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ElectHer… prepping women ahead of 2023

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Abosede George-Ogan

Ibijoke Faborode and Abosede George-Ogan are the founders of ElectHER. A non-partisan end-to-end women’s political advancement group, the organisation is focused on bridging inequality gaps in Nigerian politics by addressing the under-representation of Nigerian women in elective offices. With an end-goal of enabling capable women to competitively Decide, Run and Win elections, the group is determined to support 1000 women run for office in 2023, and wish to see, at least, half of this number win across state and federal positions. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE at their Lagos-based office, the promoters outlined their agenda, hopes and dreams of seeing women hold their own comfortably in politics and eliminating violence against women.

What is ElectHer her all about, how did you come about the initiative?
ElectHer is a non-partisan body focused on supporting women’s political advancement for the socio-economic progression of the country. We are end to end in the sense that we have identified the barriers women are facing, helping them raise their hands to decide, getting them ready and enabling them win. We came together a year ago to identify the gaps keeping women away from this space and see how we can fill them.

It has been a year since we launched with the sole goal of bridging inequality gaps in Nigerian politics by addressing the underrepresentation of Nigerian women in elective office through behavioural change communication, skills development, human and financial capital mobilisation using an end-to-end approach. Nation building and socio-economic progression cannot be attained without equal representation, especially in a country such as Nigeria that has an underwhelming number of women in elective and political office. Without greater representation, our policy outcomes will remain poor and ineffective. As the biggest economy in Africa, we must do better for the country, the continent and the world at large, by advancing political leadership for 49.3 per cent of the population.

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You mentioned gaps, what are some of these gaps you’ve identified?
There is a huge gap in the political space and we need converts to support us and all other organisations fighting to increase women’s political representation. Many studies have shown that when women are elected, they have a more redistributive agenda, which benefits everyone. Women think of healthcare, access to education, economic opportunities, people living with disabilities and issues that affect women and children. When we say we need more women, we are saying we need progress and development in Nigeria.

The political system of any society should be reflective of people living in that society, but that is not reflective in our entire governance system. What has changed for our women since the 1995 Beijing Conference we were a part of? We have a national gender policy that recommends 35 per cent women representation in elective and appointive offices, but nobody talks about this not to talk of implementing it. Thankfully, people are now aware; they are asking questions and seeking for better leadership.

If there’s one thing that stood out during the #ENDSARS protests, it is that women like you and I drove that campaign and no one is questioning the competence of women again because, that was an expose; it showed us that women can lead. It also highlighted the issues of systemic discrimination we see against women.

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When we talk of women’s political advancement, it’s not a revolt against men, but a movement for equal and greater representation and nation building. To formulate policies and implement them effectively, if they’re not reflective of who we are as a nation, we are going to see the deficiencies over time. This is why ElectHer was created; to identify these issues we are facing and the dismal representation of women across all political spaces and redress them.

In our parliament today, we have just 4.1 women representation and we keep wondering why the Child Rights’ Act hasn’t been domesticated in 11 Northern states, why most women-led bills proposed on the floor of the national assembly meet resistance? It is a game of numbers and we are in the minority to put it simply. We have to ensure our policies are inclusive, our laws are diverse and a true representation of the people.

The theme of your first year celebration was A New Agender, what does this mean and how will it benefit women?
Agender was coined from agenda and gender; two words that perfectly depict our focus and plan to address the under-representation of women in elective offices in Nigeria. We have a four ‘E’ approach we want to use with the first being ‘Engage.’ Women are not participating in politics due to socio-cultural and religious issues; these are deep systemic issues we are battling as a result of patriarchy. If I ask you to close your eyes and imagine a president, a man comes to mind because, that’s the only type of leadership we’ve ever known — male leadership. We equate leadership with men and it would take behavioral change and seeing more women involved to alter this. We want to engage more women to participate in politics, stakeholders, religious leaders, husbands and even the political parties themselves.

The second E is ‘Encourage.’ There are so many barriers that prevent women from getting into this space with violence being top of the list. However, we still need to encourage women to decide to participate. We have launched a national recruitment platform known as Decide To Run, where you can simply raise your hand and decide to be part of our community and we’ll hold your hand. With the deficit we have presently, it means we inevitably have more experienced male politicians, which limits the level of mentorship women have.

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Based on this, we launched ElectHER Academy solely focused on building and driving the capacity of women that have decided to run to help them navigate the political terrain, increase their understanding of the space, grow skills they can apply to their campaign, election and personal growth, and would prepare them for the journey ahead. Under the academy, we have three major components, the first being our facilitated sessions which are live sessions with experts. We will be launching this month and hold monthly trainings that will give them practical skills needed to run. We want it to be that when you leave the sessions, you are completely empowered, motivated and with a clear sense of direction as well.

The second part is the online learning management software. As we all know, the tech ecosystem is opening and creating access, so with the introduction of advanced technology, we can all access information from anywhere. This software is like taking an online course and you can access information and skill sets at your own pace. We will be launching this year as well and the essence of this is to help women across the public sector that are interested in politics to grow practical electoral skills.

Our goal is to expand this into the biggest pan-African online management systems for women working or interested in working in the public sector to understand how to build products that will appeal to different sets of people. Finally, we have the ElectHer Future lawmakers programme. If there’s anything we have been hammering on, it’s the deficit we have in policies and how this has impacted in the growth of our nation. We need to empower the next generation of female lawmakers; we need female lawmakers that understand their gender, the political process and are willing to seek more knowledge. The idea of the programme is to incubate these women, women between 25-45 and we’ll be targeting the house of Assemblies, House of Representatives and Senatorial seats. We will empower them to fill these categories and the way it would work, any career woman can participate.

