Political participation is a voluntary act that encompasses a wide range of political activities, including voting during an election, contesting for political and party offices, attending political rallies, joining political parties and many more.
Although, these political activities are considered to be “free zone” to all qualified citizens, especially in liberal democracies irrespective of disparities in wealth, education and gender, experiences in African countries generally and Nigeria, in particular, show that certain cultural values have systematically over the years impeded female gender from participating in politics, at least to a certain degree which to some extent tend to re-define the tenets of participatory democracy.
The situation in Nigeria is similar to other countries in the world. The constitutional history of Nigeria shows that this exclusion dates back to colonial times when women were not allowed to vote. The Clifford constitution of 1922 restricted the electorate to adult males in Calabar and Lagos who have been residents in the city for at least one year and had a gross annual income of N100.00. The Richard constitution of 1946 only reduced the property qualification to N50.00. The Macpherson constitution removed property qualification but still restricted the electorate to only adult males who pay their taxes. In fact, it was not until 1979 before the right to vote was extended to all Nigerian women. While men started voting in Nigeria in 1922, women in all parts of the country started voting in 1979, a difference of fifty-seven years.
The end result is that the number of women in political leadership is very low in Nigeria as can be seen from the table below showing female representation in governance in Nigeria from 1999 -2019.
Several efforts have been made to address the low representation of women in elective and appointive positions in Nigeria; among such efforts are the establishment of Women Political empowerment office and Nigeria Women Trust Funds, Women Lobby Group. Other efforts include the institution of an INEC gender policy, the national-multi stakeholder dialogue; the initiation of several interventions to actualize affirmative action and the convening of the Nigeria Women Strategy Conference. National Center for Women Development in collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics is making efforts to have evidenced-based data about this issue. Presently the available data are not harmonized. The data collation covers the period 1999 – 2019
The challenges facing women are enormous, however, researchers have shown that the under listed are likely responsible for the huge marginalization of Nigerian women in politics.
1. Patriarchy: It refers to a society ruled and dominated by men over women, which in turn has given rise to women being looked upon as mere household wives and non-partisans in the decision making process in households not to talk of coming out to vie for political positions.
2. Stigmatization: following the way politics in Nigeria is played, it is being perceived that it is for individuals that have no regard for human rights and are quick at compromising their virtue for indecent gains. Therefore, women aspirants who ventured into politics are looked upon as shameless and promiscuous.
3. Low level of education: The low participation of women in education is also part of the shortcomings. The National Adult Literacy Survey, 2010 published by the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that the adult literacy rate in English in Nigeria is 50.6 percent while literacy in any other language is 63.7 percent (female adult age 15 and above). This explains why most women are least qualified for political offices due to low educational attainment. This is also an effect of colonialism, where men were more favored than women.
4. Meeting Schedules: The time scheduled for caucus meetings to strategize and map out political plans either for the pre or post-election periods are odd and is not conducive for responsible and family women. The slated time are often time which women are expected to take care of their children and family. This method of schedules is viewed as an attempt to side-lining women from engaging in the political processes.
5. Financing: Competing for political positions in Nigerian requires huge financial backup. Most Nigerian women who seek these positions could not afford meeting the financial obligations therein, despite the wavers giving to women aspirants by some of the political parties. And so, they could do little or nothing to outweigh their male counterparts.
6. Political Violence: Nigerian elections have always been characterized by one form of violence or another since the return of democracy. Female aspirants of various political parties cannot withstand political violence; therefore, women’s participation in politics is drastically reduced.
7. Religious and Cultural barriers: Both Christianity and Islam do not accord women much roles in public life, and the same is obtainable in most cultural values, where women are seen culturally as quite submissive and image of virtue. However, they are not to be seen in the public domain. And so it is a challenge to women participation in politics, more so, women found in the corridor of politics are not often religious in practice.
This article won’t be complete without stating or procuring recommendations for women participation in politics. Following the trends and happenings around the political environment in Nigeria.
1. Political parties should create a support network for prospective aspirants by pairing them with established women politicians who will be playing key roles as mentors and provide capacity building for young or aspiring female politicians to enhance and develop them ahead of subsequent elections.
2. Building mass Coalition of women support and advocacy group using NGOs and Grassroots women associations to coordinate support and advocacy for fellow women aspirants.
3. To create an enabling environment that allows women to engage meaningfully in the decision making process in a sustainable and effective way that is free from violence and harassment of any kind.
4. Establishment of legal funds to assist women politicians to challenge electoral malpractices of any form at all levels of political processes.
5. Introducing a quota system at all levels of government and Identifying and engaging relevant stakeholders such as the Independent National Electoral Commission and political parties to ensure strict adherence to it.
Women’s Participation in Nigerian politics is a topic of importance. It is worthy to note that Nigerian women are still being marginalized due to the style of leadership inherent in the country. Despite the challenges women are facing, women activism and advocacy, education of women, positivity on the part of successive governments towards women empowerment and interest of women to participate in politics is getting a lot of positive energy. This is an indication that the participation of women in politics has a bright future. Therefore, the relevant stakeholders are advised to advocate for the protection of women from abuse, empower them economically and politically and review the necessary legislations to accommodate the growing interest of women in politics both elective and appointive positions.