by Adrian Joe
Women are the salt of the world, so the Bible says. They are also the mothers of the world, they are created by God to help men and take good care of their families. A critical look at the institutions that help in running and functioning of the state one would begin to wonder and ask the question that: why did women feature insufficiently in key political post and political institutions?, why are they insufficient in holding those offices? Are they not well educated or do they just lack the requisite to get or apply for those offices or they are been incarcerated by poverty or they ignorantly refuse to take profound impact in participating in politics? Is the problem caused by our cultural legacy of our dear country that men are supposedly superior to women? The answers to these framed questions make the core analysis of our discussion.
Since the end of the Fourth Conference on Gender and Development in 1995, held in Beijing, following similar previous conferences in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), strenuous efforts have been consciously up in place to maximize the development of gender equality in political affairs and International representation by women. To buttress this point, Article 8 of the United Nation laid emphasis on the need for gender mainstreaming and development at all level of political participation and representation. As for Nigeria, a country that got her independent in 1960 has a very low women participation in all branches of government. This is not to say that women have not been working in all these branches of government in Nigeria, but it’s obvious that their representation is very low in holding key political post. During the struggle for self-determination a number of women political activist erupt such as Mrs Magaret Ekpo (a women’s right activist and a social mobilizer), Mrs Janet Mokelu and Mrs Young were all prominent members of the Eastern House of Assembly. There were also political activists such as, the late Mrs Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti of the Western region and Hajia Gambo Sawaba of the Northern region.
With this, one can easily conclude that women participation in pre-independence era was quiet impressive despite the fact that men dominated the entire liberation struggle mentioned above. Yet women still scramble to participate and eventually got involved. However, there was a dramatic change to women’s participation in politics during Babangida’s regime. This manifested when his wife Maryam Babangida institutionalized the office of the First lady in 1987. She became the first lady to hold such political post and then launch the “Better Life for Rural Women” program. Since then, the office of the First lady has been assigned to the wife of the President up to date, though the office is not constitutionally recognized. Other women who impart in Nigeria politics include the Harvard University scholar and economist Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala who saved the nation’s record of billions of naira. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh also impacted in politics before she got involved in the corruption scandal involving her renovation of her official residence in 2007. Another woman active in Nigeria politics is Princess Stella Odua who was the disposed Minister of Aviation. Others include Mrs Obi Ezekwesili who is the chairman of Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) and Professor Dora Akunyili. Moreover, with the explanation above one begins to ask what led to the paucity of women’s representation in Nigeria politics of today despite the fact that they have impacted in politics. There are many factors that led to this, but I am going to expatiate on three of them.
1. UNEQUAL ACCESS TO EDUCATION
Education is one of the basic if not the best criteria for the continuation of democracy. The moment the citizen’s boycott learning (formal), democracy will cease to be a continued process. To this end, Education could be referred the process of teaching training and learning, especially in schools or colleges to improve knowledge. That is why it is enshrined in section 18 (3a-c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as a right. Many female do not have access to education due to factors such as poverty, early marriage, domestic expectations or training such as cooking, fetching water and firewood and cleaning. Since they are pre-occupied with these factors access to education will be very difficult for them. The orientation or believe or in some parts of the country is that men are supposedly superior to women, a position Mary Wollstonecraft blatantly argued and rejected. It is on this basis that Mary Wollstonecraft explained in her book “The Vindication of the Right of Women” published in1792 that the only difference between men and women is the “physical strength”, that is, the strong arm and the strength been possessed by men and the “maternity”, that is, the state of being pregnant also possessed by women, though she accepted and acknowledged that women would have to fulfill their roles as wives and mothers, She further argued that men and women have equal reasoning capacity since they are human beings; she therefore rejected the system of Patriarchy (a social system which gives the locus of flow to male). She further asserted that if women did not think for themselves or think the way they ought to think, it is because of their training. According to her, reason is “the grand blessing of life”, “the basis of every virtue” and the key to independence. In view of this, education remains one of the core impediments to women representation in Nigeria politics. At the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, there are only seven women elected as representatives for their various constituencies they include, former Minister of Aviation Mrs Stella Odua representing Anambra North, Uche Ekwnife also representing Anambra Central, Rose Oko representing Cross Rivers North, Fatima Raji Rasaki representing Ekiti, Oluremi Tinubu representing Lagos Central, Binta Garba representing Adamawa central and Monsurat Jumoke Sunmonu representing Oyo central. These are stes of women who had the opportunity to education, they grab the opportunity and they were able to get themselves what they want. Education is a right and not a privilege; everybody is entitled to it regardless of your sex.
