By Juliet Ebirim
In a bid to harness the inherent leadership potentials in Nigerian women needed to drive the nation into prosperity, the European Union recently organised a seminar themed “ How do women win elections in 2019?.
The event held on the 23rd of March in Abuja was part of activities to mark this year’s International Women’s Day.
The event brought together eminent female politicians, politically-inclined women and members of the civil society across the country to discuss women’s participation in Nigeria’s political process.
The wife of the Senate President, Mrs. Toyin Saraki; Senator Binta Garba, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women Affairs and Mrs. Bisi Fayemi, leading gender activist and wife of Minister of Solid Minerals, were among those in attendance.
Presenting the welcome address, Head of the European Union (EU) delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ambassador Ketil Karlsen said the idea was to discuss how to get women in the country to be more involved in and educated about politics, as well as ensure there are better opportunities for them. “We are opening the door a little bit. We are reminding ourselves that women’s right is not only for speeches at occasions. It is something that should guide our works and our lives every day of the year.”
She said it was an irony that the Nigerian women known for their courage and outspokenness are relegated to the background in the politics of their country. “The statistics in this particular country makes it very clear: only six female senators, if I’m not mistaken, 15 female members of the House (of Representatives) and five (female) deputy governors in this great country, the biggest country in Africa. We need to ask ourselves whether this is good enough.”
Sen. Binta Garba while sharing her political experience said her path has been dogged by the same factors that have made the political arena hostile to women with political ambitions. “Culture was against me, religion was against me. Women were used against me,” she said. Sen Garba came to the House of Representatives as the youngest of 360 members in 1999, at barely 28. She has been a federal lawmaker since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999. In 2006, former Governor of Adamawa state, Boni Haruna, asked her to contest for the Senate in her home state, Adamawa. She has been a senator representing Adamawa North since then.
She urged women to be firm in their political pursuit and have their constituents at heart. While appealing to all women in the country to vote for their fellow women who show interest in politics, irrespective of their political affiliations, she urged that the “35% Affirmative Action” which seeks the allocation of 35 percent of all political offices to women be enshrined in the nation’s constitution and in political parties’ constitutions.
On her part, Mrs. Saraki expressed delight with the release of the abducted Dapchi girls, and described the loss of five of the girls as unfortunate. Citing a recent US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) report, she said: “When 10 per cent of girls go to school, a country’s GDP on the average increase by 35 per cent. When women have the same amount of land as men or ownership of land, there is over 10 per cent increase in crop yield.” The wife of the Senate President said allowing women to make good use of their potentials yields good dividends to any nation. According to her, the UN estimates that gender inequality costs Sub-Saharan Africa an average of $95 billion yearly.
Also, the Senior Programme Manager, Global International Idea’s Programme on Political Participation & Representation (Sweden) Rumbidzai Washika-Nhunda, who gave the keynote presentation said many women and youths around the world do not join political parties because they see men as being patriarchal. She said the character context and political context have prevented women from going into politics, presenting themselves as candidates for position of power and decision-making. “We need to realise that this is a transformative agenda. This is an agenda of redistribution of power and privileges,” she said.
According to her, only about half of the countries of the world manage to help a critical minority in parliament, executive or any position of power or decision-making, listing Sweden as one of the countries that have been fair to women in terms of political inclusiveness.
Washika-Nhunda urged Nigeria to take a cue from countries like Rwanda, Bolivia, Mexico, South Africa, Senegal, Namibia, Uganda, Angola and Zimbabwe, which have some forms of legislative quotas, while maintaining that when a country adopts legislative gender quotas, they are not doing women favour, because it is a democratic imperative.