THE CALL FOR MORE WOMEN IN GOVERNANCE
The jarring imbalance between men and women in political offices in the country was recently underscored by First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, at the National Summit on Women's Participation in Politics, in Abuja. The president's wife bemoaned the political fate of Nigerian women and called for adequate representation of the womenfolk at all levels of governance.
She regretted that women were yet to have the desired representation in governance, in spite of the Beijing Conference, which marked a turning point in the struggle for gender equality around the world, and the United Nations Declaration of 1976 - 1985 as the decade of women.
Mrs. Jonathan decried the disheartening statistics on women participation in governance in Nigeria. There are only six women in the Federal cabinet. Only eight of 109 senators are women, while the House of Representatives has only 25 women out of 360 members. Women occupy less than 10 per cent of government positions, against the recommended 30% that was increased to 35% by immediate past president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The First Lady called on the National Assembly and the political parties to make laws that will increase participation of women in governance.
Mrs. Jonathan's bid for increased involvement of women in leadership in Nigeria is commendable. Gender imbalance in governance is a reality, worldwide, with women in some countries totally excluded from full participation in public life.
In Nigeria, the unhealthy situation is fuelled by cultural and religious inhibitions which tend to portray the women as inferior to men, or as best suited for domestic engagements. Many men, because of misinformation and self-interest, are actively engaged in sustaining the age-old inequality between men and women in governance.
Women are also sometimes liable for their own subjugation. The female folk hardly support themselves in the bid for political office. Again, child bearing and the challenge of running the home take their toll on the careers and political aspirations of women. But, this should not eliminate them from the political space.
Nigerian women need to bind together and support one another to attain political power. Women have the maternal touch to issues that can positively reflect on the devotion and commitment of the government to the welfare of the people.
The first step towards increased participation of women in governance, however, is self-belief. Nigerian women need attitudinal change on their ability to aspire to, and creditably discharge the functions of high public office. They must believe and demonstrate that they have a lot to contribute to the development of Nigeria, socially, politically, economically and in all spheres of life.
They must reject tokenism in appointments and demand at least 30 percent representation in the Federal and State cabinets, and in their party nominations for the Senate, House of Representatives and states houses of assembly.
Male politicians should not see women as threats. As women re-discover themselves and their roles in governance, men should allow them a level playing field and give them opportunities to fulfill their aspirations.
Women presidents are no longer a rarity in the world. Germany, Liberia, Britain , and Phillipines, to mentioned but a few, are among countries that have been ruled by women. They have amply demonstrated that able leadership is not the preserve of men.
Women, therefore, need to take their destiny in their hands and demand their due place in governance. They have the advantage of number. Our population statistics indicate that there are more women in Nigeria than men. They should, therefore, be able to turn the table against men if politics is, indeed, a game of numbers. But, they can do this only if they are resolute.
The matter of increased women's representation in elective offices should, however, not be a matter for legislation. Such legislation will suggest acquiescence with the age-old view of women as inferior entities. But, for political appointments, women should be given due representation with at least 30 per cent representation in the Federal and State cabinets. They can, however, put pressure on their parties for due representation in nominations to elective offices.
We do not believe that women are hampered by educational or any other limitations that could preclude them from full participation in governance. The endless complaints over their under-representation in governance should, therefore, give way to decisive action and confidence in their ability to contest, win and hold political offices. The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, and foreign and local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) should organize seminars and other initiatives to empower women with skills and strategies needed for confidence-building and political mobilization.
Women have an important role to play in the transformation of the society to make our country a better place to live in. Let them rise to the challenge of public office and strive to make a difference in the way Nigeria is governed.