The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report Ranking on Women Political Participation ranked Nigeria at 123 out of 146 countries in its Global Gender Gap (GGG) index for 2022. This means that Nigeria has one of the biggest gender gap in politics – women are poorly represented in Nigeria’s decision-making positions despite making up almost half of Nigeria’s population. 49.5% of Nigeria’s estimated 213.4 million people are in fact women. However, only 18 out of the 360 members in the House of Representatives are women, and only 8 out of 109 members of the senate are women.
This low percentage of women has caused “major” setbacks for Nigeria, says the Minister of Women Affairs in Nigeria, Pauline Tallen. She blamed the country’s low investment and slow progress in some of the crucial sectors of human development outcomes on the lack of women in decision-making positions. These sectors include development of security and peace processes, health, education, and ICT development, among others. Moreover, the absence of women in peacebuilding has affected the effectiveness of the process and the chances of yielding positive results, explains Lesley Agams, chief executive officer of ‘Naija by Nature’.
However, there have been efforts to address this inequality. For example, the UN Women organization aims to empower women and promotes gender equality by helping governments and civil societies design laws, policies, programmes and services to achieve gender equality. Locally, Nigeria has various organizations that advocate for better women’s inclusion in Nigeria’s decision-making positions; among such efforts are the Women Political empowerment office and Nigeria Women Trust Funds (NWTF). The Nigeria Women Trust Funds organisation assists women with financial and other resources towards their campaigns in Nigerian politics. It is supported by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development (FMWASD), and UN Women. The organisation is also behind various initiatives including the ‘Young Women Leadership Project’, a mentorship programme for young women and girls to take part in political leadership training and the ‘Voices of Change’, a national program to encourage women to vote and join political parties. Nevertheless, these commendable efforts have yielded limited success, as Nigeria is still ranked among the lowest in the Global Gender Gap.
This is due to the fact that Nigerian women face more complex challenges in Nigerian politics that need to be addressed. First, there is a lack of government support for gender equality. Lawmakers in Nigeria have voted against pro-women bills in Parliament on numerous occasions (2017, 2021, and 2022). The bill in question sought to improve women’s rights in different areas. These included providing special seats for women at the National Assembly, allocating 35% of political position appointments to women, creating 111 additional seats in the National Assembly and the state constituent assemblies and committing to women having at least 10% of ministerial appointments. The bills also sought to address citizenship issues, affirmative action, and indigeneship — allowing women to become natives of their husbands’ states. Lawmakers argue that the constitution already supports the rights of all women. The rejection by the lawmakers shows that the assembly is not interested in gender equality in politics.
The Patriarchal Party structure has been one of the main obstacles to Nigerian women. Political parties are gateways to political space but the structure of Nigerian political parties restricts women’s access to power. When political parties recruit women, women are often assigned roles that do not convey power or require leadership skills (Ette and Akpan-Obong, 2022). The highest position a woman can aspire to reach in a political party is the ‘woman leader’ position which is only needed when the issue is about welfare and mobilisation of women during elections (Ette and Akpan-Obong, 2022). As a result, women are excluded from the policy-making process.
Moreover, bullying and intimidation have been some of the tactics used against Nigerian women in the political arena. Indeed, some Nigerian women experienced bullying and intimidation during their run for office. Party leaders also known as godfathers – described as wealthy men who often use their influence to block women from taking part in Nigerian politics. A study conducted by Ette et al, 2022, explains that women have been asked to withdraw their candidacy from the party elections and their male opponents were selected without due democratic process. As they fear for their lives, the women will quietly step down.
“The godfathers ganged up against me. I couldn’t believe how they ganged up against me. It was very shocking. They tried to kidnap me on the day of the primaries. They attacked me with tear-gas and arrested me and some of my supporters. They do all kinds of things to keep women away” says a Parliamentary candidate (Ette et al, 2022).
All this boils down to how women are perceived in Nigeria. First, cultural and traditional practices have subjected women to male dominance, and this has hindered women’s progress in Nigeria’s politics. Both Christianity and Islam do not give women many roles in public life, and women are seen culturally as a quite submissive figure or an image of virtue. As a result, they face obstacles such as a lack of support from government and political parties, intimidation and stereotypes from society creating a sense that women are less important than men.
This has had major implications on peace and security in Nigeria. The lack of women’s presence in leading positions in the area of peace and security has caused violent conflict which disproportionately affects women and girls and intensifies pre-existing gender inequalities and discrimination, according to UN Peacekeeping. It also causes women and gender issues to not be prioritized by security establishments in Nigeria. This results in women and girls being victims of various forms of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as loss of life including that of their fathers, husbands, and sons. It is for these reasons that more work needs to be done to ensure gender equality in Nigerian politics.
Achieving gender equality and having women in decision-making positions in peace and security development ensures that women are protected from sexual and gender-based violence by making sure the voices, needs and priorities of women and girls are incorporated in all areas of peace-building. This can be achieved if more people are educated on the importance of gender equality in politics and if more people are involved in ensuring gender equality.
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