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Towards overcoming gender challenges in community participation  

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Women’s participation and representation in community development programmes

Women’s participation and representation in community development programmes and governance in Nigeria is low according to statistics. Stakeholders during a colloquium organised by Connected Development (CODE), and OXFAM on the inclusion of women in community development committees listed critical challenges faced by women as they struggle to be included in Nigeria’s political leadership.

In his presentation, Prof. Frank Nwankwo gave amazing numbers on the sustainable development goals report, emphasising that the threat to women welfare and dignity are still far from being adequately addressed.

He noted that much of the gender challenges in Africa have their roots in cultural and religious practices. “It appears that solutions can only come through frontal engagement with institutions that promote such culture with the aim of reducing or eliminating its influence.”

Also, participants including Ojonwa Miachi, highlighted the implications of a gender inclusive extractive industry on socio-economic development.

They identified several challenges faced by women in leadership, especially lack of cooperation amongst women in elective positions, as well as issues of violence, lack of access to funding, stigmatisation, religious belief, men suppression and existing systems or policies.

While Nigeria has subscribed to international agreements and instituted national policies to improve women’s representation, these have done little to implement concrete measures.

This made the civil society organisations (CSOs) and international financiers to promote a number of capacity building and behavioural change programmes, which regrettably have not led to appreciative overall levels of female representation in government since 1999.

Studies also exist of the role of women in sub-Saharan countries, using data on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), political representation, and attitude surveys such as Afrobarometer, from which lessons relevant to Nigeria can be derived.

For example, Rwanda provides an example of a country with a significant number of women in government, while South Africa has used a quota system to achieve the same purpose.

Data from the Afrobarometer survey, showed that Nigeria has one of the largest ‘participation gaps’ in sub-Saharan Africa.

The survey estimated how many women participated in voting, work on election campaigns, engagement in the community, contact with political leaders, and attendance at demonstrations, measures of inter-election participation broad enough to encompass different political cultures and situations in comparison to men.

Nigeria has low female representation in politics by global and regional standards. Although the proportions of women in elected positions increased slightly between 1999 and 2007, from an average of 2.3 percent across both houses of legislature to 7.8 percent, these small gains had stopped by 2011.

As of the 2015 election, Nigeria had 20 women out of 359 in its lower house (5.6 percent) and seven out of 109 in its upper house (6.4 percent). This put it 180th in the world.

Following the 2019 elections, women make up 7.3 percent of the Nigerian Senate and 3.1 percent of the House of Representatives. No state governor is a woman.

The number of women serving as ministers and appointed executives is also very low, with 11 of the 636 appointed executives between 1999 and 2015 being women (17.5 percent) and 15 percent of ministers in the same period.

The World Economic Forum (2018) Global Gender Gap report measures ‘political empowerment’ in terms of the ratios of women to men in ministerial and parliamentary positions, as well as number of years as head of state over the last fifty years. Out of a total of 149 countries, Nigeria is ranked as having the 139th largest gender gap in ‘political empowerment’.

Also, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), government statistical report shows that in the years 1999 to 2015, six percent of councillors (local government) were women, 24 percent of Judges in the federal court were women, and an average of seven percent of each type of high-level government officials and senior administrators were women.

The posts surveyed were: heads of service, permanent secretaries, special advisers, special assistants, central bank governors, chief executive officers, directors-general and executive secretaries.

The NBS report also indicated that there were no female Central Bank governors (of four positions). The roles with the highest percentage of women at 28 percent were Special Assistants. Data is not available for lower levels of the civil service.

The political party system has done little to encourage women’s participation, with women only making up a small percentage of nominees for governors and deputies and both legislative houses in the 2015 election. In 2015, of 760 candidates for the positions of governor and deputy, only 87 were women (11.45 percent). Of the 747 candidates for senator, only 122 were women (16.33 percent). Of the 1,774 candidates for the House of Representatives, only 269 were women (15.16 percent).

Despite these barriers, there are no formal bars on women taking office and the Nigerian Constitution (1999), guarantees equal political rights. The National Gender Policy (2006), recommended a benchmark of 35 percent of seats in parliament to be filled by women.

The country is also a signatory to international agreements. The government ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1985 and endorsed the 2005 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Advocacy groups are also pushing for more government action. In 2014, the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), and the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) drafted a ‘Nigerian Women Charter of Demand’.

It demanded a reform of electoral law to provide for affirmative action as a criterion for registration of political parties as well as the establishment of a system of gender mainstreaming which incorporates 35 percent of women in all sectors of government.
The Electoral law does not also reserve any percentage of seats of offices for women and political parties are not subject to quotas, just as the Constitution does not specify a right to freedom from discrimination.

However, legislators have resisted implementing gender equality measures such as binding quotas, as several bills have been rejected on the grounds that they compromise traditional Christian or Islamic beliefs.


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