Women do not often receive the support and mentoring they need to compete with their male counterparts in politics. Even voters do not fully appreciate the benefits of having a mix of men and women in government, often saying that women are over-ambitious when they aspire for any political position. As a result, there is currently a low representation of women at all levels of government in Nigeria. In the 2011 general election, female candidates fared poorly, with only 32 women elected to the national parliament out of 469 members, which is barely 8% representation. This study examines the level of women participation in the just concluded 2015 general elections. It argues that women’s political involvement in that election was very low in spite of decades of struggle for gender equity and women’s empowerment. The study equally identifies and discusses the problems face by women in their quest to participate in politics, examine the theoretical perspective of the discrimination and inequality suffered by women; and lastly suggest possible measures that could aid their political participation and empowerment.
1.1 Background to the Study
The 2015 general elections has just come and gone but the memories of the elections have continued to linger in the minds of many. For some, the elections brought fulfilled dreams as they were declared winners in the various contest while others have already geared up for litigation in the various election petition tribunals for losing the contest. However, the greatest losers are women who recorded an all time low participation in the 2015 elections compared to the previous ones. The men seem to have completely forgotten about women in that election venturing into the process without their feasible presence. In fact with the results of the just concluded elections, it seems women‟s low participation in elective positions have grown from bad to worse. There is growing concern amongst women that the percentage of their participation in elective positions in the country witnessed decline or nose-dived from 2007 to 2011 and now 2015 (Gabriel, 2015:4).
Moreover, women have contested for different positions in the four elections held by the country since its return to democratic rule in 1999 but have recorded poor results, minimal gains and slow progress. For instance in 2002, women made up only three percent of elected officials, in 2007 they made up seven percent and in 2011 they made up about five percent and even before the 2015 general elections few women emerged as candidates after the political party primaries. In the 29 states where gubernatorial elections held this year, the representation of women seeking the office of governor and deputy governor was 87 out of the 380 candidates (22.9 per cent) running for the positions. In the contest for senatorial seats, 122 women out of 747 candidates, representing 16 per cent, were cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to run in the March 28 election. The number was not better in the contest for the lower chamber of parliament. Two hundred and sixty seven (267) women out of a total 1774 candidates ran for seats at the House of Representatives, representing 15 per cent (Gabriel, 2015:4).
In fact, according to the Deputy Director Gender Division of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Mrs. Blessing Obidiegwu, 14 females were elected into the House of Representatives and eight women won as senators in the just concluded National Assembly election. What this means is that there are only 14 females out of 360 lawmakers for this current House of Representatives. The outgoing seventh assembly had 27 women and only eight of them were re-elected for the 8th assembly. Similarly, the 8th Senate has eight women out of 109 senators. Again, out of the 14 candidates that contested for the seat of the president, the only woman amongst the contenders came out in the 12th position (Akor, 2015:8).
Moreover, just as men have always dominated the National Assembly since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999, the 2015 election result does not present a different picture in the number of women representation in the next four years. The gubernatorial elections have so far produced four women deputy governors. Equally, the only viable female gubernatorial candidate, Senator Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan lost the election in Taraba state after a spirited fight which raised and dashed the hope of women that at least history will be made with the election of the first female executive governor of a state. Her counterpart in Akwa Ibom State, Senator Helen Esuene of the Labour Party did not fare better as she made no meaningful impact in the all male dominated election (Gabriel, 2015:4). According to Barrister Ebere Ifendu, Chair Women in Politics Forum (WiP), women did not do well in the elections „not because they didn‟t come out to participate but because the system is not still smooth enough for them‟. In her words:
Looking at what is going on in Taraba and Akwa Ibom where women contested, there was so much violence and unfortunately we are not going to have as much women as the previous senate. We are not happy with it but we have to re-strategize and see what we can do to have more women participate. Because as it is, we are just back to square one. Until there is legislation on the 35 percent affirmative action women will continue to have problems because election is very much monetized, women don‟t have resources to match men. There is no genuine internal democracy in the political parties and candidates are handpicked, adding that when one scales party primary he or she has scaled the most hurdle” (Akor, 2015:8).
