Written by Ogechi Obialo-Isuma, Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Officer
The United Nations International Day of Democracy is celebrated on every September 15th, towards supporting government to strengthen and consolidate democracy. Democracy is about the power of the people – government of the people, by the people and for the people; “government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free election”[i]. The key focus of democracy is to promote human right as well as to ensure that both men and women are carried along and treated equally on the basis of their fundamental human rights, have equal access to opportunities and have the choice to participate in political and electoral process, be able to vote and be voted for. According to UNESCO[ii], democracy stands on the ability of people to freely make political choices to choose their leaders, government and policies.
Women are part of the people as described in the definition of Democracy; they make up about half of the world’s population. In recent times there has been an “increased focus by global policy makers and governments on the need for women’s participation in political processes and on their contributions to building stronger societies.”[iii] Leadership have gone passed men’s business alone to women’s business too. Women’s participation in leadership and governance is key to nation building because women are game changers and agents of change.
Men as well as women have equal rights to participate actively in politics. The law makes provision for women’s inclusion and participation in politics especially in a democratic setting. According to Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives”[iv]. In the same way, Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) warns about all forms of discrimination against women. In particular, Article 2 (d) warns people “To refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation”[v]. Furthermore, Article 2 of the ‘Protocol To The African Charter On Human And Peoples’ Rights On The Rights Of Women In Africa’ still dwelt on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Article 9 provides for “Right to Participation in the Political and Decision-Making Process”[vi].
Regardless of these laws and provisions, things are usually different against women both in implementation and practice. Nigeria is still struggling with issues of discrimination, marginalization, lack of trust in women despite practicing democracy for 24 years. Women are still discriminated against, intimidated and the political environment are made difficult for them to actively participate and make headways. The discriminations vary from lack of financial muscle like men as witnessed in the high cost of nomination forms by political parties. There is unhealth political environment including electoral violence that affect women. In 2019 a woman leader with PDP Mrs Salome Abuh, was a victim of electoral violence; she was burnt alive during the Kogi state gubernatorial election. Her only crime was to have been in active politics as a woman. The issue of indigenization of women political aspirants[vii] is still a constitutional issue; lack of trust and the wrong perception the society place on women in politics/leadership; unfriendly family psychology/mentality including patriarchy and cultural/religious practices; lack of support from fellow women and lack of self-confidence by women themselves that usually make women to step down for men as witnessed during the political party primaries.
A situation we have in Nigeria where nearly six months to the 2023 general election, only a few women have made it past the level of aspirants to become Political Party Candidates ahead of the elections. According to a report by Leadership Newspaper[viii], there are only 10 female governorship candidates and 24 running mates. This number is not commensurate to the contribution women make in Nigeria. it is too little in a country of 200 million men and women, with women as half of the population. Comparing with 2019, things have not changed from what happened in 2019 elections. According to a report by CDD, “…female political representation in the 2019 elections was negligible relative to the approximately half of the population they constitute. 2,970 women were on the electoral ballot, representing only 11.36% of nominated candidates…”[ix]
To say that “An essential tenet of any democratic framework is the principle of human rights, including the granting and exercise of the political rights of both men and women”[x], the questions to ask are, where lies the rights, where lies the preaching of inclusion, where lies the democracy?
Nigeria keeps forgetting that including “Women as leaders and decision-makers at all levels are critical to advancing gender justice and gender equality – and to furthering economic, social, and political progress for all, … when countries increase the number of women engaged in all levels of government, there is greater governmental attention to and funding for the issues that affect the lives of ordinary citizens.”[xi] It is only when women are actively involved that some decisions can be inclusive enough to accommodate an even development with diverse views towards programs and policies to achieve the dividends of democracy and good governance.
The campaign for 35% affirmative action for women will not go on for a very long time. It is time to consider the zipper system which advocates for 50/50%. “The zipper system is a principle of alternation, which entails that parties alternate between women and men on party lists to secure that women are half of the candidates as well as possibly also half of the elected”[xii]. Political parties in Nigeria should be ready to give women equal chance to come up to speed. This is achievable through Political Parties guidelines, manifestos and constitutions to reflect equal considerations for women. Zipper system should be promoted with policies and practices at national, state, Local Government and Ward levels.
The importance of girl child education cannot be over emphasized. Nigeria must continue to promote the education of women and build their confidence and capacity to be better positioned to take up public offices. Nigeria can compare notes and learn from countries like Estonia. It is reported that 90% of Estonia populations, including women, “Estonia has one of the highest levels of educational attainment…Women’s and men’s tertiary attainments differ markedly however: 45% of 25-64 year-old women had attained tertiary education, … while men’s attainment was 28%”[xiii]. Therefore, government and Education policy makers in Nigeria should revisit the content and syllabus for teaching Civic Education in schools while they come up with more tutorials that can start building up girls with the understanding that they should not only arm to become wives to men in elective positions but can be the ones in the position with the support of their husbands.
