A very touching historical video by one Dumebi Kachikwu for ROOTS traced the history of women’s political participation and advocacy way beyond the popular Aba women Riot of 1929 that many erroneously credit as the first major intervention in political issues by women in a colonial Nigeria
In what appears like a passionate plea to Nigeria and African women to do what they know how to do best, he traced history to 1910 in Agbaja in present day Kogi state when women collectively stayed away from their homes for a month based on the suspicion that some men had been secretly killing pregnant women.
This action, according to history pushed the elders in the communities to address their concerns
Again in1924, three thousand women in present day Calabar took to the streets to protest the tolls imposed on markets by the colonial authorities. In the South West, women organizations like the Lagos Market Women Association, Nigeria’s Women’s Party and the Abeokuta Women’s Union were pressure groups that actively took action to stop the colonial administration in their tracks. He recalled too that the Aba Women Riot of 1929 was a collective action that defied tribes and religion. The women pushed for justice and equity and even though some of them were killed in the process, they still won as they achieved some of the aims of their protest.
In tracing the history of women’s standing up to the colonial administration in Nigeria, Ukachukwu is beckoning on women to remember that the they have always been active participants in the political sphere. He therefore wants women to stand up and own their positions in both the country and continent.
At the Roundtable Conversation however, we realize that the fact that Rwanda presently has the global highest number of women in parliament at 61.1% does not erase the fact that women seem to have taken a back seat in African political issues. Understandably, the 1994 genocide is a contributory factor there is a clarion call on women to intervene in the development of the country and continent.
The female power is still unmistakably valid at all times and now is no different.
The Roundtable Conversation for long has identified the effects of the lack of gender parity in Nigerian political space seeing that Nigeria with a population of more than two hundred million has one of the lowest gender representations in parliament with a paltry 6.9%. What this portends is thatthe Nigerian political space still excludes women as a carryover of the colonial mono governance structure that reordered the traditional African complimentary leadership that existed before the white men came to, in Achebe’s words, put a knife to that which held us together as a people and things have fallen apart.
The Roundtable Conversation sat down with the Senate Minority leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe who had penultimate week delivered a Keynote speech at the inaugural annual conference of Nkata Ndi Inyom Igbo with the theme, “Enhancing Women’s Participation and Partnership in governance and Development”. The Socio-Cultural Group of professional women believes that we all must join in the conversation to find a solution to the leadership question in ways that gender should not be a barrier for competent and willing women to win elections in a democracy.
The Senator startled everyone when he pointedly declared that, ‘If nothing is done and urgently too, there will soon be no woman in the Senate”. He should know, he is in a Senate of 109 members with a paltry seven female senators! A House of Representatives with 360 members has only 22 women. Most state houses of assembly have no woman at all and those that have do not make up to 5% of the total number. No woman in Nigeria has won a governorship seat since 1999.
According to the Senator, the reality is that the number of women has been on the decrease since 1999. He said Nigeria must take decisive actions to make the political space more inclusive of women. However, modern politics according to him requires education and the literacy rate especially for women across some regions is still very low.
So first things first, education of all our children, males and females must be a priority if we must get ahead in a world ruled by ideas and technology. The leaders in parts of the country where the literacy rate for women is very low according to the statistics of UNICEF, UNESCO and WHO must make education of the people a priority just like they make that of their children.
Asked what he has done as a legislator to bring his fears to the fore and get his colleagues to act, he said that he had always advocated that we have to increase the number in the federal system to bring in more women. If certain appointments are based on Federal character, can Nigerians not realize that there is no gender parity in the Nigerian political space? Is the sense of justice limited to appointments in a country in dire straits that desperately needs the input of women in a complimentary leadership style?
He also has been pushing for a renewed legislative agenda in changing the laws to reflect the current realities in global politics. However, it is often a herculean task to get the majority to see the real danger in playing the ostrich. Some would often quote the constitution as it concerns federal character but see advocacy for political inclusiveness in another light. So if we can balance appointments, why not revisit our laws for gender balance? While we acknowledge the nuances of culture and religion we continue to push and persuade them to see the current dynamics as not very intrusive in that regard. We continue to knock on the doors hoping it works someday. We must continue to push for implementation.
Asked whether women in politics are doing enough to help their gender, he said the same acculturation men are exposed to are the same for women too because you often see women not supporting fellow women seeking elective positions.
So women in politics often have to work twice as hard as the men before they get results. Women must learn to sustain the unity they have at the rural community levels in party politics. They can work better with the sense of team unity that guides their interactions at the community levels nationally. Unfortunately it does seem they do not seize those moments.
Fundamentally, Nigerians must take stock. We can look around and see that the chicken has come home to roost.
When women are uneducated, there is likelihood of early marriage and with marriage as a child bride, many things
might follow. There are chances of the child-bride dying in pregnancy or labour due to reproductive issues which increases the maternal mortality, some might get the almost disabling condition of Vestico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) which subsequently makes them unproductive.
An illiterate mother has less chances of raising well balanced kids nutritionally and mentally.
The numbers of uneducated and unskilled youths that cause most of the social ills that affect all of us are all products of a system that relegate women to the background. Ironically, most of the political elites understand the implication because their own kids neither miss education nor do they become child brides.
Nigerians must begin to think beyond today. The idea of focusing on the short term is a huge problem in any nation that desires development. Our short term plans are very destructive to any nation. Nations have fifty, hundred and fifty years strategic development plans. It seems we are a country of here and now. The earlier we begin to address gender parity in the country the better for everyone. We have to be more discerning and make better choices.
The senator believes that political parties must begin to do intra party re-strategizing to chat a better political culture that can bring a change. The essence is for political parties to begin to create the template that can engender more inclusiveness and with it the development we all seek.
We must as a nation agree that democracy that must be viable must stop seeing women in leadership as ‘kind
gesture or mere tokenism’ to the female gender. There must be a reorientation for us all to realize that development in the twenty first century works better with complimentary leadership with women who have shown capacity and readiness to serve.
The serious issue of the decreasing number elected women across the country since the return of democracy in 1999 is an ill-wind that blows no one or region any good. It is a global truth that most countries including Nigeria with fewer women in leadership are not doing too well developmentally.
The recent pandemic across the globe has also shown the capacity of women leaders in other climes as most of the
countries with female leaders statistically have done better at containing the spread of the virus and subsequently its effect on their economies. It is wrong to assume that gender parity is a favour to women.
No, it is not, it is a way of life that dates back to pre-colonial and colonial periods.
The Amazons of Dahomey – present day Benin Republic got their title from their leadership gallantry against the French colonialists. Queen Amina, Idia, Moremi and a number of other historical women leaders are legends today that have earned prime historical positions even better than most men of their era. The myopia of the political leaderships in all regions must give way to better long term vision and plans. The divine that made us men and women thought of partnerships in more things than reproduction and home keeping.
The dialogue continues…