Furthermore, she observed that because there is no internal democracy in political parties, women were not able to come out as candidates. Secondly, because of the tokenism of the free forms that the political parties give women, when it comes to consensus, it is the woman that is often asked to step down. “They will rather consider someone who paid for forms, in that they will scheme us out again. It is like giving you something with the right hand and taking it back with the left hand” she observed. However as bad as the above situation seems, this current figures of women participation tend to be an improvement on the previous era as more governments are consciously making efforts to choose women as deputy governors and there is an increase in their membership at both States and National Assemblies compared to the figures in 1999 when there were only 3 female senators out of 109 members, 12 out of 360 in the House of Representatives, 15 State Assembly members spread across the 36 states in the country and only 1 female deputy governor in all the 36 states (Akor, 2015:8).
The above paints a vivid picture of the plight of women in the just concluded 2015 general elections and propels researcher interest to set to work to examine and analyze the performance of women in that election. The study begins with the analysis of some conceptual and theoretical issues on women participation in politics, highlight the impediments to their participation and as well recommend measures that can boost women participation and empowerment.
1.2. Statement of the Problem
The challenge of women’s participation in the political process in Nigeria gained significant attention, following the country’s return to democracy in 1999. With the transfer of power from the military regime to a civilian democratic administration, one would have thought that women would also be represented equally based on the Beijing Declaration. On the contrary, with the percentage increase of 2%, 4% and 6% in women political participation and 6.3%, 8.8% and 7.3% women representation in the national parliament in 1999, 2003 and 2007 elections respectively, it is obvious that the perception that democracy would automatically boost women’s political involvement has not been validated after nine years of Nigeria’s return to civilian rule (Okocha, 2007; Akioyede-Afolabi, 2003; The Nigeria CEDAW NGO Coalition Shadow Report, 2008:3 & Adu, 2008:27).
While Nigeria has not been able to produce a female elected governor, in the 1999 election, only Lagos State had a female deputy-governor out of the 36 deputy-governors in the country and the subsequent elections did not witness any significant difference as there were only 6 women in the 2007 elections, from Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Imo, Plateau and Anambra States, out of the 36 deputy-governors in the country and Ekiti and Osun States joined the league of female deputy Governor after supreme court upheld the elections of the two states, which ushered in kayoed fayemi and Rauf Aregbesola as the duely elected governors of the two states. The percentages of women in the States’ Houses of Assembly across the country were 1.21%, 3.84%, 5.5%, 4.3%, 4.8% in the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 elections respectively. In the 2007 elections, out of the 40-member Lagos State House of Assembly, only 5 were women while in the same year the 24-member State Executive Council had only 3 females (Fashola, 2008). Similarly, in the same election, Ogun State produced only 2 women out of the 26-member State House of Assembly and was the first female Speaker in Nigeria; while the State Executive Council had only 3 women out of the 25 members. At the local government level, between 2003 and 2007 however, there were only 9 women out of the 774 chairpersons in the country. In the 2008 elections, there was only 1 woman out of the 20 local Government Council chairpersons and 37 Local Development Areas in Lagos State, and similarly only 1 female out of the 20 local government chairpersons in Ogun State (Akinboye, 2004:235; Ajayi, 2007:139; Nigeria CEDAW NGO Coalition Shadow Report, 2008:30; Omotola, 2008:41 & GADA, 2008).
Scholars have hypothesized various factors that affect women’s participation in politics across the globe. These factors either enhance or hinder the involvement of women in political activities. Of the factors explored, research studies elucidate the following four factors as particularly important:
(1) socioeconomic development;
(2) cultural factor;
(3) historical legacies stemming from a society’s cultural and political traditions; and
(4) institutional design factors (Amadiume, 1997; Inglehart & Noris, 2003, Akioyode-Afolabi, 2003; Dahlerup, 2005; Rai, 2005; Alexander & Welzel, 2007).
What is less clear however, is the degree to which these four factors uniquely influence women’s participation in political activity. These findings therefore necessitate a comparative assessment of the socio-cultural and political predictors on women’s participation in Nigerian politics to confirm the relative degree to which the political environment matters with respect to women’s attainment of positions of full political empowerment. Such diagnosis will bring to limelight valid modalities for improving women’s political participation in Nigeria especially as the country undergoes a process of democratic consolidation.
Against the backdrop of this study, this research work will examine the extent to which those four factors have affected the participation of women in Nigeria particularly, 2015 general elections.
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