Polithinks: Out Of The “Other Room” – Women and Politics in Nigeria
Yes, Nigerian women are coming out of the “other room” and congregating on the political floor, but not as quickly as it should be, and not well enough to make…
●6th January 2023
There are very few incumbent and past female heads of government around the world. According to Wedu Global, an online magazine that advocates for the involvement of more women in government, the more prominent names among these female heads of government are Yingluck Shinawatra, Joyce Banda, Angela Merkel, and Dilma Rousseff. While we can count the women in government on our fingertips, we, in actuality, have more women in politics today than we did a century (even a few decades) ago.
Nigeria has followed the same general route that the world has when it comes to women coming out of the “other room” and into the space of politics. Women are gaining momentum in both international and domestic politics, and this is laudable. Yet, we cannot be content with the status quo. Because we are still a long, long way off from how things should be. Research shows that only one-fifth of the seats in parliaments are occupied by women, and this figure is higher in first-world countries. When it comes to Africa, the Middle East and Asia, the figures are much lower, showing that women are grossly underrepresented in politics.
The Nigerian Senate elected only eight women in the 2019 general elections, constituting a mere 7.3 per cent of the 109 members. The same year and in the same elections, only 13 members of the House of Representatives were women, a paltry 3.6 percent of the total 360 members. When these figures are compared against the global average of 26.1 percent of women in parliament, they fall way short.
Yes, Nigerian women are coming out of the “other room” and congregating on the political floor, but not as quickly as it should be, and not well enough to make any lasting changes to the Nigerian gender disparity.
So, what are the major obstacles standing in the way of Nigerian women when it comes to political participation? Well, women in politics is a complex issue that can be traced back to several institutional, historical, socio-economic, and cultural factors.
Politics is male-dominated in nature, and for a patriarchal society like Nigeria, a woman who dares enter into the political arena must be ready to cast off the expectations that society places upon her. Women are expected to be docile, soft-spoken, and agreeable, and politics is anything but docile and agreeable. Thus, women in politics counter everything that the Nigerian patriarchal society expects of its women. This is perhaps the strongest of barriers against women trying to enter the political arena.
Household responsibilities, low self-esteem, insufficient role models, and lower expectations are other strong reasons that stop women from participating in politics.
We forget that we live in a country where the women folk are as many as their male counterparts. Recent statistics show that as of 2021, the female population of Nigeria made up 49.3% of the total population. The question then comes to mind: If women make up almost half of the Nigerian populace, why is it that less than ten per cent of the parliament seats are occupied by women?
Yes, things are much better than they were decades ago, but still, more women need to be empowered to stand and speak up in the public arena. The fewer women are in politics, the less represented they are, and the more their needs are not met. The more their needs are unmet, the less confident they are, and the less they are to participate in politics. This is a vicious cycle that needs to be halted. And the only way to halt it is to invite more women out of the “other room” and into politics.
Nigeria can go the way of Rwanda and Senegal, who legislate a quota for women’s participation in politics. Rwanda, an African country just like Nigeria, became the first country in the world with a female majority in parliament. Its Lower House currently has a 63.1 percent female constitution, while women make up 38.5 percent of its Upper House. How about Senegal, where women make up 42.7 percent of the total 150 seats in the lower house?
Legislating a quota for women participants in politics would simply mean that Nigeria is respecting its commitment to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, goal 5 of which is specifically targeted at achieving gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.