The first female House of Representatives Leader, Representative Mulikat Adeola- Akande (PDP, Ogbomosho North, South/Orire), spoke on the plight of women in Nigeria and the way forward. Excerpts:
The world just observed the International Women's Day yesterday. Do you think the female gender has been well represented in all spheres of life in Nigeria?
Rep. Mulkat Akande: I would want to say yes, because we have never had it as good as we do presently if you want to look at the number of women who are now in appointive positions in the country. Though for the elective positions, the number has reduced, because if you look at the two chambers of the National Assembly, the number of women has significantly reduced from what we used to have, but if we look at appointive positions like the appointments of ministers, we will say the number is encouraging. I would want to commend President Goodluck Jonathan for that, because he has ensured that women are given their rightful places. Though we are talking about 35 per cent which is a far cry from what we have today, we are not yet there, but gradually we will. I want to call on women to work together to enable us to move forward. We should not allow the men to divide us as they have always done. We should see ourselves as sisters and work towards a common goal.
A research recently conducted revealed that only 12.5 per cent of women are in leadership positions against the 35 agitation. What is your take on this?
We shouldn't be talking about leadership positions, because there are so many positions women can occupy to be part of the decision making process in the society. I think that is what is important, because as long as we are part of any decision making process, then we can make the desired change we want in the society. I have not seen what the research considered before they came up with that, but we are not only talking about leadership but women's representation generally. It is only when you put everything together that you can talk about percentage. When you are talking of the Nigerian women, you are talking about the total number of women and if you look at the total number of women in the country who have been able to achieve anything, it is very little. However, the process is still on and we will always solicit for government's support for women empowerment. We also have challenges like maternal mortality, child mortality, cancer and others that needed to be given attention by the government.
How has the few women legislators affected the fortunes of women especially in the rural areas?
The small number of women legislators will not augur well for women. We need a large number of women we are talking about 360 constituencies in the House of Representatives and only 24 are represented by women. So, you can see that women are at a disadvantage. What we are trying to do towards 2015 elections in the House of Representatives is to assist upcoming female politicians at all levels to realize their political aspirations.
You just talked about difficulties for women in some areas, what are the basic challenges you are facing as a female lawmaker?
There are a lot of challenges. There is the basic challenge of finance, having a level playing ground which we do not usually have in most situations. We are also facing cultural barriers especially in the Northern part of the country. In the North, whenever a woman comes out to aspire for a leadership position, most people will frown at it. Most times it is about ego when they reject women, because they begin to ask 'how do we go to her to start making request as our leader'. It is not that they don't like women, but because of the cultural belief. So, we have to begin to break these barriers. It is time we open the scope of their activities in terms of where they can participate and where they cannot. So, I think a lot of sensitization is needed to enlighten the men and women to understand that we are here to complement one another.
Do you think the kind of politics we practice in Nigeria gives room for women to progress?
In Nigeria, it is quite difficult. You cannot compare what we have in the western world with what we have here. Over there, there is no distinction. Over there, gender means both sexes, but here in Nigeria when you talk about gender, people think its only women you are talking about forgetting that gender means both men and women. That takes me to the issue of the importance of the girl-child education. Girls must be educated. If you empower one woman by educating her, you are empowering a whole generation. The simple solution to this also is not to bring in any barriers and give the girl child an equal opportunity that is being given to the male child.
This year's edition of the International Women's Day has a combined theme of equal opportunity and peace. Do you think female politicians in Nigeria can rise to the position of president or vice president?
Why not! It is not impossible, because if you take a look at the progress of some of the ministers, House of Representatives members, Senators and some other distinguished women. I am sure the Nigerian men have started to realize that women are equal to the task. And for 2015, having a female Vice President is going to be the best for us. I think the time is ripe for us to have a female vice president as we are talking about a levelled playing ground.
You just talked about the possibility of a female vice president. Do you think this will be possible giving the intrigues in party politics?
I know where you are heading to, but let's not go there. Coming back to your question, that could be, but a lot of things come into play when we are deciding issues like this. If women are ready to support themselves, and push from all angles, the possibility of a female vice president is certain. I know that my party is in line with this trend as I think it's the only party that allows women to contest for offices without necessarily having to pay for forms. We are not talking of just putting any woman there just to show that she is a woman, but a woman who knows her onions. So, with the right attitude and support we can have a female vice president.
How do you handle your legislative duties with your NGO?
The name of the NGO is Jokodolu Foundation based in Ogbomosho and it was registered in 2008. I have always loved to help people around me before I became a member of the House of Representative. I believe if God is smiling to me, I should be able to smile too to other people. I have been doing this before I became a lawmaker. When I came to the House of Representatives, I decided that since the NGO was based in my constituency, I should publicize it more so that people would be aware of it and to reach out to the targeted beneficiaries.
Since 2008, I have registered so many less privileged children because the objective of the NGO is to assist the less privileged children in the society to access good quality education. Secondly, it focuses on sustaining widows to be self reliant and also sustain their children and family. These objectives were borne out of the fact that I feel education is key to anything you want to be in life. The NGO was formally launched on the January 17 2013. So, my desire is to help and leave behind a legacy worth relishing about.
What is your take on insecurity and the plight of women?
Whenever there is crisis, women are the most affected, many women have lost everything including their husbands and children. This is why in some cases, they have to come out and demonstrated to let people know that they were the once mostly affected.