We all know politics is localised; you can’t want to run for office and not be in touch with your constituency. Many women have been criticised that they do not do impact grassroots politics well and so this will give them practical, hands-on experiences on policy formulation, law making, bill proposing, speaking with confidence, understanding and having issue-based discussions, engaging the citizens, understanding the critical importance of data and using that to make informed decisions. To graduate from this programme, you’ll have to come up with a constituency project, which means you’ll have to go back and consult extensively with your constituency. In executing this project, you’ll have to conduct a survey to understand some of the critical issues your constituency is facing before coming up with your project, which you must deliver in a year.

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The Impact Fund will assist with 50 per cent funds, but they must fundraise the other 50 per cent. So, while trying to make impact, you’re building your fundraising skills because you will need it during elections as well. You’re connecting with the grassroots, building your social capital, financial capital and human capital. We believe this could be a real game changer in this space when people start seeing ElectHer as a repository of bold, strong, confident lawmakers. Our goal is that 50-100 per cent of women would run and win their elections. We are purpose-driven in outlining these steps and working towards it.

The final E is ‘Enable’ because we know without a strong enabling component, nothing would happen and political parties would still see women as liabilities. We need to realise what the issues are so we can tackle them headlong and be practical about our approach. Nigeria has one of the most expensive elections in the world and the current Electoral Act for 2023 being proposed says to run for presidency, a candidate would need N5 billion, N1 billion for governorship, N100 million for senate and so on and so forth. Across board, women are already financially incapacitated and with this act, the average woman is already defeated financially.

Ibijoke Faborode

Most women do not have the financial might to run a political campaign and most political parties tend to exclude women because, they don’t have money. However, we are now seeing more women rising to board level positions in the private sector so we need to ask ourselves how we can mobilise these women, harness steps to crowd fund and build financial capital for women that want to run. We want to give these women access to financial, human and social capital. Human capital here being that we are building a network of volunteers and for every woman that wants to run, you have access to these network of volunteers. These volunteers boast a pool of skilled people who are passionate about developing this nation and can help. We also want to set up election campaign funds because it is clear that women need money to run. We just don’t want to talk, we want to match our words with actions and our goal towards 2023 is to create a fund that would directly support these women’s campaign, leverage crowd funding and citizen engagement to fund people.

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By social capital, we mean providing access and visibility for women that are running. For women that have put themselves out there, your audience might be grassroots, but what media helps you do is create curiosity about you. People want to know more about you, listen to you and even fund your campaign if they believe in you. We want to bring all these elements together to show you the support infrastructure that ElectHer intends to provide for these women.

In terms of next steps, what can we expect from ElectHer ahead 2023?
We have realised that there is no need reinventing the wheel and doing what others have done, so we intend to partner with them and fill some gaps in the space. We intend to provide products and solutions that can tackle some of these systemic issues that we are facing.

People want to know how we’re going to get women ready, how we are going to increase sensitisation, engage the government and ensure we are not here again, discussing these same issues post-2023. We want people to look at us and say, ‘yes, you said you were going to do it and you did it,’ that’s our goal towards 2023. Moving forward, we’ll continue to innovate our approach to solving women’s political leadership in Nigeria using creative, technological solutions and policy advocacy amongst other.

A few of the projects that everyone should anticipate include the ElectHER Academy, which is a hybrid learning program developed to build the capacity of and equip women with the requisite skills and knowledge they require to run for office; impact story telling through a documentary that will highlight critical issues facing women who are interested in politics and an art symposium that will seek to combine the love for art with conscious messaging around women empowerment and tell the stories of our women. Also, the integrated mobile app will help with evidence and data, which we believe will inform government’s decision and spur international development space to channel support to the appropriate places.

With evidence and data, the private sector would also understand why they must get involved. We will support women running by building a platform and to this end, we’re working on a mobile application next year and our goal is that for every woman that will enroll and raise their hands that they are embedded in that software.

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In addition, we launched When She Leads, a virtual talk show that addresses misinformation and underrepresentation of women by the media and curates the journey of women who are currently in elective office and those that have been elected. We have also gone ahead to engage stakeholders and citizens in our first ever-consultative forum and town hall meeting respectively. We want the media to partner with us because the media can change mindsets and shape opinions. We believe the campaign financing will change everything for women that want to run in 2023 because, we would grow an army of women that would support you if you decide to run through the Decide To Run Network; ensure citizens are engaged, access to visibility and media and fund your campaign so that you are not depending on godfathers.

Most importantly, one of the things we are going to do post-election is accountability. Now, you have been supported, we have to take scores and ensure you remain accountable. We are going to judge and rate you against your electoral promises and how you performed so that when you come out next time to run, you wouldn’t be voted in again if you don’t perform well in your first term.

You mentioned violence against women as a major barrier, why do you think this is so?
Violence against women during elections is a real issue, but nobody is documenting it. It is usually her word against the accused and since nobody usually records it, nothing is done. With our incident reporting, when going for litigation, you have had evidence and you don’t have to pay anyone to tell your story because, the evidence is already there. While we’re empowering these women financially, we want to ensure they have the critical infrastructure they need to drive their campaigns and protect themselves adequately from electoral violence.

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