What was once considered as a progressive rise in women representation in the political arena has lately fizzled out and in some cases been reversed.
A talk shop to review developments in Calabar retuned a damming verdict for the country’s political parties with the notable exception being the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
BY CHARLES KUMOLU
The progressive proportion of skirts and wrappers blouses in political meetings after the commencement of the Fourth Republic perhaps reached a peak in 2007. After the 2011 elections, it was generally believed that the proportion of women in politics fell. The female outing in that exercise, was so low that only thirty two women were elected to the national parliament out of four hundred and sixty nine members, which was barely 8% representation.
For gender activists and political analysts, that represented a major setback for the efforts at enhancing women p
articipation in the democratisation process. Hence the need to address the situation in line with the United Nations, UN, specification for 35 percent female presence in elective and appointive positions.
To achieve that ahead of the 2015 general elections, the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, convened a two-day National Dialogue on Enhancing Women’s Participation in the 2015 Elections titled: Dialogue Between Women Leaders and Chairmen of Political Parties on Enhancing Women’s Candidature in the 2015 Elections. Held in Calabar, the event had in attendance the chairmen of political parties under the auspices of Inter Party Advisory Council ,IPAC, and the members of Forum of Nigerian Women in Politics ,FONWIP.
Consensus on key strategies
At the forum which commenced with the opening remarks of IPAC chairman and Chairman of National Conscience Party, NCP, Dr. Yunusa Tanko, topics on how to defeat the challenges that had affected the early gains recorded at the inception of the Fourth Republic in the area of women representation in politics, were debated upon.
Various speakers identified obstacles that militate against expanding the horizon for enhancing women participation, leading to a consensus that key strategies be adopted to make the political space gender friendly
In his submission, Tanko said : “Majority of men with chauvinistic disposition are preoccupied with the perception that decision making is for menfolk while women should be instructed on what to do. Women are still annihilated from the system despite their large population in the society which could make them to decide to present a woman to run for president and possibly win.
“Over the years marginalization has characterized women participation in politics due to various inhibiting social, cultural and religious forces. These forces affected women’s perception of politics leading to a very low level of political interest, knowledge and activities of women in politics. Nigerian politics became male dominated almost making the women virtually politically invisible.”
Supporting his position with examples, he lamented that the percentage of women parliamentarians had reduced to six percent against what it was in 1999 and 2011, describing it as a threat towards having more women participation in the 2015 elections. He however singled out the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP as the only party that had been gender responsive.
“Only the PDP has attained over 35% female participation out of the twenty six political parties in Nigeria,” Yunusa added.
On hand to buttress Yunusa’s arguments, was a UNDP/DGD Expert Dr. Sadeeque Abba, who described the situation in Nigeria as gender biased. For that reason, he noted that it was imperative to ask why women don’t participate actively in the political process.
The situation in Nigeria
“What we have in Nigeria is not encouraging. A lot of fundamental questions need to be asked on why women don’t participate actively in the political process. The scope of political participation should be enhanced. Currently it is sad that only the PDP has attained about 35% participation among other political parties sine 1999,” he stated. Buttressing his position with the current realities in the country, Abba regretted that, “there are only six percent women parliamentarians, which is against what it used to be since 1999. It is important that political parties expand expand the horizon for women participation.”
Amendment of party
Remarkably, women leaders of political parties at the end of the dialogue, were unanimous in their demand for the amendment of party constitutions, with the view to making it gender friendly. Presenting the position of the women, Mariam Ahmed of Citizen Popular Party ,CPP, listed sensitisation, education of women in politics, amendment of party constitutions to be gender responsive and adequate funding as key to popular female participation. Others, she said, include; eradication of violence associated with electioneering; continuous dialogue for better understanding and commitment.
She argued that the demands would foster women’s active participation in the 2015 elections. These requests however elicited favourable response from party chairmen, who pledged to amend party constitutions, so as to address the issues raised by the women.
Tanko, who spoke on behalf of the chairmen, said the demands were legitimate, stressing that all impediments to political aspirations of womenfolk, would be dismantled.
To achieve that, the IPAC President, solicited for the cooperation of FONWIP.
IPAC, through its Secretary, Mr. Peter Ameh also urged women to make use of other political platforms rather than focusing on parties in power, even as called on the National Assembly to make 35 per cent affirmative action a prerequisite for registration of political parties.