Why 14 per cent women parliamentarians in West Africa is lowest in the world, by ECOWAS
Insists On Gender-Friendly Electoral System
The crusade for improved rights of women has come a long way from notably the early 20th century freedom and rights campaigns to the later calls for equality, empowerment and political inclusion.
Exploits of several women in different levels of political and decision-making bodies worldwide have only further reinforced the advocacy for increased participation in the African continent.
While decision-making and roles of notable inclusion has been on the spotlight of the debacle through the years, the need for enabling laws for empowerment has steered some focus on the relevance of female representation in the legislature in recent years.
Hence, these made findings in statistics of women in legislation alarming, especially in West African region, as lowest in the world at 14 per cent in ECOWAS member states.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), lamenting the low figures, said due to factors of cultural, social and political nature, economic barriers, in process and structure especially, impacts heavily on the electoral rights of women and called for a strategic gender and legal framework for elections in the region.
It insists that a gender-friendly electoral system promotes fair political representation of men and women where ECOWAS member-states using a Proportional Representation System should adopt a list of candidates that provides both men and women equal opportunities.
At the just concluded 2018 First Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament, which ran from May 10 to June 1, the ECOWAS Female Parliamentarians Association, ECOFEPA, held its first General Summit in which concerns were raised during a discussion on boosting women’s participation in decision-making and politics.
UN Country Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms. Comfort Lamprey, decried the representation of women in parliament in West Africa as abysmally low, both at national levels and at the ECOWAS Parliament.
She said the currently low representation of women in politics, especially in legislation, in many African countries directly infringes on women’s political rights and can restrict rights in other areas given the central role that national legislatures and local bodies have in formulating, implementing and monitoring laws and budget.
During an analysis of the statistics of female representation in the national parliament of the ECOWAS member states, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, Siga Fatima Jagne, also lamented the 14 per cent of women representation in the legislature and also that 12 out of 15 ECOWAS countries have averages that are below the world’s average of 23.3 per cent.
Senegal, however, was notably exempted with women making up to 42 percent of its parliament and ranks number seven globally. Nigeria, on the opposite, has the lowest female representation of 6.4 percent.
Consequently, a decreasing trend in the percentage of women’s representation in many ECOWAS states was also noted which has affected representation at the ECOWAS Parliament.
In 2014, women’s representation at the ECOWAS Parliament was at 23.5 percent but the figures dropped to 20.9 percent in 2017 which equals a reduction by 2.6 percent.
The percentage remains same till date because only Sierra Leone has so far conducted elections in 2018 and there is still the one female representation from the country among ECOWAS Members of Parliament as in its previous term.
In order to encourage more women participate in politics, the region in 2016 adopted the Gender and Elections Strategic Framework (GESF) and Action Plan.
This was followed by a series of recommendations to update the “Supplementary Act relating to equality of rights between men and women for sustainable development in the region.
The ECOFEPA President and Nigerian senator representing Anambra North, Stella Oduah, to this said laws deliberately aimed at improving the plight of women economically and politically must be passed to enable the prohibition of discrimination against women by political parties and engender their protection against political violence.
She added, however that legislation backed by implementation is the vehicle to creating an enabling environment for women to thrive in political participation.
“Recently, a bill popularly tagged “Gender Parity Bill” which aims to give women equal opportunities in the workplace, job, education and government was shutdown in the Nigerian Senate”.
“Such bill is necessary to break the socio-cultural and economic structure against women”, Oduah said.
Oduah further said that among the already mentioned challenges facing women’s political participation, the capital intensiveness of elections is also a major issue for women in politics.
“While this varies from country to country, many women lack the means to foot the bill, without economic power, political power is difficult to attain”.
Oduah advocated that women should be empowered politically to participate in politics.
This she said, could be by giving women’s businesses and pursuits necessary incentives for growth including indiscriminate access to low interest loans, capital bonds for development and 50 per cent participation in government skill acquisition and enhancement programs.
Danish Ambassador to the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS, Metre Thygesen, announced to the summit this year’s 100th year anniversary of the first general election in which women partook.
Women in Denmark in 1915 obtained the right to vote and become elected into the Danish Parliament.
In the general elections in Denmark in 1918, four women were elected to the House of the Danish Parliament and that, among others, put Denmark among the front-runners in terms of promoting female parliamentarians.
“Across the countries of the world, our challenges differ and none of us can claim that men and women are completely equal. The struggles for equal rights is a lengthy and continuous process,” she added.
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