In its attempt to reduce the existing gender inequality in women’s participation and representation in politics and in other spheres of human endeavour, the Commission on the Status of Women called for the hosting of a world conference on women to chart the way forward in the fight for gender parity, by properly articulating strategic objectives and how to achieve them.
This led to the hosting of the First World Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975. This was followed by the second and third conferences in Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 marked a turning point in the agitation for equality by women. It adopted the Platform for Action which came up with 12 critical areas of concern. The Platform for Action sets out strategic objectives and explains the measures that should be adopted by governments, the international community and non-governmental organisations, to achieve the strategic objectives.
After the Fourth Conference in Beijing, the United Nations agreed that there should be a review of resolutions reached at the various conferences every five years with a view to ascertaining progress made so far. Some countries around the world have been working hard to achieve the 35% Affirmative Action or at least working close to it.
According to available records, in Rwanda, 51 out of the 80 seats in its Lower House are occupied by women representing 63.8% while in the Upper House, 10 of the 26 seats are held by women representing 38.5 per cent. Senegal has 42.7% women representation in its Lower House while South Africa has 41.9% and 35.2% women representation in its lower and upper houses respectively. Even Zimbabwe, with its sit-tught regime of Robert Mugabe, before he was booted out, has 31.5% and 47.5% in its lower and upper houses respectively.
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Namibia, Burundi, Cape Verde, Ethiopia and Cameroon, all have good stories to tell concerning women representation in power and decision-making. Even a in country like Pakistan, where women are looked upon as a group that is only to be seen and not to be heard, and good enough only for the kitchen, women occupy 70 out of the 340 seats in the lower house while the upper house of 104 seats has 19 women representing 20.6% and 18.3% respectively.
In appointive positions, Cape Verde has the highest number of women in ministerial positions in Africa with nine (53%) out of 17 ministers; in South Africa 15 (41.7%} out of the 36 ministers are women; in Rwanda it is 11 or 35.5% out of 31 ministers while Burundi has eight out of 23 ministers, representing 34.8%.
Women participation and representation in politics in Nigeria however, is a far cry from the afore-mentioned records. In 2011, former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan had women occupying about 33% of the cabinet positions. It was expected that this figure of 33% would be further pushed upward by his successor, Muhammadu Buhari but unfortunately, the figure came crashing down in spite of Buhari’s electioneering campaign pledge to activate the 35% affirmative action for women. In addition, the manifesto of Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) promises equitable gender inclusiveness.
Buhari currently has a 44-man cabinet out of which just seven, representing 15.91, are women. According to a recent study, the level of representation of women at the local government level, out of 774 chairmanship seats, 13 (1.8%) were women in 1999, in 2003 it was 15 (1.9%), in 2007 it was 27 (3.5%). In the various state Houses of Assembly, the figure was 1.2% women representation in 1999, 3.8% in 2003, 5.5% in 2007, 6.9% in 2011 and 1.5% in 2015. There have been a couple of female deputy governors but no elected female governor. The first, and only female governor so far, Dame Virgy Etiaba, served as governor of Anambra State for only six months following the impeachment of Peter Obi on November 2, 2006.
At the federal level, out of 109 seats in the Senate, women clinched three seats (2.8%) in 1999, four or 3.7% in 2003, eight (7.3%), seven (6.4%) in 2011 and eight (7.3%) in 2015 while in the House of Representatives, out of 360 seats, 12 (3.3%) were women in 1999, 21 (5.8%) in 2003 and 23 or 6.4% in 2007. In 2011, it was 26 (7.2%) and 14 or 3.9% in 2015. No woman has ever become president of vice president.
The very poor figures of women in governance in the country is in spite of the fact that Nigeria, as a member of the United Nations, signed and ratified the various relevant international instruments, treaties and conventions without any reservation whatsoever. In 2006, Nigeria formulated the National Gender Policy which promotes the 35% Affirmative Action. The various UN instruments all emphasise the fact that governments all over the world, should do everything needed to end gender discriminations.
It is sad that, in spite of ratifying the various gender parity-related instruments, Nigeria is not doing enough to bridge the gender gap. This perhaps explains why the recent action of the Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq in signing into law, a bill reserving 35% of appointments for women, is being greeted with wild jubilation.
The bill, cited as the Kwara State Political Offices (Gender Composition) Bill 2021, and signed into law on Tuesday, December 7, makes it mandatory to have at least 35% of women appointees in the state cabinet as well as other classes of political appointments.
While justifying his government’s action, AbdulRazak said it was only fair that women be given a fair space in the decision-making process, adding that “Women are so critical to human civilisation. They are just as brilliant, innovative and smart as men. They have the largest voting demography in Nigeria. Yet they are often absent or unfairly represented when policies and programmes that shape everything concerning them and their families, are being designed”.
We urge all the state governors and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to emulate the Kwara State example just as we lend our voice to the call by the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) that the federal government should sign the 35% affirmation action into law. Nigeria cannot be the giant of Africa and be found wanting in matters of gender parity.