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2023: Group mobilises N3.8b war chest for women running for offices

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Abosede George-Ogan

Plans Six-month Fellowship Programme To Prepare 30 Women To Run For States, Federal Parliaments

Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – the novel universal model for pushing forward women’s empowerment, as well as gender equality.

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Distant as the declaration of the Beijing World Conference on Women may appear, the anniversary provided an opportunity for sober reflection, stock taking/appraisal of the different components of the dream, including an assessment of women’s participation in political processes and decision-making.

Over the years, rights activists, civil society groups, and individuals have described women’s participation in politics and the political process as a human right, which is central to both sustainable development and flourishing democracy.

While hopes of closing the gender gap in politics this century remain forlorn, some countries have, no doubt, made some progress, no matter how marginal. This much is reflected in the global average of women in national parliaments, which has more than doubled since 1995, as it moved from 11.3 per cent in 1995 to 24.4 per cent as obtained lately.

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Nigeria, unfortunately, has been posting poor performances as far as low participation of women in both appointive and elective positions is concerned. This is despite over 51 per cent of voters in most elections being female. Efforts so far made by the government and non-governmental organisations to shore women’s participation in politics in line with the Beijing Declaration, which advocated 30 per cent affirmative action have not paid off.

Ibijoke Faborode

With the extant National Gender Policy (NGP) recommending 35 per cent affirmative action instead, and seeking a more inclusive representation of women with at least 35 per cent of both elective political and appointive public service positions respectively, the under-representation of women in political participation, experts maintain, gained root due to the patriarchal practice inherent in the society and dating back to the pre-colonial era.

Be that as it may, the return of democratic rule to the country has, once again, led to an increase in women political participation, both in elective and appointive offices.

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According to Mrs. Oloyede Oluyemi of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Abuja, in a paper titled, “Monitoring Participation Of Women In Politics in Nigeria,” the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria has remained 6.7 per cent in elective and appointive positions, which is far below the Global Average of 22.5 per cent, Africa regional average of 23.4 per cent, and West African sub-regional Average of 15 per cent.

Making reference to the 2015 federal cabinet, she said, “For instance, out of the 36 recently confirmed ministerial appointments by the administration now in power, only six are women, representing 16.7 per cent. In the National Assembly, women constitute 5.6 per cent of members of the House of Representatives and 6.5 per cent of the senators. Also with the 15 years of uninterrupted democratic governance (1999-2015), Nigeria is yet to produce a female governor in any of the 36 states of the federation.”

Over the years, Nigeria has subscribed to international agreements and instituted policies aimed at improving women’s representation in the entire political milieu, but so little has been done to implement concrete measures that would help those policies flourish. Even capacity building and behavioural change programmes at the behest of civil society organisations and international funders have yielded little or no dividend.

Without a doubt, the major factor that is taking the wind out of the sail of female politicians, especially those that run for elective offices is the lack of finance to spend on electioneering.

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Other factors, which explain the lack of women’s representation in the political arena include religious and cultural/traditional practices; corrupt and patronage-based political system; widespread violence at elections, including against female candidates, the absence of effective government action to stem the tide, as well as the pathetic levels of female employment and education among others.

Since 1999, prominent groups, individuals, including female politicians who have been at the receiving end of this menace have continued to lament their inability to trade tackles with their male counterparts on the political turf due to these factors.

But nothing can be more heartwarming than the move by ElectHER, unveiling its Agender35 campaign, a deliberate effort to significantly de-risk the process of women running for elective office, and increasing women’s political representation in the country by 2023.

This, it intends to do through a three-point agenda – starting with the setting up a $10m fund to empower 1, 000 women, and directly fund 35 women to decide, run and win in the 2023 elections; advocate for the legislation of a minimum of 35 per cent women’s representation quota in appointive and elective office, as well as sensitise voters and engage citizens on the compelling need for women’s representation ahead of 2023.

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ElectHER, a non-partisan organisation focused on getting women into elective office, is an end-to-end women’s political advancement organisation bridging inequality gaps in African politics, by addressing the under-representation of Nigerian women in elective offices, through behavioral change communications; skills development, human capital mobilisation and campaign financing, with the end-goal of enabling capable women to competitively decide, run and win elections.

Of the targeted sum of $10m, the group has already secured $2m to empower women and directly fund not less than 35 women to decide, run and win in the coming general elections.

