‘We Need More Women Participation In Politics’
AYISHA Osori is the CEO of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund (NWTF), a not-for-profit organisation created from a public-civil society partnership to increase the quality and quantity of women in government. Created in 2011, the organisation focuses on a getting more women into government through elections or appointments and in line with the National Gender Policy (NGP) of 2006, one of the goals Nigeria is committed to under Goal three of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“The NGP says all decision making boards, agencies and departments should have at least 35 per cent gender representation and the MDG Goal is to have 35 per cent women in the National Assembly by 2015. We work on achieving this goal by focusing on four areas: Leadership development, research and communication, gender advocacy and fundraising and grant making. This is the framework within which we work to support women, advocate for more women and create a more enabling environment for women to participate in politics and governance,” Osori explains.
She says that the level of women’s participation to nation building could be seen in terms of the numbers of women in public office and the number of women and young girls that are more aware of their role/right to contribute to nation building.
“For the former, the global standard of measure is to use the number of women in parliament, that is, the National Assembly and in our case, the numbers did not increase during the last elections in 2011. We went from 9 per cent representation in the NASS to 6.7 per cent. The average globally and regionally is 19 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. However, more women are contesting and from the list of candidates for the 2015 general elections, this number has also increased from that of 2011. And so, more women are prepared to enter into the public sector to serve.
“However, in increasing awareness of an interest in participating, the NWTF does this through advocacy and projects, particularly targeted at the younger generation of women and girls as young as 15, because by the next election cycle, they will be eligible to vote. We believe we need to start early to get millions of women and girls to join political parties, register to vote, vote and also contest. I would say we are doing relatively well with this, particularly with our short film titled, A New Dawn.”
While commenting on factors that hinder women from getting more elective positions, Osori is of the view that some of them are obvious and well known, but chief among them is the culture of patriarchy that largely insists on women taking the back seat, when it comes to leading or taking part in public matters. There are also the high costs of contesting, the violence and political culture of late meetings.
“Less well known is that the political parties themselves, which are the only vehicles we have recognised in the 1999 Constitution for contesting, do not also want women. They do little to promote women within the party, restrict them to ‘woman leader’ positions and thwart all their best efforts to take other positions. A look at how the national conventions of these parties are conducted is proof and the candidate lists of the two major parties for the NASS also provide more evidence.
“For instance, out of over 1,600 candidates, PDP has only 19 women with tickets to the House, while APC has 26. For the Senate, out of over 700 candidates, both parties have only seven female candidates each. So, the parties, through their constitution and their manifestoes, are sending a clear message that women are not welcome.”
While commenting on the possibility of the less than 20 per cent representation of women in politics being increased, she says: “There is hope. However, it will take time and there must be a will to see this happen. This is because it would take either an affirmative action clause in the Constitution, which over 60 countries around the world have done, to get the numbers up, or at least an internal party quota, which South Africa’s ANC operates. But for this to happen, it is becoming clearer that the strategy most gender advocates are most comfortable with will not work, and so that has to change too.
“In the first few years of President Jonathan’s administration, we had 33 percent women inclusion, which was close to the 35 per cent for the first time and with all the campaign promises being made to women, there is clear acknowledgement that as a country, we understand that our government and agencies should have more female representative. What remains is the will to follow through in a more meaningful manner.
“Elective office and not appointive is more important because it grants more legitimacy. Appointments are more subjective and independent. No doubt we have to do more to combat the negative narrative around women in general; so that there is more trust and acceptance within our public commentary whether directly or subliminally through art and movies among others about the immense benefits we can all reap from having more inclusive representation.”
She, however, applauds the courage of Nigerian women seeking political position.
“It is daunting to step out into such a hostile arena as the Nigerian politics. The truth is that the environment is toxic for all decent people that really want to make positive change. But we still need more of this type of people coming in. I would also tell them to start early. Although they do not need to declare early, but if they know by now for example that they would run in 2019, then they have to start today to reach out to their constituencies, bond with them and start doing things with them.
Starting early also includes ensuring you have made the right strategic decision about the platform or party upon which to run and the desired position and constituency. They must remain confident, bold, continue to put themselves out, ensure they are in the media as consistently as possible, talking about the issues they should be talking about and building a brand/message that will help them to successfully contest,” she explains.
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