Paulen Tallen

… Calls for constitutional review, 35% representation of women in government offices

By Fortune Eromosele

The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen has called for a full representation of women in the federal and state government offices as well as a review of the 1999 constitution to capture women’s participation and gender equality in leadership and decision-making positions.

Tallen, made the call during a joint ministerial media briefing ahead of the zonal public hearing on the proposed alteration to the provisions of the 1999 constitution in Abuja, which holds today and tomorrow being the 26 and 27 May, 2021.

Recall that the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs working with a cross section of CSOs had earlier submitted a memorandum in response to the call for submission made by the 9th Assembly on the review of the 1999 Constitution in September, 2020.

She continued that representation of men in government still surpass women, therefore calling for an equal representation of men and women in government.

According to her, “As representatives of Nigeria who make up almost 50 percent of the Nigerian population are committed to rapid national development in Nigeria and appreciate the growing consensus on the important role women play in development globally.

“Women need to be fully represented in the Constitution, first by recognizing the use of gender-neutral and sensitive language in our constitution. Masculine languages are gender-biased and undermine women and girls’ political participation, which further hinders inclusive governance in Nigeria. The Nigerian constitution should correct these male-dominant narratives in legal drafting.

“A critical look at Nigeria’s electoral positions show that they are male-dominated, despite the fact that the country’s constitution guarantees the right of every citizen to participate in politics. Equally, the constitution recognizes women’s right to vote for and be voted.

“In addition to these constitutional provisions, the National Gender Policy was also intended to increase the number of women in political office, party organs, and public life by setting a goal of 35 percent affirmative action to support women in all elected and appointed positions by 2015.

“But our current reality in 2021, is that women’s political representation is still below 10 percent. It is no longer news that women in Nigeria are yet to benefit from these provisions.”

She noted that to ensure equitable women representation in government, it is important the constitution is reviewed to provide for at least 35 percent women representation in appointive offices at the Federal and State levels.

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Tallen explained that this will have to begin with an amendment of section 14 subsection (3) that prohibits predominance of persons from a few States, ethnic or sectional groups in the composition of the Government and its agencies to also introduce a prohibition of the predominance of any sex in the composition of the government and its agencies. Also, Section 14 (4) introduces the equitable representation of both sexes in the composition of government at a state, Local Government Councils, or any of its agencies. Other sections for reference she said, include sections 147(3), 171(5), 192(2), 208 (4).

“In addition, we fully back the proposal to include Gender as a benchmark for Federal Character and related matters. And to create additional special seats for women in the Federal and State Legislative Houses, by altering among other sections, in the 1999 constitution”, she stressed.

Similarly, Dr Anthonia Ekpa, the Permanent Secretary, FMoWA, said the non-inclusion of women’s rights and protection of other vulnerable groups in the constitution had become a bane in the agitations, mobilisation and strategic alliance to improve the situation.

Speaking in the same vein, UN Women Country Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms Comfort Lamptey said the review process was an opportunity for Nigeria to strengthen its democracy by ensuring increased participation of women in governance.

Lamptey, represented by Mr Desmond Osemhenije, a Programme Specialist in the organisation, appealed for an unbiased representation of groups advocating for a constitution that promotes the full participation of women in political roles.

“It is our fervent hope that the outcome of the national public hearings will echo the mood of the nation for a Nigeria that we want. A Nigeria which is more inclusive and representatives where women and girls can equally participate in democratic governance,” she said.

On her part, Prof. Joy Onyesoh, Chairman Technical Working Group on Women Political Participation, called for a legal framework that would support women political participation.

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