By Victoria Ojeme
Women have become increasingly active and influential in political life in many countries, yet they remain significantly under-represented in political decision-making and leadership roles in Nigeria.
Since the 1990s, gender quotas have been recognised and endorsed by many countries as the most effective mechanism for increasing women’s political representation. In 1995 a report issued by the United Nations Development Programme concluded that 30 per cent was the ‘critical minority’ required for ‘women as a group to exert a meaningful influence in legislative assemblies. This was to be achieved through a range of mechanisms including quotas for women’s participation in governance.
According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, half of the world’s countries currently have some form of electoral gender quota system. More recently, the Inter-Parliamentary Union has noted that quota systems have had a positive impact in addressing the gender imbalance in national parliaments.
This has become imperative because politics is not a level playing field. However, by increasing the share of female candidates in the ballot, quotas can improve the overall presence of women in political institutions, breaking down negative stereotypes among voters and party leaders, contributing to the emergence of role-models and female networks, and promoting awareness regarding women’s underrepresentation in politics. Quotas may eventually generate a trickle-up effect, leading to a larger presence of women in leadership positions and fostering policies that are more aligned with the preferences of female voters.
Nigeria has very few women participating in politics. Only seven out of 109 senators and 22 of the 360 House of Representatives members are women. And only four out of 36 deputy governors are women. The country has never had a woman state governor.
According to Senator Biodun Olujimi, one of the few vocal female lawmakers in Nigeria, the under-representation of women in all spheres of the Nigerian political establishment has been a very big issue.
Senator Olujimi, who is also a lawmaker in the ECOWAS Parliament representing Nigeria, said the 30 per cent women representation in the Parliament ought to be implemented in line with ECOWAS’ gender policy.
She said this at the end of the ECOWAS Parliament’s High-level Seminar at its Second Extraordinary Session in Ghana.
Olujimi, representing Ekiti South in the Nigerian Senate, spoke with newsmen at the end of the meeting in Winneba.
She decried the low representation of Nigerian female legislators in the sub-regional Parliament, as compared to their male counterparts.
She said out of the 35-member Nigerian delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament, only two were women, adding that the ECOWAS Parliament must ensure that Member States complied with the provisions of the ECOWAS gender policy.
Olujimi said: “It has been a very big issue for us because the eighth National Assembly had about five women in Parliament out of 35.
“We thought that was low until we came and found out that we were only two this time.
“And ECOWAS has a gender policy that says at least 30 per cent must be given to the chamber. But Nigeria is a signatory to all forms of protocols from all over the world but has never been able to domesticate them and make use of the protocols.
“At times I wonder what benefits are in signing protocols when you know that you will not do anything about them. I believe that the time has come for ECOWAS to inform the National Assemblies of each of the 15-Member States that a gender policy exists, and that whenever consideration is being made for Parliamentarians, 30 per cent must be given to the female gender.
“And that will also evaporate down the line because it means that if you are electing people to Parliament in your country, you now know that you must be able to put enough room.
“So that when you get there, you can always get enough to go into ECOWAS or the Commonwealth Parliament. That is essential.”
The senator also expressed optimism on Nigeria producing a female president in the not-too-distant future, saying that women were already beginning to gain momentum in the Nigerian political space.
Olujimi, however, urged women to continue to support each other, soliciting the support of men to ensure that women seized some of their opportunities.
She said: “I see hope, a bright future, because for a very long time we did not agree, we have a problem, we were all busy fighting each other rather than fighting the system that has refused to bring us out.
“But now we have seen that the system is not willing to do anything for us unless we do it for ourselves and, so, we have started working hard at it.
“In my party, all women came together and said we want Deputy National Chairman and today, they are at the party secretariat, lots of them, returning the form of a woman and saying you must give us this one.
“By the time we build such movements, people will know that we are not joking. And the minute the parties know we are not joking, then the coast will be clear. I see it on the horizon because it is working across political divides.”
Olujimi, who also intends to run for the gubernatorial seat in the June 18, 2022 Ekiti State election, said she is hopeful she will win.
“I see hope, a bright future because for once, we have agreed we have a problem. For a very long time we did not agree we have a problem, we were all busy fighting each other rather than fighting the system that has refused to bring us out. But now we have seen that the system is not willing to do anything for us unless we do it for ourselves, and so, we have started working hard at it.
“I am surprised in my party, all women came together and said we want Deputy National Chairman and today, they are at the party secretariat, lots of them, returning the form of a woman and saying, you must give us this one. By the time we build such movements, people know that we are not joking. And the minute the parties know we are not joking, then the coast will be clear and I see it on the horizon. Because it is working across political divides,” said.