According to the group, the gross under-representation of Nigerian women in elective office poses a severe threat to nation-building and socio-economic growth, given that women constitute about 50 per cent of the population. To put this into context, the country currently has the lowest representation of women across parliaments on the continent, a dismal 4.1 per cent.

In 2019, only five out of 73 candidates ran for the presidency, and none of them was among the top three most voted candidates in the presidential race.

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Also, the adverse effect of this inequality gap has led to poor policy outcomes and the low prioritisation of social development over the years, crippling socio-economic progression in the country.

Shedding some light on Agender35, the Co-founder/Executive Director of ElectHER, Ibijoke Faborode, described it is a movement that requires the collective effort of all critical stakeholders- citizens, the media, political parties, the private sector, and the government.

She stressed: “If we maintain the current level of ignorance on socio-political issues, there will be no country in the next two decades. This is why the bold support from Platform Capital Group- a critical private sectorally, and Agender35 anchor partner who have committed $2m through its impact division- Diatom Impact, presents an enabling environment to effectively challenge the status quo and foster multi-stakeholder partnerships…”

Over the next months, ElectHER will launch a series of targeted, institutional, and crowdfunding activities including the WomenforWomen Fund; Citizen Campaign Fund for Women; HNI Fundraising Rounds; ElectHER Hollywood Fund just to mention a few. Elections in Nigeria are capital intensive, as such if we are serious about achieving better outcomes in 2023, we must empower female candidates financially,” Faborode added.

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On her part, Abosede George-Ogan, Co-founder of ElectHER also stated that “there is overwhelming evidence to show that immense benefits accrue to societies when women are in political leadership and at the highest levels of power and decision-making. If what we want as a people is a better Nigeria regardless of tribe, ethnicity, religion, geography, or generation, then we must unite around the Agender35 campaign and give women the opportunity that they deserve so that they can show us what they are capable of. I will encourage everyone who is tired; feels like giving up, or those who think that they have no business with politics to join us on this journey. Finally, I am calling on organisations that understand like Platform Capital Group that nation-building is a collective effort to partner with us.

With the $10 million non-partisan fund (about N3. 8b based on current exchange rate), ElectHER will provide matching funds to directly support two women to run for executive office, three women to contest senatorial seats, 15 women to run for seats on states’ houses of assembly, and 15 women to run for the House of Representatives seats. Each woman will receive a support pathway through ElectHER’s comprehensive four-step approach, which is to engage, encourage, equip and enable.

Beyond funding, as part of the Agender35 campaign, ElectHER will launch the inaugural cycle of a first of its kind fellowship programme known as the ElectHER Future Lawmakers Programme (EFLP), a six-month physical and virtual fellowship to groom, equip, empower and enable 30 women that will run for the state and federal parliaments in 2023. Specific details on the fellowship including international partnerships are to be made public in the coming weeks.

“At Platform Capital Group, our obsession with changing the African narrative is holistic and not limited to business alone. We believe that promoting women in leadership and supporting their participation in politics and policymaking across all levels of society is critical to ensure that the Africa of tomorrow emerges,” the Chairman, Platform Capital Group, Dr. Akintoye Akindele said.

Akindele added: “We are supporting Agender35, through our partnership with ElectHER, to fund, deliver programmes and resources to empower and equip women to the campaign, run and be elected for offices.”

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For Faith Okunorobo, a Lagos-based political scientist: “Our culture doesn’t encourage women to get into politics, while men are seen as natural leaders, and their labour is often paid for, while women are seen in a domestic light; good for unpaid labour and reproduction. Nigeria lags behind in so many areas, especially political representation. Women that are strong and articulate should be encouraged and their strength directed into making decisions that shape the nation. We need to pass constitutional laws that encourage gender equality and parity.”

Okunorobo, who explained that women need more capacity building, added that “you cannot win elections by sitting at home, you have to actively participate. We need the gender equality law to be passed because when we have laws backing us, we can legally fight for our right. Lacks of funds to run campaigns are another problem women have. Men have more money and women that have the financial strength don’t support female politicians. Another factor is a low level of education and technical skills; we need to begin to take our women more seriously and include them in strong decision-making spaces. Please, stop demanding sex from women before you help them, this doesn’t help anyone.

She added that political mentorship is what is needed and not godfatherism. “We see how political godfathers behave here and Nigerians are quick to tell you not to bite the fingers that fed you. They don’t see how these godfathers become greedy and start demanding all sorts of things. Most godfathers use the relationship as a means to bully their grandson. Mentor doesn’t impose, stand on the truth and remain on the path of integrity and honesty.”

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