Electoral violence is a contributing factor to voter apathy during elections. This is in addition to the number of hours spent at the polling units on election day. Another issue is the fact the Electoral Act insists that voters must vote at the polling unit where they registered. These affect nursing mothers and elderly women. However, this is not so with online system. The physical voting system practiced in Nigeria has its disadvantages for pregnant women, nursing mothers and the elderly. According to The Conversation in the case of Canada 2019 election that “The requirement that House of Commons members are expected to vote in person, instead of via electronic voting, is a policy that discourages those recovering from childbirth or with care-giving responsibilities from seeking political office”[xiv]. Women in Nigeria, both as electorates and political actors will better embrace the online voting as they can vote from the comfort of their homes without bothering on issues of electoral violence. This will also reduce danger the of travels that happen during election period which women are not be able to meet up with.
Civil Society Organizations (CSO) have the role of continuous advocacy, lobbying, and conducting capacity building for Women. As the watchdog in the democratic process, CSO need to do more on their engagement with the government and the National Assembly through issue-based advocacy to improve women’s participation. On the part of the Government, Government should not neglect the contribution of CSO on any gender equality decision or policies. Nevertheless, CSOs also have roles to play in building the capacity of interested women who have shown interest but do not believe in themselves enough to compete with their male counterparts. More training on Gender Equality for women in politics in Nigeria is very essential. The message should go beyond affirmative action but 50/50% for both men and women, knowing that women have the required capacity as their male counterparts.
Integrity is naturally part of what is required of women in elective positions. Women should always strive to uphold the culture of integrity and also build the confidence of upcoming women through mentorship and capacity building. Women should support other women to succeed.
As submitted by Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe during the Human Rights Council 21st Session, Geneva, September 20, 2012, nations are more peaceful and prosperous when women are given adequate, as well as equal rights and opportunities as their male counterparts.[xv] The clamor for increase in women participation in leadership position in Nigeria will continue to improve only with consistent efforts of different stakeholders including the Government, Civil Society Organizations, the Legislature, Political Parties and by women themselves, with the cooperation of the electorates. Political parties should review their manifestos, constitution and practices to accommodate more women in elective and appointive positions. Nigeria should continue to aspire on gender equality in accordance with human rights obligations as enshrined in different AU and UN instruments that they have ratified because women are part of the people in democratic system of government.
[iii] Statement of the Embassy of the United States of America on Representation of Women in Elected Office <https://lr.usembassy.gov/statement-of-the-embassy-of-the-united-states-of-america-on-representation-of-women-in-elected-office/
[iv] Universal Declaration of Human Rights < https://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf
[v] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cedaw.aspx
[vi] Protocol To The African Charter On Human And Peoples’ Rights On The Rights Of Women In Africa https://www.un.org/en/africa/osaa/pdf/au/protocol_rights_women_africa_2003.pdf
[vii] Ugwuegede, P.N., (2014). Challenges to Women Active Participation in Politics in Nigeria
Sociology and Anthropology 2(7): 284-290, 2014 DOI: 10.13189/sa.2014.020704 (pages 286-288)
[ix] CDD (2021). How Women Fared in the 2019 Elections (page 2) https://www.cddwestafrica.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/How-Women-Fared-in-the-2019-Elections-CDD_2.pdf
[x] IDEA (2005). Women in Parliament: Beyond Numbers, A Revised Edition. Trydells Tryckeri AB, Sweden. ISBN: 91-85391-19-0
[xi] Statement of the Embassy of the United States of America on Representation of Women in Elected Office <https://lr.usembassy.gov/statement-of-the-embassy-of-the-united-states-of-america-on-representation-of-women-in-elected-office/
[xii] European Parliament (2013). Directorate General For Internal Policies Policy Department C: Citizens’ Rights And Constitutional Affairs Gender Equality Electoral Gender Quota Systems and their Implementation in Europe (page 18) <https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2013/493011/IPOL-FEMM_NT(2013)493011_EN.pdf#page=20&zoom=100,0,0
[xiii] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2014). Education at a Glance 2014: Country Note – Estonia. < http://www.oecd.org/education/Estonia-EAG2014-Country-Note.pdf>
[xiv] The Conversation (2020). How e-voting could close Canada’s political gender gap. < https://theconversation.com/how-e-voting-could-close-canadas-political-gender-gap-136163
[xv] According to a statement by the Delegation of the United States
Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe during the Human Rights Council 21st Session, Geneva, September 20, 2012, https://geneva.usmission.gov/2012/09/20/countries-are-more-peaceful-and-prosperous-when-women-are-accorded-equal-rights-and-opportunities/