2. UNEQUAL POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AND DECISION MAKING
As stated earlier, to participate in politics, there is a need to be an educated being. Looking at it from one angle, women are denied the access to basic education due to factors such as poverty, early marriage, domestic expectation or training such as cooking, fetching firewood and the cultural legacy or practice in some part of Nigeria make women participation in politics paucity low. Take for instance, at the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, there were only seven women elected as representatives for their various constituencies, they include: Mrs Stella Odua (Anambra North), Uche Ekwenife (Anambra Central), Rose Oko (Cross River North), Fatima Raji Rasaki (Ekiti), Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central), Binta Garba (Adamawa North) and Monsurat Jumoke Sunmonu (Oyo central). With this, we can easily conclude that political participation is very low. Their representation at decision making is also very low. Thus, it is until those problems acting as a traumatic impediment to women’s participation is adequately addressed that there will be an improvement in political participation and decision making.
3. VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
This is also one of the major problems battling girls of the 21st century. Violence against women is more rampant these days and it is nearly ubiquitous because we do read and hear it in our daily newspapers. Violence against women has limited their representation in politics. Violence like rape, sexual harassment and child labour has been committed on women which limit their representation in politics. Women of these days are victims of rape and sexual harassment from men, although this has multiple connections because girls of what they put on and how they expose their body. Most of them even expose their so called Natural Asset to attract men. This must be stopped in order to increase the active representation of women in politics. To make the discussion abit advance, it is pertinent to site feminist position on why there should be equal and increment in women’s representation in Nigeria politics. After the realization of gender inequality between men and women, the central claim of the feminist theory is to promote the equality of women which include the right to vote, right to hold public office, right to work, right to education, right to own property, right to equal pay, right to enter contract, right to have equal rights within marriage e.t.c. They also work to promote autonomy and integrity of women and also to protect them from rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence. They also reject the idea that one sex is superior than the superior to the other sex. They further believe that both sexes have the same reasoning faculty naturally given by God and one must not be superior to the other nor neither encroaches on each other’s right/entitlement.
Having examine the reason why women participate insufficiently in politics especially Nigeria, it will be nice to proffer some solutions on how women can participate in politics. I will also proffer three solutions I opined will be adequate for women to participate in politics, they include:
Vantage position should be accorded to women: women in Nigeria should be given the opportunity to hold key political positions, though we have some office designated to Women, but some other position must also be put into consideration. The last administration feature some women occupying key political post, such as Minister for Petroleum and Minister for Finance, but these doesn’t suffice for women representation. They must be encouraged to hold key positions.
Women should not be left out of decision making in Nigeria: women must not be left out of decision making, they must also have a say in making crucial decision. They are entitled to their opinion and their opinion should not be rubbished. A good example of this is the low level of representation at the 8th National Assembly.
They participate as a result of re-awakening and awareness: Active participation and representation at the grass root level has been very impressive, all kudos to the All Progressive Congress, but if there is low level or representation at the top, it will lower women’s morale. Thus, the participation and representation of women in Nigeria politics will re-awake and server as awareness for women to step up the chauvinistic struggle for equal representation. In addition, I appreciate the courageous actions of Mama Taraba (Mrs Aisha Jummai Alhassan) in vying for the governorship post in the last election. Despite the fact that she knew how rough and rugged the road will be she didn’t allow herself to feel depressed. Women of such should be pioneers for other women in their political struggle. Women must be not be neglected and they must be encouraged to make profound impact in politics, they are entitled to their own opinion and they must not be rubbished.