By Gabriel Ewepu and Fortune Eromosele, Abuja
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria, AAN, Ene Obi, Thursday called for increased participation of women in governance.
The speakers spoke at a two-day hybrid intergenerational consultative and strategic dialogue in Abuja, with the theme, “Paving the Path: Forum for Women’s Participation in Political Leadership in Nigeria; Past, Present and Future’.
Gbajabiamila in his address said the journey to greatness for the country may remain stifled unless the nation embraces an optimal representation of women in the decision-making matters of the country.
He urged women in politics to not only challenge the systemic problem of low representation of women but to change the status quo.
According to him, “This is a call to duty that summons us to take action to dismantle those obstacles of law and convention, of culture and expectation that disadvantage women, and deny them full participation in our national life.
“We must do this, not out of charity or magnanimity. We do it because the evidence abounds that our country is less than it can be. Our highest aspirations are out of reach and will stay there until the arenas of political power in our country accurately reflect the incredible contributions that women make to every facet of our society.
“Our gathering here today is in recognition of two realities; not enough women are participating actively in the political life of our country, and we are poorer for it. Secondly, this situation will not change of its own accord.
“It is up to us to understand why things are as they are; identify strategies to construct a different paradigm, and implement these strategies with vigour, skill, and utmost dedication. Our future depends on it.”
Speaking in the same vein, Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, lamented poor women representation in elective offices, describing it as one of the lowest, and noted that it exhibits slow progress in promoting gender equality.
Tallen also emphasized that women have the key to fix the nation and power to nurture, and added that anything not nurtured will have no life.
“Realizing the need to give legal backing to our demands, improve women participation and a general struggle to address the gender equality in leadership and decision-making positions, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs partnering Women Political Participation Technical Working Group and other Civil Society Organisations are all in conformity with the constitution Nigerian women want.
“This inspired the Ministry’s response to the just concluded public hearing on the review of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria demanding an enabling environment for inclusion of women’s voice in the national polity”, she stated.
The Country Director, AAN, Ene Obi, said, “While it can be argued that Nigeria has made progress towards opening the space for women’s participation, we know progress is incredibly slow. So, the time to truly move the needle is overdue as we can no longer be waiting for tokenistic opportunities.
“If we want to see real changes in the lives of Nigerian citizens, I believe it starts with allowing women to lead. Nigerian women have a long history of political participation and leadership – Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and a host of others come to mind.
“As for ActionAid Nigeria, we are committed to this struggle, we are committed to ensuring that gender equality is achieved, and a demonstration of this equality is evidenced in how open democratic spaces are, the number of women who are in leadership positions across all lines, amongst others.”
Other speakers at the event were Chair, House Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development, Adewunmi Onanuga, Former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson, Secretary General Inter-Parliamentary Union, Martin Chungong, UN Women Country Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Comfort Lamptey, Director-General National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman.
Also were, Chair, Conference of Speakers of the State Legislatures, Abubakar Suleiman, British High Commissioner, Catriona Laing, Acting High Commissioner of Canada in Nigeria, Nicolas Simard, Chairman INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, Hadiza Balarabe and Former UN Special Rapporteur, Lawyer and Human Rights Activist, Prof. Joy Ezeilo, aligned themselves with the motion to pave paths for women to promote nation-building.