By Olasunkanmi Akoni
THE United Kingdom, UKaid Department for International Development (DFID) in collaboration with the Lagos State Deputy Governor’s office organized a Southwest Nigeria regional conference on Women in Governance from 29th to 30th September, 2015.
As a follow up to the one held in February, 2015, the purpose of the conference was to build synergies between Women in Business and Private sector, Politics and Civil society to develop strategies and take actions that will ensure that the target of 35 percent participation of Women in Governance will be met in order to achieve national developmental goals, with the overarching objective of Ensuring Better Social Inclusion and Good Governance At All Levels of Government.
The conference was themed: “Women’s Participation in Democratic Governance in South West Region.” Dogged pursuit of improved society over the years has seen significant leaps towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs at all levels and the social inclusion of women in democratic governance since 1999.
The agency and state government put the conference to analyse women participation, roles in democratic governance in the country with the aim of adopting actions to bridge what they termed, “unacceptable” gender gap, in political representation in the country.
Interestingly, women representation in the National Assembly since 1999 as a case study has systematically increased. In the current 8th National Assembly, there were more women honourable members and distinguished Senators over what was produced in 1999, 2003 and 2007. The same goes for the number of local government chairmen that were produced.
They noted that no political gathering in Nigeria is ever complete without women, but when key positions are to be contested for, women are not considered for it nor encouraged to participate.
The participants at the conference who addressed how women could take advantage of the minimum standard to a large extent, contended that just as politics and governance are siamese twins so should women and men be on the issues that affect the lives of both genders especially as it relates to governance. They called on President Buhari to provide more opportunities for women in his emerging administration.
Oluremi Tinubu, representing Lagos Central District in the Senate, in her address as a keynote speaker lamented that the 35 percent affirmative action for women was not being followed across all political divides in the country. She noted that while more women have come into governance and participated in elections since the advent of democratic rule in 1999, the quest for reaching the 35 percent women representation must be sustained until it is achieved and even surpassed.
Tinubu added that since women constitute more than half of the population and also majority of voters during the elections, it is ironical that they are the minority compared to the male. “Women constitute about half of the Nigerian population going by the 2006 census figures. Women also constitute a great majority in the voting population, yet they are a minority when you look at the number of candidates running for elective positions or the few who actually get elected”.
“The time has come for more women to move-on to leadership positions. This is the time when our number should increase geometrically even beyond the 35 percent for which we have been demanding over the years”, Tinubu declared.
She stressed that the average Nigerian woman combines the task of keeping her home, taking care of the children and also pursuing a career creditably well and as such she must be encouraged to seek higher leadership positions, which she said should go beyond electing a larger number of women in positions but also changing the perception that public office is only for the men.
Tinubu urged women to support one another and use their numerical advantage to challenge the current situation. While sounding a note of caution to women already in government and other leadership positions, she challenged them to leave a worthy legacy through their performance while in office and in their service to humanity and also acting as role models to upcoming
women, noting that “it is when this is achieved that the call for more women representation can be properly considered and respected by the male dominated public service.” Bolanle Ambode in her paper noted that if the country could produce women LG chairmen, women deputy governors, senators, wondered why the women cannot be governors and ultimately, the president.
She said, “I believe this is possible and I am optimistic that soon, it will happen, because we have what it takes to achieve it in terms of numerical strength. We also have what it takes to deliver in terms of intellectual endowment. All that we need to fine tune, are the strategies to achieve the lofty ideals in good time. Ambode continued: “This conference, would serve to build necessary synergies between women in business and the private sector, politics and the civil society, to help realize the targeted 35 percent of women representation in government.”
She therefore, appealed to the womenfolk to take advantage of the continuous electoral reforms to make more daring moves towards elective offices at all levels. Ranti Adebule, in her address stated; “Before now, this important subject has been discussed at different fora all with the intention of creating awareness and motivating women to get more involved in democratic process and governance.
“While report card cannot be so disappointing considering where we are coming from as a marginalised group, we know that we are not yet at the Promised Land. “It is unarguable that the role of women in political process and governance is of utmost importance to the extent that it forms part of the political equation for winning elections. But women are not aware of their own political advantage.”
“If we say democracy and democratic governance which are critical to addressing the challenges of living irrespective of gender are hinged on mass participation and women form more than half of the population of Nigeria, why are women not in the majority of decision makers on issues that affect them?”
We have issues like children and maternal health, education, security and arms conflicts, food security, sexual assaults, among others that affects women yet to be resolved and women are scarcely partakers in the decisions geared towards resolving them.” The Deputy Governor noted that women were still not aware of their
political advantage and how to use such advantage to get more positions for women in government. She lamented that women “are usually relegated to praise singers and crowd pullers at political gathering but never seriously considered when key positions are being shared or contested for.” In an apparent move to clear the motive of the event, Adebule explained that the conference was not to advocate displacement of men from governance but an avenue to insist that women be given more of a say.
“It must be established that we are not and should not be advocating the displacement of men from the governance stage but we must remain resolute in our call for more women to be given the chance to be active and important partners and this is the platform this conference provides for women to understand the issues militating against them while also learning from other accomplished women”, Adebule stated.
Others speakers spoke in the same vein at the conference which also had in attendance the first lady of Osun and Oyo states, former deputy governor of Lagos State, Princess Sarah Sosan, All Progressives Congress, APC, Women leader, Mrs. Kemi Nelson, Lagos State Head of Service, Mrs Folashade Jaji, women political and corporate leaders from across the South West region and Kwara State among others.