Isn’t it time to change the game? By Ayisha Osori



“What is it that we want when advocates ask for fair representation of women in decision-making positions?  The vision is a world that becomes more accommodating and caring of all men women and children regardless of every difference. So why is it so hard to sell this concept to the men who control the current situation and want to retain the political and social status quo?

What is it that we want when advocates ask for fair representation of women in decision-making positions?  The vision is a world that becomes more accommodating and caring of all men women and children regardless of every difference. A world that is fairer, more productive and less oppressive. With more women working alongside men, the world will get the full complement of strength from diversity marrying the qualities and skills of its human inhabitants. So why is it so hard to sell this concept to the men who control the current situation and want to retain the political and social status quo?

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Gender Gap Report covering 129 countries, Nigeria ranks 121stfor political empowerment and 124th for women in parliament. Despite all the work put in by gender advocates and multi lateral agencies before and during the 2011 elections, Nigeria did not come any closer to meeting the minimum 35% representation set as a benchmark by the National Gender  Policy in 2006. Instead, we regressed– dropping from 9% representation in the federal legislature to 7% – way below the average rate of 20% female parliamentarians in Sub-Saharan Africa and 19% globally. And with the executive, women did not fare much better. The States saw marginal increase in the number of women who were elected as Deputy Governors under a joint ticket and little to no

change in the number of women in State cabinets even in the progressive south west. For instance, Lagos has 7 women out of a 42-member executive- and part of the good news with Lagos is that the information is readily available (attempts to find the list of commissioners for Borno, Kano, Sokoto and Adamawa were thwarted by unavailability of public information).

There are several commonly accepted reasons why it is hard to get increased female representation in elective positions: the extremely high costs associated with campaigning, the culture of violence and sexual intimidation, patriarchy (one of the few uniform things about culture in Nigeria), godfather-ism, lack of internal  democracy within political parties and the preparedness of female candidates. There have been attempts to mitigate these challenges especially with capacity building for female candidates, advocacy and engagement with INEC, the Nigerian Police Force and party leaders and most lately, with the launch of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund which was set up to help fund political campaigns and provide strategic support to women in elected and appointed positions.

 

But there are other reasons why despite the effort we are not seeing a commensurate increase in female representation in Nigeria. The first is that, so far, the majority of the women who have contested have insisted on playing according to a game they did not write the rules for and which are rigged against them. Women have to play another game i.e., actual public/community service. This means working twice as hard as men which is what happens in the private sector and it works. For instance, since money politics is what helps men win (and women are already disadvantaged in this area since the majority do not have access to government coffers), women should play the politics of issues and service. They must always campaign and speak on issues which affect women and children which has a direct correlation with the welfare of the entire country.  To do this effectively, women must start their campaigns early enough to win the trust and respect of the  electorate as worthy representatives – this will make it that much harder for votes to be bought and for rigging to be tolerated.

Two, the quality of the women who compete for elected positions needs to improve.Very simply: when you are going out to battle, you send your best warriors not your worst. In other parts of the world such as England or Singapore – the best and the brightest students from Oxford and the National University of Singapore respectively end up in the civil service and in government. In Nigeria, the reverse is true with the best graduating students snapped up by Shell, Mobil, KPMG and recently, the banks.  The fact that the men who run for office in Nigeria are not any better (and indeed usually have worse qualifications then the women) is not something that should have any bearing on the strategy of women to succeed in this area. This is because as pointed out above, women should be playing an entirely new game with

different rules and women, as the historically marginalized, need to do their best to shine and there are many worthy Nigerian women in the  private and public sector who can showcase women the way Ifueko Omoigui has.

 

The third is that merely demanding for quantity (i.e., the 35%) without matching the call with accompanying strategy is not going to lead women to representation Nirvana. For instance – Nigeria has been applauded for beating the average global  rate of female representation at the Cabinet level with its 32% representation instead of 17% but in the past year since these women have been in control of key ministries it is hard to point to any gender policies or initiatives that they have introduced. Instead, one of the patron saints of women in Nigeria today is the  Governor of Central Bank, Mallam Sanusi who has, amongst other things, secured the commitment of the Bankers Committee to ensure that in two years women will fill 40% of all management positions and 30% of all board seats in banks. This is because he

believes that the limited access women have to credit is linked to low representation in decision-making. What advocates of increased female  representation and women who are interested in the public sector should start doing is tracking those in every level of government (male and female) who use their positions to further the interests of women and children and use this during  election campaigns – this way it will no longer just be about the numbers but about the substance that comes from having fairer minded people and policies

Increased female representation in government is not going to magically change everything, but it could be the well-needed catalyst to change direction. The steep  decline in Nigeria can be halted only when the best of the people are in governance – and for 2015 the stakes are higher than they have ever been. If men want to keep  fielding the worst, women do not have to do so – there isn’t a lot riding on a change to women’s perspective to their involvement in public sector work in Nigeria – just a better future for our children.

 

No tags for this post.