Our great nation is at a cross road. We are confronted and bedeviled by the hydra-headed monsters of banditry, terrorism, kidnapping, alongside unprovoked, gruesome and wanton killings across the country, especially in the northern regions. This, I strongly believe, could be reasonably checked if we make sacrifices and adjustments to our style of selection of leaders at all levels of government to include women. With gender inclusion comes economic empowerment. There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria is greatly wasting a precious resource in the gross underutilisation and poor representation of women in governance and politics i.e. playing with a half team, when we have the capacity of playing a star studded full team.
As the 2023 elections approach, Nigeria must therefore address the sizable gender gaps that undermine women’s inclusion in governance. There is sufficient and ever-increasing evidence that women inclusiveness in governance and political decision-making processes help nation-building. For example, research on local councils in Nigeria revealed that the number of potable drinking water projects in local government councils led by women was 62 per cent higher than those led by their male counterparts. It can also be safely said that there exists a strong relationship between the presence of women in area councils and child care coverage.
Current statistics has it that we have a paltry 11.2 per cent of female membership in both chambers of the Ninth National Assembly (seven females in the Senate and eleven in the House of Representatives). This, in my opinion, is very poor in juxtaposing these with the 479 members of the federal parliament, because the participation of women in governance leads to higher responsiveness to the yearnings of citizens. When there is gender balance in governance and leadership, the quality of lives amongst the populace is greatly improved. Upon the involvement of women in governance, they succinctly capture the needs of respective families and will ensure that policies are developed to suit the needs of their respective communities. When women are in governance, minority ethnic groups are less likely to be relegated to the background, rather they will be given their rightful places in the affairs of the nation. Women in power can be counted upon to cover issues others overlook, to support causes or ideas that other persons stoutly, vehemently oppose and make concerted efforts in the efforts to putting abuses that others accept to an end.
The necessity of women’s participation in politics and governance is undeniable. Studies all over the world have shown that there is no instrument more effective in promoting good governance than the adequate empowerment of women. No other policy has the potential to reduce the rate of child and maternal mortality, which is a major cause of death amongst women in Nigeria and a bane in our society, than the conscious inclusiveness of women. Statistics show that Nigeria has a maternal mortality rate of 576 per cent.
It goes without saying that when women are accorded their deserved, appropriate and acceptable positions in governance, it will enable them formulate and implement robust educational policies that will benefit the entire citizenry, most especially the less fortunate ones in our society. When children are acquainted with requisite knowledge, the society becomes saner and more habitable for all of us.
Several factors restrain women from actively participating in governance and politics in Nigeria. These include, but are not limited to the following: insufficient resources; lack of viable information; dis- proportionate access to quality education; cultural barriers; diversities; and discrimination against rural women. These are among the essential factors contributing to the passive involvement of women in governance and politics. A woman who has no quality education will naturally shy away from the political turf, hence this has continually kept intelligent and dynamic women from active participation in politics. This has, in turn, made these women docile, more malleable and easy to manipulate. Government has a great role to play in reversing these retrogressive practices and this can be achieved by implementing the right mechanisms, providing incentives to women, encouraging them, reserving some elective political positions only for females and lastly, we must endeavour and ensure to make the political space less violent. These steps, I strongly believe, will encourage the massive participation and inclusion of women in politics.
It goes without saying that when women are accorded their deserved, appropriate and acceptable positions in governance, it will enable them formulate and implement robust educational policies that will benefit the entire citizenry, most especially the less fortunate ones in our society. When children are acquainted with requisite knowledge, the society becomes saner and more habitable for all of us. The alarming rate of out-of-school children in our country is worrisome, no wonder why we are ignominiously leading the pack around the world. This has unwittingly led to the myriad and avalanche of challenges and upheavals that we are unrelentlessly battling as a nation. As an uneducated mind is susceptible to all manners of deceit and delusions, we need to reverse the trend for the good of all of us!
Increasing the number of women in public decision-making will act as an incentive for policy makers to respond to women’s interests. A new report by the World Bank has lent credence to this view and concluded that closing the gender disparity gap will be of immense benefit to the Nigerian economy. The report titled: “Closing Gaps, Increasing Opportunities: A Diagnostic on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Nigeria,” was launched in Abuja by the World Bank Country Office in Nigeria. The report sought to establish that women’s empowerment in the economic sector should take a centre stage as a policy agenda, if the nation intends to increase its domestic earnings, which it projects should yield additional gains of US$9.3 billion or up to US$22.9 billion simply by closing this gender disparity.
Having more women in our nation’s governance process and political landscape will tremendously boost our socio-economic development. Conversely, the continued under-representation and underutilisation of women has been our greatest undoing as a nation and fledgling democracy. This has kept us lying prostrate, despite our enormous economic potentials as a country. When women are properly mainstreamed in governance and politics, it absolutely rubs off on their households, communities and ultimately on the nation.
I make bold to restate that in order to build strong, robust and virile governance, women must not only be encouraged but empowered and supported in becoming strong political colossuses and amazons. Consequently, my call with a very loud voice is for all hands (the political parties, the executive and legislative arms of government, the clergy, the NGOs and the women themselves) to be on deck to make this a reality.
How do we achieve this? Simply by the systematic and representative inclusion of women in governance and politics. Research has it that when women are involved in peace processes and conflict resolution, the resulting agreement always stands the test of time and this agreement is well implemented to the letter. Higher levels of gender equality and inclusion engenders peace in the nation. An international peace institute study of 182 signed peace agreements found that when women are involved in peace processes, there is 35 per cent possibility that such peace agreement will last for over 20 years.
History is replete and filled with outstanding, distinguished and accomplished female political leaders around the world who have proven their mettle and sagacity in governance, thus becoming the cynosure of all eyes. They include Angela Merkel, the first woman to be elected as Chancellor and the third longest serving Chancellor in Germany, and Jacinda Arden, New Zealand’s current prime minister. The latter is widely credited with formulating policies that helped to promptly and drastically reduce the spread of coronavirus in her country. Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the longest serving prime minister in the history of Bangladesh, who graciously opened the door of her country to Rohingya refugees fleeing the onslaught, massacre and genocide in Myanmar. Kamala Harris, currently serving as the first female vice president in the history of the United States of America. Magdalene Anderson, the prime minister of Sweden. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Liberian and the first woman to be elected president of an African country. She led Liberia through a laudable and enduring reconciliation, following the nation’s long and tortuous civil war. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Indeed, the list is endless. We can also replicate this giant strides in our clime as our democracy is still young, and fledging. Hence, it is necessary, expedient, politically healthy and correct that every segment and entirety of our populace is given equal representation in both elective and appointive positions. Sufficient women representation in politics will increase creativity, originality and help to diversify the pool of talents, skills and abilities.
In conclusion, I make bold to restate that in order to build strong, robust and virile governance, women must not only be encouraged but empowered and supported in becoming strong political colossuses and amazons. Consequently, my call with a very loud voice is for all hands (the political parties, the executive and legislative arms of government, the clergy, the NGOs and the women themselves) to be on deck to make this a reality.
Aisha Waziri Umar, a lawyer and founder of Inara Foundation, is a 2023 contestant for House of Representatives in the Jere Federal Constituency, Borno State.