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25 Years of Beijing Platform for Action – Which Way Nigeria?

A major resolution of the historic Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China, in September 1995, is that each country should endeavor to increase to, at least, 35, the percentage of women in its elective government positions.

The conference, known as the largest-ever gathering of gender equality advocates, produced the Beijing Platform for Action adopted by 189 governments.

The Beijing Platform for Action is considered the most comprehensive roadmap on women’s rights

Twenty-five years after the resolution, women representation in governance in Nigeria still falls short of the recommended percentage.

The female gender accounts for more than 50 per cent of Nigeria’s estimated 200 million population.

Out of the 84 million registered voters in the 2019 General Elections in Nigeria, women accounted for almost 40 million (47. 14 per cent).

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.

Among the top African countries with a high percentage of women in ministerial positions are Rwanda (51.9 per cent), South Africa (48.6 per cent), Ethiopia (47.6 per cent), Seychelles (45.5 per cent), Uganda (36.7 per cent) and Mali (34.4 per cent). The lowest percentage in Africa is in Morocco (5.6 per cent) – it has only one female minister in a cabinet of 18 people.

Mrs Ebele Ifendu, the President, Women in Politics (WIP), describes as poor, the number of women holding political positions in Nigeria.

Ifendu notes that though 2,970 women contested elections into different positions in the 2019, only 62 got elected.

She also notes that a breakdown shows that no woman was elected president, vice president or governor, while only seven were elected into the 109-member Senate.

“Nigerian women went to the 2019 elections with high expectations but the overall level of representation of women in politics remained a cause for concern as their number continued to dwindle,” Ifendu says.

According to a report by an indigenous non-governmental organisation, Center for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Nigerian Senate has had only 36 women since 1999.

The CITAD report states that the Senate has had 654 members since 1999, meaning that men have had 618 slots, leaving only 36 for women.

Also a 2019 report by the International Republic Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) reveals that Nigerian Senate has the lowest rate of women’s legislative participation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

With the already low number of women in elected offices after the 2019 elections, it was expected that President Muhammadu Buhari would appoint ministers in line with the promised Nigerian National Gender Policy benchmark of 35 per cent but only seven were women out of the 43-member ministerial list.

The seven females in President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial list after the 2019 Elections represent just 16.28 per cent of the entire 43-member ministerial list.

The Deputy Director and Head of Gender Division, Independent National and Electoral Commission (INEC), Mrs Blessing Obidegwu, is of the opinion that, at all levels of governance, representation of women in Nigeria falls short of the gender policy benchmark of 35 per cent.

She believes that there is need to map out plans for effective participation of women in politics, not only as voters and candidates, but in the entire electoral process.

Also, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Women Arise for Change Initiative, decries the under representation of women and low participation of women in the nation’s electoral process since 1999.

According to her, there were three women out of the 109 members of the Senate in 1999, four in 2003, nine in 2007, seven in 2011 and seven in 2015.

“Also in the House of Representatives, there were 13 women out of 360 members in 1999, 21 in 2003, 27 in 2007, 25 in 2011 and 22 in 2015.

She advises that women should be more involved and concerned about the electoral activities of the country, saying that women constitute an indispensable force in the quest for national development.

Okei-Odumakin urges parents and teachers to groom the girl-child on how to be brave, bold and assertive to be able to contribute to national development.

She gives the assurance that her initiative would continue to work tirelessly to educate more women on their civic rights and obligations.

Miss Happiness Steven, Imo State House of Assembly Candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance Party in the 2019 Elections, wants women to be courageous and not deterred by gender stereotypes.

“When I was contesting in 2019, I was faced with many challenges – immediate gratification, money politics, sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

“I am not deterred because I am a strong woman with a vision and, as such, I will contest again in 2023 and beyond. I am also determined to give qualitative representation to my constituency, Ngokpala LGA.

“We need more women to believe in themselves, fight for their rights and speak or raise awareness of the challenges and barriers to female representation in the country.

“We will continue to bring these issues to the fore until we get that desired change,” Steven says.

The immediate past Lagos State Deputy Governor, Dr Idiat Adebule, calls for strategies to increase the number and influence of women in economic, political and business leadership positions in the country.

“Data revealed that women remain heavily outnumbered in both the legislative and executive arms of government, considering their population; therefore, we need to adopt practical solutions that can improve women’s path to leadership role in proportion to our numbers.

Mr Russell Brooks, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Consulate, Lagos, believes that women have a lot to contribute to make Nigeria better.

“Women have a lot to contribute to Nigeria – to its economy, politics and social situations.

“Nigerians deserve better, and to get that, everybody, especially women must be involved,” Brooks says. (NAN)

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