WCDI: Too early for assessment

Posted on January 19, 2011

By Isiaka Aliagan

The  issue of women’s under-representation in government is not only a Nigerian affair, it is a continental cum global phenomenon. That is why concerted efforts are being made to reverse this trend by all nations of the world. Several deliberate measures have been initiated through conventions, conferences and workshops to push forward the agenda of  women representation in governance.

In this regard, mention can be made of  the United Nations Conference on Women in 1985; the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995; the United Nations Millennium Development Goals on women empowerment in 2000, as well as the adoption of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, in 2004.

Aside from these, 15 African countries  on July11, 2003, ratified the protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, known as the Maputo Protocol. The Protocol guarantees the rights of  women to take part in politics, social and political equality with men and to control their reproductive health. The climax of the current efforts is the declaration of 2010 to 2020  by the African Union as the African Women Decade.

In Nigeria, women representation in governance had been very poor, in spite of the adoption of the National Gender Policy on 35 per cent affirmative action on women participation in governance by the Nigerian government in 2000. This was supposed to be an improvement in the 30 per cent recommended by the Beijing Conference on women. However, many states are yet to implement this policy.

Thus, in  July  2010, when the Women for Change  and Development Initiative  came on board, Nigeria had only 8.3 per cent representation in governance at the federal level. At the state level, the situation was worse, as some states do not have a single woman representative in the National Assembly.  Based on this realisation, the First Lady, Dame (Dr ) Patience Goodluck Jonathan began her intervention through the Women for Change and Development Initiative, to reverse the trend for the better.

The Women for Change and Development Initiative strives to spread awareness among Nigerian women to seek political, economic and social empowerment and to be agents of peace and positive  change in the society. The Initiative has recorded tremendous success  within the short time of its inception.

The approach adopted by the First Lady is to change the orientation of the men and the women, as far as participation in politics is concerned. She tries to convince the male folk to see the women as partners in progress and not as competitor, for the political space is large enough to accommodate both  genders,  and  allowing women to rub shoulders with men in politics will enhance quality in governance and improved services for the society.

Secondly, she tries to change the perception of women in the struggle for political emancipation. Her subtle campaign is devoid of the western paradigm which tends to be confrontational. Her approach is lobbying and persuasion and this has yielded some results. The implementation of the 35 per cent  representation in governance for women is the kernel of her appeal  which has taken her  to 17 states across the six geo-political zones in the country  and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Since the campaign started, four states have approved the 35 per cent policy, while one approved 30 per cent. More states are  in the process of passing legislation on it. Thus, within  six months, the First Lady has been able to impact on the political fortunes of  Nigerian women. It should be noted that 10 years since the government approved the 35 per cent policy on representation for women, only  8.3 per cent was recorded.

Therefore, that  four states have approved it and one approved 30 per cent, while some others are on with the process of passing  it  into  law. The First Lady deserves  some encomiums, for where others lacked, she made an effort and that effort is yielding dividend.

While, it could be too early to begin to measure the success of the Women for Change and Development Initiative, the First Lady deserves some appreciation. It is  in this light  that a report expressing disappointment in the fact that many  women did not win in the primaries of the political parties appears premature.

It should be noted that the  women’s movement is only some  months old. Therefore, time is necessary for the idea to incubate  and thereafter  gestate and blossom into life. The idea also needs nurturing because of the long years of inertia and passivism. Nevertheless, awareness is blooming and women’s participation peaked far above the usual trend, especially  when compared with the 2007 outing. If the women have not reached the promised land yet, it means that more efforts still need to be made, but certainly that does not negate the essence of the Women for Change and Development Initiative nor does it bring down the achievements recorded so far.

We should also realise that the nature of politics in Nigeria does not favour the women. Many Nigerian men still find it difficult to vote for a woman. This is in view of the prevalent religious and cultural practices and beliefs.

Nigeria, definitely, has a long way to go. In Rwanda, women hold more than half of the parliament seats; Cape Verde has the highest  number of  women ministers in the world, 12 out of 17 being women. Liberia elected its  first female president in Africa in 2006 and late last year, Brazil sworn in its first female president.

In a society  where many see it  a cultural taboo having a woman ruling a state, definitely, it needs more than months of  persuasion to change such patriarchal view. It will take some time to achieve the kind of success we desire and those who expect immediate gain should know that the quickest route is getting legislative backing for the 35 per cent  affirmative action on women representation in governance.

It should also  be  realised that  what the First Lady is canvassing for is not just 35 per cent in elective positions, but in appointive positions as well. Nigeria currently has a female Comptroller General of Immigration, Navy had its first Admiral, the first National Economic Adviser  was appointed by the Jonathan administration, among several others. When this is replicated at  states and councils  levels, the stake of women in politics will become higher. Let us also not forget that some states currently have female deputy governors, speaker and chief judge.

It is a gradual journey. After all, Rome was not built in a day. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. That step has been taken and the journey is progressing.

*Posted on http://www.tribune.com

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