the nation's politics.
Emaediong Lawrence | Research Analyst | firstname.lastname@example.org