By Ezinwanne Onwuka
Since 1999, when Nigeria returned to democratic governance following years of military rule, no woman has been elected as president, vice president or governor in any of the country’s 36 states.
This prevalent low rate of women’s involvement in politics in Nigeria has left me wondering if politics is, exclusively, a “men’s affair.”
Women have been playing subordinate roles, and have not been independent political actors.
They remain marginal in active politics. One wonders if cultural and ideological interests that privilege male representations inform women’s low participation in politics.
Thus, the rise of women in Nigerian politics continues to struggle with patriarchal structures that seek to relegate them to the realm of only economic production and reproduction.
Barriers to women’s participation in politics in Nigeria are culturally and economically imposed. In this part of the world, a woman is often seen as a man’s property and must therefore only do what her man approves, and her man may not approve of her involvement in politics. It is believed that an average Nigerian woman’s role starts and ends in the kitchen and “the other room”.
Moreover, as expected of patriarchal societies that violently push women to the margin, it is the consensus that women should not sniff power because men, not women, are born-leaders.
Gender stereotypes are common in the Nigerian political sphere. This, in addition to other barriers such as lack of finance, religious beliefs, violence and weak internal party democracy, have held women back for several decades, and the corollary is that men have continued to dominate the political arena as presidents, lawmakers and governors.
Furthermore, female politicians are often reminded of their cultural and religious obligations which require they cede governance to men while they concentrate on the home front.
Ministerial positions are given based on personal merit, not votes. Based on this, one would expect a gender-balanced ministerial cabinet, but this is not the case: there are only seven women in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet, which comprises of 43 ministers. Judging from this, we can rightly conclude that the political landscape is unfair to women.
For so long, women have been perceived as second–class citizens not just by men, but by women themselves as well. A lot of women do not even believe they have the capacity to lead politically!
Nevertheless, improvements in governance will require empowering women as political leaders and removing the legal, administrative and traditional barriers that impede their success.
A strong and vibrant democracy is possible only when the Parliament is fully inclusive of the population it represents. Nigeria’s Parliament cannot consider itself inclusive until it can boast of the full participation of women.
Women like men, have every right to vie for political positions or get involved in political activities, and the benefits of women’s active participation can only be experienced if the untapped capacity and talents of women are maximized. Then we can have a more democratic, equal and inclusive society.
The government, therefore, should understand that politics is not just for men but women inclusively, that is why we say that gender equity is very important. They should create an enabling, safe political environment that will enable women to run politics the way it ought to be.
On their own part, Civil society organizations have an important role to play in conducting information and awareness-raising campaigns to encourage women to stand for election(s), give women reorientation to what politics is all about and in running capacity-building programmes to support women in this process.
Again, it should be understood that men and women need to forge a constructive partnership between them in Parliament since true gender equity can only result from including the views and experiences of both men and women.
In conclusion, the power of a woman in politics should never be underestimated, as she takes it very seriously; like the political field is her kitchen and makes sure nothing goes wrong.
Ezinwanne Onwuka writes in from Cross River State and can be reached at email@example.com