By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
Barr.(Mrs.)Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is the Executive Director ofÂ Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), a non-partisan and non-profit-making civil rights group formulated in May 2000 to promote respect for human rights, gender equality, equity and social justice in Nigeria.Â Â
Barr.Akiyode recently shared with Vista Woman her views on women in politics and stated the need for novel strategies which will foster the representation of women in decision-making capacities in the country. Her words:
For years weâ€™ve been dwelling on the same issue; the need to expand womenâ€™s political participation. But unfortunately, weâ€™ve not recorded much progress.
This should alert us to the fact that we need to bring in new methodologies. Weâ€™ve been organizing capacity building workshops but have seen little progress. Thus, now when you invite people for capacity building, they say, â€œWe were trained in 2007 and nothing happenedâ€
There is a need for us to have a common agenda as women, and behind this agenda, there is also the need to have the will to move beyond mere discussion. I mean we women need to move beyond mere discussion! Weâ€™ve had round-table discussions, open discussions, and I think it is high time we got engaged in a more systematic way.
We need to engage political parties and the government because generally there came the national gender policy declaring 35% affirmative action for women. But since then, nothing has happened. We also need to engage themÂ (political parties and govt.) from the middle point of view; we need to sue them and do a whole lot of multifaceted things to bring out our voice.
I think that the current election process has given us an opportunity to reassert this new strategy in the sense that if they say they cannot take affirmative action as one of the issues, what do we do as women? Weâ€™ve heard what the women in Kenya did, but I do not support we emulate that strategy. Thereâ€™s a need for us to look atÂ other methods.
Our women are still not yet ready for the 2011 electionsÂ but are waiting for the last minute preparation; which is one problem we always have. However, I must state that WARDC has several programmes in store.
We have a number of women in the National Assembly, and weâ€™re trying to find out from them what theyâ€™ve brought into politics as opposed to what it used to be. We seek to get them to itemize the kind of laws they tabled, the changes they made within their constituencies, etc.Â Â Â Answers we get,Â will serve as a reference tool to the beneficial changes women can bring to this country.
At the end of this survey, we will be coming up with a document showcasing what the present women in politics have done. Another thing weâ€™re also trying to find out is how many women these women have mentored and encouraged into participating in politics.
Through this, we are asking each and every one of them to reproduce themselves. So, we are going to have a training for the introduction theyâ€™ve been able to make, to see whether we can use them to build up the capacity of other women who will contest elections.
We are also going to work with a whole lot of political parties directly in leadership. We want to make them(parties) understand that they need to change their policies so that women donâ€™t remain as clappers and supporters but begin to take their place in the affairs of life.
We are also running a documentary which will have women who are already in decision-making positions, talk about their political exploits to show how theyâ€™ve contributed their own quota to national development.
We advise women in the legislature not to allow those they come across in politics to override their sense of perception. If youâ€™re in the parliament, you should know youâ€™re there to make laws. Your business is not to be setting up other things but to make laws that will foster development in the society.
I was taken up and mentored by Late Prof.Jadesola Akande like a child. She believed in the emancipation of women.
I once asked her about the affirmative action. I said, â€œIs it just any woman? Is it just about getting more women in politics?â€ She answered, â€œLet us get the faces of the women then weâ€™ll know what to do with them; if it is to build their capacity, weâ€™ll know thatâ€™s the next levelâ€. We cannot judge them at first sight and declare them not fit for politics.
I think that to a large extent, that has actually changed my perception. I used to think we should go scouting for women who we believe â€˜Can add valueâ€™, but Prof.Akande told meÂ that we should get the interested women first, before focusing on their capacity because that is what men do.
One of the things we do is to follow-up women who went through the election process in 2007. We work one-on-one with them at the state level.
Recently I was with one of the two women parliamentarians in Ogun State, and she told me she had passed the bill on Gender Equality in the State and that it had passed through the 2nd reading. She also presented the bill on Gender Based Violence. So, like I said, we try to work with these women even after elections.
At the National Assembly level too, we work with â€˜Women in Parliamentâ€™. WARDC happens to be part of those who created the â€˜Women In Parliamentâ€™, and recently, we collaborated with them to organize the first â€˜Annual Summit on Women in Parliamentâ€™.
My advice to Nigerian women is for us to be much more organized. We need to support one another, and come up with strategies to foster our political participation. We need to also know that 2011 is around the corner.
WARDC is not-for-profit civil rights group established in May 2000. The idea of the centre was conceived to formulate strategies for the inclusion of women in everyday Nigerian activity.
This idea has since then been developed and expanded by other womenâ€™s rights advocates who are committed to the promotion of womenâ€™s concerns nationally and internationally through advocacy, reporting, research and documentation.â€™