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Women’s Inclusion In Elective/Leadership Positions In Nigeria: Realising That Women Are Part Of The ‘People’ In Democracy

By Ogechi Obialo

The United Nations International Day of Democracy is celebrated annually on September 15 to support different governments in strengthening and consolidating democracy. Democracy is about the power of the people — government of the people, by the people, and for the people; “government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free election.”

The critical focus of democracy is to promote human rights as well as ensure that both men and women are treated equally based on their fundamental human rights, have equal access to opportunities, and have the choice to participate in the political and electoral process, be able to vote and be voted for. According to UNESCO, democracy is the ability of people to freely make political choices to choose their leaders, government, and policies.

When focusing on democracy, women are key players; they comprise about half of the world’s population. Recently, global policymakers and governments have had an “increased focus on the need for women’s participation in political processes and on their contributions to building stronger societies.” Women’s participation in leadership and governance is key to nation-building because women are game changers and agents of change.

Men and women have equal rights to participate actively in politics. The law provides women’s inclusion and participation in politics, especially in a democratic setting. According to Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to participate in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.”

Elsewhere, Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) warns against all forms of discrimination against women. In particular, Article 2 (d) advises people “to refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation.”

Furthermore, Article 2 of the ‘Protocol To The African Charter On Human And Peoples’ Rights On The Rights Of Women In Africa’ still dwelt on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Article 9 provides the “Right to Participation in the Political and Decision-Making Process.”

Regardless of these laws and provisions, the implementation has been below expectations.

Nigeria still struggles with discrimination, marginalisation, and lack of trust in women despite practising democracy for decades. Women are still discriminated against and intimidated, and the political environment makes it difficult for them to participate and actively make headways.

The levels of discrimination vary from lack of financial muscle to an unhealthy political environment to electoral violence. For instance, in 2019, a woman leader with one of the frontline political parties, Salome Abuh, was a victim of electoral violence; she was burnt alive during the Kogi state gubernatorial election. Her only crime was to be in active politics as a woman.

The issue of indigenisation of women political aspirants is still a constitutional issue; lack of trust and the wrong perception the society place on women in politics/leadership; unfriendly family psychology/mentality, including patriarchy and cultural/religious practices; usually make women step down for men as witnessed during political party primaries.

With less than six months to the 2023 general election, only a few women are candidates ahead of the polls. According to a Leadership Newspaper report, there are only ten female governorship candidates (with non from top-ranking political parties) and 24 running mates.

This number is not proportional to women’s contribution in Nigeria, considering that the country has close to 200 million people. Compared with 2019, the Centre for Democracy Development (CDD) noted that: “Female political representation in the 2019 elections was negligible relative to the approximately half of the population they constitute. Two thousand nine hundred seventy women were on the electoral ballot, representing only 11.36% of the nominated candidate.”

Notably, an essential tenet of any democratic framework is the principle of human rights, which includes the liberty of political alignments and the exercise of the political rights of both men and women. The questions to ask are, where lies the rights, where lies the preaching of inclusion, and where lies the democracy?

Women as leaders and decision-makers at all levels are critical to advancing gender justice and gender equality — and to furthering economic, social, and political progress for all, … when countries increase the number of women engaged at all levels of government, there is greater government attention to and funding of issues that affect the lives of ordinary citizens. Only when women are actively involved can some decisions be inclusive enough to accommodate evenly spread development with diverse views towards programs and policies to achieve the dividends of democracy and good governance.

The 35% affirmative action campaign for women will not go on for a long time. It is time to consider the zipper system, which advocates for 50/50%. Political parties in Nigeria should be ready to give women an equal chance to come up to speed. This is achievable through Political Parties’ guidelines, manifestos, and constitutions to reflect similar considerations for women. The Zipper system should be promoted with policies and practices at the national, state, local government, and ward levels.

Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and the media are essential in continuous advocacy, lobbying, and capacity building for Women. As the watchdog in the democratic process, CSO needs to do more on their engagement with the government and the National Assembly through issue-based advocacy to improve women’s participation.

On the other hand, the media must become deliberate in documenting and telling the success stories of women who have demonstrated competencies in various elective and appointive positions. This is necessary because women are often excluded from political participation/decision-making on the flimsy excuse of competence and capacity.

Documented evidence will stir up interest in other women who have been clutched by patriarchy and generally set in motion a mind resetting both in the minds of women and men.

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe submitted during the Human Rights Council 21st Session, Geneva, September 20, 2012, states that nations are more peaceful and prosperous when women are given adequate and equal rights and opportunities as their male counterparts.

The clamour for an increase in women’s participation in leadership positions in Nigeria will continue to improve only with consistent efforts of different stakeholders, including the government, civil society organisations, the legislature, political parties, and women themselves, with the cooperation of the electorates.

Furthermore, political parties should review their manifestos, constitution, and practices to accommodate more women in elective and appointive positions. Nigeria should also continue to aspire to gender equality in accordance with human rights obligations as enshrined in different AU and UN instruments they have ratified because women are part of the people in a democratic system of government.

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