Nigeria: For Nigerian Women, Struggle to Close Parity Still On

30 September 2020

After many years on independence, the struggle to close the gap of gender parity still lingers despite efforts to promote same opportunities in educational pursuit as in all other areas for both sexes.

Nigerian women face disparity across many areas of life's endeavours including political, health, cultural, religious and economical.

Women, it is envisaged by many should, going forward, be seen playing key roles in areas hitherto regarded as the exclusive preserve of the menfolk in the economic, political and social lives of the society.

As the years rolled by, the contributions of notable women such as Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo Abayomi, Queen Amina of Zazzau, and many other Nigerian women who played vital roles in shaping the nation, remain cogent reference points.

In the African setting, women have played the role of peacemakers, the symbol of beauty and major moulder of the character of the children; she is undoubtedly the first teacher.

But have Nigerian women been given their place in major decision-making processes of the country, despite the roles they played in the precolonial, to the colonial and the contemporary eras?

The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development was created consequent upon the response to the United Nations agreement on the establishment of institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women and women matters.

Efforts by stakeholders also led to the establishment, through a Decree in 1989, of the National Commission for Women.

This commission was essentially the initiative of the wife of the then military president, the late Mrs Maryam Babangida.

The commission, though recognised as a government institution, its activities were rather ad hoc and with no specific budgetary allocation.

The wife of the Head of State further dictated the pace of activities in the commission with the creation of her Better life Programme for Rural Women.

But in 1995, the Commission for Women was upgraded to a full-fledged Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, which meant that Nigeria had achieved one of the critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action, with the vision to help build a Nigerian society that guarantees equal access to social, economic and wealth creation opportunities to all, irrespective of gender.

It further places premium on the protection of the child, the aged and persons with disabilities; it focuses the attention of key operators in both private and public sectors on mainstreaming the concerns of these groups of people in national development process.

The ministry was also given a mission to serve as the national vehicle to bring about speedy and healthy development of Nigerian women, children, the socially disadvantaged and physically challenged, and the main-streaming of their rights and privileges in national development process.

However, Nigerian women still struggle with fewer representatives in decision making positions; many even see the women ministry as a place of fun fare rather than where activities that better the lot of women should be domiciled.

According to a published report by the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies African Programme, titled 'Gendered Contests; Women in Competitive Elections' on how women fared in the 2019 elections, women won only five per cent of all contested seats.

The breakdown revealed that for the presidential election (the total position was one) total number of candidates 73, number of women candidates six, number of women elected, zero.

For the National Assembly (Senate), number of positions 109, number of candidates 1,904, number of women candidates 253, number of women elected, seven.

For the National Assembly (House), total positions 360, number of candidates, 468, number of women, 533, number of women elected, 12. For the gubernatorial (total number of positions 26) number of candidates, 2412, number of women, 74, number of women elected, zero.

For state Houses of Assembly (total position 990) total number of candidates, 14,583, number of women candidates, 1,825, number of women elected, 37.

Damilola Agbalajobi of the Department of Political Science, College of Management Sciences, Redeemer's University, Nigeria (RUN) in one of her reviewed paper, 'Women's participation and the political process in Nigeria: Problems and Prospects' said, Nigerian women constitute about half of the population of the country and are known to play vital roles as mother, producer, time manager, community organiser and social and political activist.

Despite the major roles women play and their population, the society has not given recognition to them and to the fact that they are discriminated against.

This is due to some cultural stereotypes, abuse of religion, traditional practices and patriarchal societal structures.

No wonder the crave for the 35 per cent affirmative agenda was loud during President Goodluck Jonathan's administration as it was driven by the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, for women to have quality representation at both the upper and lower houses.

In his address to the nation on January 1, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari echoed a keenness for a new change of order.

Declaring 2020 as the beginning of a new decade of prosperity and promise, the president left no one in doubt of the enthusiasm in charting a better course of greatness for the country in the new decade.

However, it's left to be seen if the promise of prosperity will translate to better opportunities for women in one of the world's largest democracies ranked by the UN as one of the worst for female representation in parliament.

Despite making up 49.4 per cent of the total population, women have always been marginalised in Nigeria's political space.

According to data from the Centre for Democracy and Development, women formed 4.17 per cent of elected office holders in the 2019 elections, a decline from the 2015-19 period where women formed 5.65 per cent of elected office holders.

Statistics also reveal that out of the 109 senators in the National Assembly, only nine are women, while only 27 out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives are women.

The picture clearly depicts a lopsided membership of the House in favour of the men.

Women are still under-represented and obviously marginalised in democratisation in the legislative and executive arms of government.

This trend flows from the national level, to state down to local levels where few women take the lead in local government as chairmen and councillors.

Record has it that no woman has ever been president or vice president in Nigeria.

Women hold just 7 per cent of elected positions, even though they make up nearly 50 per cent of the electorate.

The 7 per cent figure is one of the lowest in the world.

The National Gender Policy (NGP) formulated a 35% Affirmative Action (AA) in Nigeria since 2006.

The NGP is recognised but is not practised as the structures and processes needed are not in place, unlike in Rwanda, where in 2003 the government approved a new constitution that included a quota system for women at all levels of government.

The legislation mandated that 30 per cent of all representatives, including those in parliament, be women.

Rwanda's quota is different from many other systems in that it's not a quota solely on candidates, but rather reserves a minimum number of seats for women (often known as Equality of Result quotas).

Speaking during the 2020 International Women's Day, the chairperson of Lagos chapter of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Mrs Philomena Nneji, said they were postulating the way to close the gender disparity in the country.

She noted that despite the Beijing Declaration, there was still a lot of disparity in the opportunities availed to women in various areas such as education, health and security and as a result, no country has been able to achieve gender equality.

In the health sector, information from the United Nation's website also revealed that Nigeria's 40 million women of childbearing age (between 15 and 49 years of age) suffer a disproportionately high level of health issues surrounding birth.

While the country represents 2.4 per cent of the world's population, it currently contributes 10 per cent of global deaths for pregnant mothers.

Latest figures show a maternal mortality rate of 576 per 100,000 live births, the fourth-highest globally.

Each year, approximately 262,000 babies die at birth, the world's second-highest national total.

Infant mortality currently stands at 69 per 1,000 live births while for under-fives it has risen to 128 per 1,000 live births.

More than half of the under-five deaths - 64 per cent - result from malaria, pneumonia or diarrhoea.

At 27 per cent, the prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) among girls and women aged 15-49 years is lower than in many countries where the practice is carried out, but Nigeria still has the third-highest absolute number of women and girls (19.9 million) who have undergone FGM/C worldwide.

It is more commonly practised in the south, driven by grandmothers and mothers-in-law aiming to "curb promiscuity", or prepare girls for marriage and conform to tradition.

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