By Victoria Ojeme
Nigerian women constitute about half of the population of the country and are known to play vital roles in family and society. But despite the major roles they play and their population, the society has not given recognition to these.
Nigerian women have therefore over the years become targets of violence of diverse forms based on their positions in promoting transformative politics.
The minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Dame Pauline Tallen said a sexist and patronage-based political culture, combined with gendered economic and household inequalities, are some of the barriers to women’s participation in governance.
She said the ministry is fully committed to ensuring that women participate not only in national development but in all facets of life. “Particularly in economic, political, and social development. And that we’ve been doing aggressive sensitisation to ensure that the girl-child takes her rightful place.”
“Once we address the education of the girl child then we have fully prepared her. We have ministries of women affairs across the 36 states, these commissioners coordinate and we work closely with them to ensure that women issues are properly addressed and are in the mainstream of national development,” she said.
She lamented that despite the large number of women who started off the process of seeking elective political positions only a handful made it in the party primaries.
In the history of Nigeria, we have never seen a high percentage of women that came out to indicate interest-over 2,000 came out registered, paid, and bought forms to participate actively- and they were women that are more than qualified but along the line they couldn’t make it, she said.
“We are insignificantly represented in the party structure and the party structure determines who can really go in for the proper election because the party structure directs and does all the little things before the election.”
“What women are demanding now is more participation of women at the party structure,” the Minister said.
Following Nigeria’s first democratic elections since the military rule in 1999, the proportion of women in all levels of government has remained low, although there have been improvements in women’s representation at the local level.
According to 2019 federal government data, although the proportions of women in elected positions increased slightly between 1999 and 2007, from an average of 2.3% across both houses of the legislature to 7.8%, these small gains had stopped by 2011.As of the 2015 election, Nigeria had 20 women out of 359 in its lower house (5.6%) and 7 out of 109 in its upper house (6.4%). Following the 2019 elections, women make up 7.3% of the Nigerian Senate and 3.1% of the House of Representatives. No state governors are women.
The World Economic Forum in its 2018 Global Gender Gap report measures ‘political empowerment’ in terms of the ratios of women to men in ministerial and parliamentary positions, as well as the number of years as head of state over the last fifty years. Out of a total of 149 countries, Nigeria is ranked as having the 139th largest gender gap in ‘political empowerment’.
Dame Pauline Tallen believes that education plays a key role in women’s empowerment. “We have quite a number of educated women in all fields. There is no profession that women are not adequately represented. Yet it is a struggle to get her in her rightful position,” she said.
“More advocacy, demanding and I must commend that at least Mr. President is giving us a listening ear and things are beginning to change a little better than what is actually on the ground.
“You can see that in the executive structure he has so much in women that’s why he has appointed a woman to head the finance ministry. And so far no woman has failed him.
“The head of the service has always been a woman more than 20 years now and we are always doing very well. We have women in strategic Ministries.
“But we are talking of the number, out of 43 we have 7. Yes, we thank you Mr President but I believe women deserve more,” she said.
However, in the Nigerian context, literature shows that women are sometimes given nominal roles with little actual power in government and political parties. Too many analyses of women in Nigerian politics still focus on numbers over substance. Questions need to be asked about the nature of women’s political power and the terms of their participation.
For the minister, her ministry is intensifying advocacy for the domestication of the Child Rights Act and the Violence Against Persons Act by all the states of the federation. “And I must say that for the first time in Nigeria we have seen commitment at the highest level, when I mean commitment I mean at the political level,” she said.
“From the Presidency to the National Assembly and the Governors. They have shown serious commitment and have vowed zero tolerance as far as rape and gender violence is concerned.
“And Mr President made a powerful statement condemning rape and gender-based violence. He has also directed the attorney-general to set up an inter-ministerial committee because it’s not just an issue that can be handled by the Ministry of Women Affairs alone.
“Agencies like the police and the judiciary have all been given marching orders. The President also directed that all cases of rape in courts should be expedited.
“I’m appealing to all of them that at least before the end of this year let us have all the 36 states domesticate the Child’s right Act and VAPA. I don’t want to start announcing the names of the states that have not domesticated,” she added.