Ever since the National Assembly rejected five pro-women bills in its current constitution amendment exercise, it appears that the federal lawmakers have unwittingly murdered sleep. Dissatisfied with the lawmakers’ decision, Nigerian women have stepped up protests, both physically at the premises of the National Assembly in Abuja and other places, as well as in all forums they have the opportunity to speak. Women are bitter that all their demands for preferential treatment or gender quota in a society that is patriarchal in nature were rejected. They are not finding this funny.
Women have every reason to be aggrieved or feel dejected. They have been inhibited by culture, religion and societal ethos, to the extent that their self-respect and self-esteem have been negatively affected. Even in the face of globalisation and the mouthed gender equality, women, globally, are still considered the weaker sex, who should not do certain things, who should not attain or aspire to certain positions and who should take the back seat in a male-dominated world.
In Nigeria, nay Africa, just like in some other parts of the world, women have suffered many deprivations. Culture and religion have dealt devastating blows on women and, by so doing, not only placed them at a disadvantaged position but also made it impossible for them to compete favourably. Here, culture-cum-religion makes women not to be seen nor heard much or to be actively involved in the scheme of things.
Some would say that there has been a shift from the earlier “nothing for women” to a position where women’s rights are affirmed and granted. Yes, there was a time when women, in some countries, were not privileged to vote in elections. Now, women vote in elections. There was a time when women were not privileged to contest in elections. Now, they are free to contest in elections. However, the pertinent question remains: Do women have equal rights and opportunities as men? The answer is “No.” Men still dominate the power and financial structures of the world, which ensures that they get more consideration than women.
No matter how brilliant a woman is or the position she occupies, for instance, she is still considered someone whose primary responsibility is to take care of her husband and home. Women are expected to cook, clean the home and generally take care of their husbands and family. Society does not expect this from men. Women are expected to keep their virginity till they get married. Nobody cares if a man keeps his or not. Women, in some cultures, are insulted by thinking that when they interact with men they would compromise their fidelity and, therefore, should stay indoors. Nobody fears or cares if men would compromise by interacting with women. Women must indulge in monogamy only, while men are free to be polygamous. In some cultures and religions, women should be at home, where they would not have contact with the world or mostly men. Where women are allowed to go out, they must be in burka.
There is also the glass ceiling factor, which inhibits women in career pursuits. This barrier has limited women in aspiring or attaining certain positions in organisations and society at large. In Nigeria, for instance, the dream of having a woman governor or President is still a mirage. It is still seen as unthinkable, not because of competence but, basically, because of male chauvinism. Women have aspired to be governors but no major political party in the history of the country’s politics has ever considered giving them tickets as governorship candidates.
These anti-women practices should naturally provoke anger and agitation among women. There should be emancipation of women from social slavery and inhibitions. Therefore, women’s demand for 35 per cent of seats in the legislature and 35 per cent of political party leadership is legitimate. It is a desperate measure by women not to be second-class citizens, being an integral part of the community. Giving women concessions in politics will help them have more opportunities. It will put them in better stead to fight the other social vices against them. It will afford women the opportunity to use their God-given talents and resources for the betterment of society.
However, it must be stated that such constitutional provisions as demanded by women may not bring the desired result, in a generally illiterate, highly divided and ethnically inclined society such as ours. Political parties pick and field candidates following their selection processes. Even at that, voters solely determine who wins elections. How do we legislate for the electorate to vote for women? Legislation could encourage increase in number of women given opportunities, but it would not guarantee the election of women into office, be it the executive or legislature. If Party A fields a woman candidate for a legislative seat, while Party B fields a man, there is no guarantee that the electorate will vote for the woman candidate and leave the man. No legislation will compel them to do so, since choices in elections are supposed to be freely made.
It is my considered view that, instead of women dissipating energy agitating for gender quota or concession in legislative seats or elective positions by legislation or “dash,” as we say in local parlance, they should rather do more on voter education among women, especially. Women should make conscious efforts to see that Nigerian voters know that they are as capable in performing duties and responsibilities as men. An educated voter population would know that gender has nothing to do with capability and capacity. This would help them to make the right decision in the choice between female and male candidates. In the absence of this, no amount of legislation would guarantee increased women’s representation in parliament or other elective positions, since there would be elections, where the voters would decide winners.
Women should make conscious efforts to mobilise themselves, to know they are also as qualified and capable as men in holding elective and political offices. The situation, unfortunately, is that women do not have confidence in fellow women. Women do not vote massively for fellow women. If we take demography of voters, we will discover that more women vote in elections than men. These dominant women electorate does not vote for fellow women seeking elective offices against men. Therefore, women lose elections even when there are more women voters.
Women agitating for gender quota in politics and elections should, therefore, make fellow women to believe in themselves and their capabilities first, before branching out to seek other people’s support. Women have the tendency to oppose and work against themselves, something that is inexplicable. I am persuaded that, if women rally round each other, knowing that they are disadvantaged in struggles or tussles with men, they stand better chances.
For a group agitating for more legislative seats and elective positions, doesn’t it follow that women should go as far as spearheading the formation of a political party to have a strong platform to field more women in elections? A Nigeria Women Party (NWP), for example, would be a strong statement that women are not only ready to take their destiny in their hands but also prepared to fight for their rights, instead of this sense of entitlement anchored on gender quota.
Women need to fight for their rights, using their inherent number and natural organisational skills as bargaining chips. It is in this world that Queen Amina of Zaria was a strong warrior who won many wars and made her empire famous. It is in this world that Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Corazon Aquino and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ruled India, Pakistan, Philippines and Liberia, respectively. It is in this world that Kamala Harris is the Vice-President of the United States and women constitute 23.5 per cent of the country’s House of Representatives (102 seats out of 435). It is in this world that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with over 2.9 million more votes than Donald Trump, although she did not win the Electoral College votes eventually to become President of the country. It is in this world that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the Director General of the World Trade Organisation. These women’s feats did not happen because of gender quota. They happened because the women involved made the difference.
Nigerian women are capable, competent and qualified to discharge their duties and fulfill responsibilities. They would be mocking themselves if they make gender quota their prime credential.