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Stakeholders canvass gender-responsive laws to boost women’s role in governance

By Felix Kuye
15 December 2020   |   4:19 am
Women participation in governance through elective and appointive positions in Nigeria has remained low, thereby denying the country of invaluable contributions of the womenfolk.

Women participation in governance through elective and appointive positions in Nigeria has remained low, thereby denying the country of invaluable contributions of the womenfolk.

Despite their population, enabling laws and various local and international treaties to their advantage, women have continuously been denied equal rights with men.

For reasons generally perceived as untenable, but majorly due the inherent patriarchal practices rooted in culture and even religion, much of which gained ground in the country’s pre-colonial days, the huddles against women participation in public service remain in place till date.

The national average of women’s political participation has remained 6.7 per cent in elective and appointive positions, which is far below the global average of 22.5 per cent, Africa’s regional average of 23.4 per cent and West African sub regional average of 15 per cent.

Women constitute about 50 per cent of the nation’s population. Evidence available shows that women also constituted the highest active electorate (51 per cent) in both the 2015 and the 2019 general elections.

Unfortunately, all of these have not counted in their favour, as they are yet to occupy enough space in the decision-making institutions and mechanism in the country.

The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the United Nations in 1979 requires member states to adopt Special Temporary Measures (STM) to address the historical imbalances in the participation of women in political spaces. This decision was re-emphasised and re-energized in the famous Fourth International Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, which advocated for 35 per cent affirmative action in the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA).

The affirmative action, which was to be adopted by member states, was aimed at encouraging increased women participation and representation in politics and decision-making structures at all levels. The protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (ACHPRRWA) also popularly known as Maputo Protocol adopted in 2003, called for 50 per cent women representation in politics and decision-making structures at all levels.

In Nigeria, the extant National Gender Policy (NGP) recommended 35 per cent affirmative action in 2006, providing a local policy back up for a more inclusive representation of women with at least 35 per cent of both elective and appointive positions in the decision-making institutions in Nigeria.

Despite these policies and some efforts by the government and non-governmental organizations, women involvement in governance has been consistently low.

In the 2019 general elections, only 43 women were elected to states Houses of Assembly out of the 944 seats; only four women deputy governors were elected and no woman has been elected to occupy the position of governor or president since Nigeria resumed democratic rule in 1999.

The situation prompted the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), in collaboration with United Nations (UN Women), to adopt a new strategy to increase women’s political participation and representation at all levels of government.

The approach caters for engagement of stakeholders, including decision makers, to appreciate the importance of increased women’s participation and representation in politics and governance institutions. Basically, it looks at how their contributions influence decisions that benefit both women and men; accelerate the achievement of the development objectives and targets as outlined in the nation’s development plans.
Way out

The NILDS and the UN Women Nigeria Country Office, organised a three-day workshop to, among others, build the technical capacity of women legislators and selected committee chairmen to influence enactment of new gender-sensitive legislation(s) and amendment of old laws to ensure the attainment of gender sensitivity which will contribute to promoting gender equality in legislature and other political and governance institutions in the country.

At the event that held recently in Abuja, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, who affirmed that women have been outstanding in their inputs to national development and were obviously determined to increase their contributions, underscored the essence of the training: “We have long appreciated the fact that the ability to contribute and impact on national development also depends on capacities and abilities.”

On the need to create more space for women, he said: “Women incidentally exist in an environment that is still dominated by men, leading us to the need to canvass for improved representation of the womenfolk and the desirability of growing their capacities.”

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “Women’s rights are the great unfinished business of the 21st century. There are still in place too many obstacles that restrict the ability of women to reach their full potential and to contribute to their societies to the full extent of their abilities, talents and ambitions.

“There is no area where this is prevalent or more damaging than in the practice of politics and governance. I say this is the most damaging because politics and governance is how we as a people determine the kind of country we intend to have and to live in. Politics is the foundation of the structured state. And governance is how we make the state to work for all its citizens.

“When, as is often the case now, we keep women from participating in politics and governance at the scale they ought to, society suffers. It does not matter whether these restrictions are legal or cultural, economic or religious. The end results are still the same– we end up with a country where after 60 years of independence, our collective aspiration remains just that, and it often feels like our best days are behind us, not ahead of us.”

The Director General of NILDS, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman, corroborated Gbajabiamila: “The exclusion of women in politics has been identified in recent times as one of the major setbacks for economic development. In spite of being a strong pillar for grassroots politics, the participation of women in politics still faces many challenges, making it difficult for them to harness available opportunities for national development. While several efforts have been made to address the low participation and representation of women in elective and appointive positions in Nigeria, these interventions have been hampered by patriarchal practice, stigmatization as well as religious and cultural factors. As it stands today, women constitute only about 11.6 per cent of the National Assembly in a country where they make up about 60 per cent of the population.”

Apart from the challenges of low participation in political governance, Suleiman argued, “they are also the most vulnerable and worst affected by violent conflict. The dimensions of violence against women and girls during conflict are reflected in their increased vulnerability to loss, violence and harm. Specifically, women and girls experience ‘reduced access to resources, livelihood inputs and basic services; increased family and social responsibilities; restricted mobility; unequal access to protective services and legal mechanisms; as well as inadequate political power at local and national levels.”

The workshop centered on gender-responsive legislation as a means to addressing some of the challenges that women and girls face in Nigeria. Gender-responsive lawmaking requires that legislators understand the impact of proposed laws and how they may be better designed to achieve outcomes that meet the needs of women.

The UN Women Country Representative, Ms. Comfort Lamptey, told the workshop that “the achievement of gender equality and protection of women’s rights is critical if Nigeria is to meet its deepest aspirations in this decade of action as we race to attain the SDG targets.”

According to her, it is through parliament that laws are passed, funding allocated, human rights guaranteed, transparency is promoted in government and international conventions are adopted and implemented. Women as half of the Nigerian populace deserve an equal voice in all levels of government. Women’s equal political participation makes political institutions democratically legitimate.”

She argued that “incorporating a gender perspective in different areas of development ensures the effective achievement of other social and economic goals. National parliaments are well placed to champion the objective of gender equality and promote gender mainstreaming in government.

“For example, gender responsive parliaments can contribute to removing the barriers to women’s full participation in society and empower both men and women to shape their own lives and make decisions. The legislative process creates a platform for dialogue on issues that matter most in society and may foster the expression of multiple voices and perspectives. Thus, this process presents an effective vehicle for the promotion of gender equality values and principles.”