DESPITE efforts to improve women’s participation in governance, female representation in government has continued to decline in Nigeria.
Following the just concluded 2023 presidential and national assembly elections, the number of female senators in Nigeria took a plunge from seven in the 9th Assembly to three senators-elect, announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
All three senators-elect are first-timers in the senate, including Iretiola Kingibe representing the FCT, Idiat Adebule for Lagos West and Ipalibo Harry Banigo in Rivers West.
There were also 11 women elected into the House of Representatives, as with the 9th Assembly, from seven states: Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Delta, Imo, and Yobe.
Anambra had the highest figure with three female representatives, followed by Benue and Yobe with two each.
However, this figure is inconclusive as supplementary elections will be held to fill eight senate seats and 36 seats in the House of Representatives, which are still vacant for various reasons, including election irregularities.
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, there was more female participation in the 2023 electoral process, as more women than men completed registration for their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
Of 12.29 million people who completed the PVC registration, 6.22 million are women, which is 50.6 per cent.
However, the decline in females elected into government may have resulted from the low levels of female candidacy recorded during the process.
Only 1,550 out of 15,307 candidates in the 2023 general elections are women. There was only one female presidential candidate and no female Vice-Presidential candidate across the 18 parties that contested the presidential elections.
This has caused a lot of anxiety among women groups, as the fight for gender inclusion in government seems not to yield the desired result.
However, speaking on the decline, Senator-elect representing the FCT Ireti Kingibe has vowed to bring more women into the government.
Kingibe noted that she would achieve this by involving more women in political processes and encouraging them to occupy sensitive positions at the party level.
“If there are more women in the party, then it goes without saying that getting those councillors and chairmen will be much easier than when it is only men. So that is where I am going to start,” she said.
Gender inequality in government is prevalent not only in Nigeria but across the globe.
Although efforts are being made to address this challenge globally, progress is slow. At the current rate, gender inequality in the highest levels of government will persist for the next 130 years, according to the United Nations (UN).
Nigeria, however, ranks very poorly according to the 2022 Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum. The country is at 141st place out of 146 countries rated in terms of female political participation.
Reasons for low female representation
Several reasons have been given for low female candidacy during elections, including cultural and religious factors.
Lower education and employment levels also adversely affect female candidacy in Nigerian politics.
Speaking on the issue, Tari Oliver who was a presidential aspirant under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) held in 2022 had also identified funding as a significant issue affecting Nigerian women in politics.
“The number one issue with women in politics in Nigeria today is funding. Poverty wears the face of a woman, and most women in Nigeria today are unable to play the money politics that goes on during elections in Nigeria,” she said.
Violence against women in elections also serves as a significant deterrent to women’s political participation.
On December 3, 2022, suspected political thugs attacked the campaign team of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for the Kogi Central Senatorial district, Natasha Akpoti-Uguaghan’s during her rally from Okene to Adavi, injuring several persons and shooting one.
Like Akpoti-Uduaghan, several female contestants in the Nigerian political atmosphere have come under physical attacks and, in many instances, online bullying.
Former member of the Kwara State House of Assembly Nimota Ibrahim, who spoke to The ICIR, further identified discrimination and sexual harassment as factors that discourage women from vying for elective positions.
“The issue of sexual harassment is paramount in politics as against women. I was a state secretary of my party in the 90’s and held that crucial position for a long time. I had a number of cases of women that could not get anything until they slept with whoever was responsible for getting them nominated or whatever.
“I had to intervene in a number of cases. It is an established fact that men in authority may want to sleep with women because they want to aspire,” Ibrahim noted.
She also noted that men and women perpetrated discrimination against women in politics.
“Another factor is women against women. Sometimes, men even use women against women. People like us are trying to educate women. A woman has to be well-equipped going into politics. At the point where we have women like that, politics will be better,” she said.
African Democratic Congress (ADC) candidate for the AMAC/Bwari House of Representatives, Juliet Isi Ikhayere, also noted that discrimination by women against female candidates and stereotyping were discouraging factors, especially for young female contestants.
“For me, the most scary place to go to when it comes to campaigns is the women’s camps. There, they tend to look at you as a small girl, and for them to even warm up to you, it takes a while.
“There is a stereotype, questions like ‘is she married,’ and sometimes, they make nasty comments suggesting that I should be more focused on getting married than contesting. Women need to trust each other more and vote for each other,” she said.
The way forward…
Ibrahim advised experienced women in government to be involved in grooming younger women venturing into politics on how best to make an impact and be successful.
“In the present National Assembly, how many women are there? The one coming in this year is worse! How can a nation be playing with about 50 per cent of its population? It is very sad,” she said.
Oliver – the PDP presidential aspirant, also encouraged women to work harder to raise funds and support groups early enough ahead of elections. Oliver noted that the implementation of the 35 per cent affirmative action for women would further improve support for female political candidates.
“If the 35 per cent affirmative action is implemented, then everyone would know that certain positions are reserved for just women.
“You know that even if it is your sister or mother or someone else, that position must be occupied by a woman. That way, people begin to get used to voting women into political positions,” she said.