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Overcoming Gender Challenges In Community Participation



By Matthew Ogune, Abuja
LEVELS of female participation and representation in community development programmes in Nigeria is understandingly low.

A sexist and patronage-based political culture, combined with gendered economic and household inequalities, are indeed seen to be the main barriers to women’s participation in governance.

Among other cultural and traditional practices that can bridge the gap include favourable quotas system, empowerment programmes and better electoral monitoring, but worryingly successive governments have been reluctant to implement binding measures.

Following Nigeria’s first democratic elections since military rule in 1999, the proportion of women at all levels of government have remained low at all levels of government, although there has been improvements in women’s representation at the local level.

Though Nigerian women are active in the economy and civil society, there are some variations across the country, with generally higher levels of participation in the south and urban areas. Levels of education and economic development may explain some of these realities. However, the high levels of patronage, political rascality and corruption mean that female representation is sometimes tokenistic rather than substantive, as in the case of First Ladies’ political initiatives.

Stakeholders during a colloquium organised by Connected Development (CODE) and OXFAM on the inclusion of women in community development committees summarised critical challenges faced by women as they struggle to be included in the political leadership of the country.

According to the gathering, one among the challenges faced by women in leadership course was lack of cooperation amongst women in elective positions, saying there is strife amongst them.

Other reasons alluded were violence, money, stigma, religion, men suppression and existing system or policies.

Nigerian governments have subscribed to international agreements and instituted national policies to improve women’s representation, but have done little to implement concrete measures.

Nigerian civil society organisations and international funders have promoted a number of capacity building and behavioural change programmes, which have not led to appreciative overall levels of female representation in government since 1999.

Previous and ongoing efforts by civil society organisations and activists to improve the situation include, changing cultural norms through media campaigns and education, programmes to empower women through training or mentoring, monitoring the fairness and conduct of elections as well as advocating for affirmative action at state level.

Indeed, various government organisations have published statistics on women in elected positions and data is available for national positions between 1999 and 2019.

The mechanisms of Nigerian politics, namely the party system and the prominent role of patronage and corruption, conservative and sexist beliefs and practices across Nigerian society, the use of violence and hate speech against women candidates and voters, and the reluctance of the state to implement robust measures to improve women’s representation and engagement are factors that are impeding women participation in comm7nity development initiatives.

However, there are relatively few rigorous and comprehensive studies explaining the relative importance of these causes for the small numbers of women in Nigerian politics, or ethnographic studies examining the effect of social practices and attitudes to women on a micro-level.

Studies also exist of the role of women in comparable Sub-Saharan countries, using data on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), political representation, and attitude surveys such as Afrobarometer, from which lessons relevant to Nigeria can be derived.

For example, Rwanda provides an example of a country with significant numbers of women in government, while South Africa has used quota system to achieve same purpose.

Although numerous civil society organisations have programmes aimed at increasing women’s representation, many of their publications include evaluative statements rather than in-depth evaluations of the efficacy of different approaches.

Data from the Afrobarometer survey which estimated how many women participated in voting, work on election campaigns, engagement in the community, contact with political leaders and attendance at demonstrations, measure of inter-election participation broad enough to encompass different political cultures and situations in comparison to men showed that Nigeria has one of the largest ‘participation gaps’ in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Moreover, the gap is greater in terms of raising an issue than for voting which they suggest is because the former constitutes a more active form of political participation.

Moreover, it takes place in groups rather than individually, so it is not surprising that having access to a political network seems more important than for voting.

Research from the BBC also points to gender gaps in political knowledge stands at 13 percent, discussion five percent and participation at 16percent.

The report defines political knowledge as ‘self-reported knowledge of political processes and institutions, rights, governance issues and current affairs’.

It defines political discussion as self-reported discussion of local or national politics or governance issues with other people. It defines political participation as self-reported participation in an organised effort to solve a problem, contact local or national officials, contact traditional leaders, take part in a march or demonstration or participate in local meetings, as well as voting.

Other studies point to women’s participation in peace building initiatives and market exchange as evidence of women’s capacity to participate in governance more broadly.

Women leading organisations working against violent extremism have generated certain positive results for achieving women’s inclusion and gender equality in politics and society.

However, levels of women’s engagement in these issues remain below men overall.

Nigeria has low rates of female representation in politics by global and regional standards. Although the proportions of women in elected positions increased slightly between 1999 and 2007, from an average of 2.3 percent across both houses of legislature to 7.8 percent, these small gains had stopped by 2011.

As of the 2015 election, Nigeria had 20 women out of 359 in its lower house (5.6 percent) and seven out of 109 in its upper house (6.4 percent). This put it 180th in the world.

Following the 2019 elections, women make up 7.3 percent of the Nigerian Senate and 3.1 percent of the House of Representatives. No state governor is a woman.

The number of women serving as ministers and appointed executives is also very low, with 11 of the 636 appointed executives between 1999 and 2015 being women (17.5 percent) and 15 percent of ministers in the same period.

The World Economic Forum (2018) Global Gender Gap report measures ‘political empowerment’ in terms of the ratios of women to men in ministerial and parliamentary positions, as well as number of years as head of state over the last fifty years. Out of a total of 149 countries, Nigeria is ranked as having the 139th largest gender gap in ‘political empowerment’.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), government statistical report shows that in the years 1999 to 2015, six percent of councillors (local government) were women, 24 percent of Judges in the federal court were women, and an average of seven percent of each type of high-level government officials and senior administrators were women.

The posts surveyed were: head of service, permanent secretary, special adviser, special assistant, central bank governors, chief executive officer, director general and executive secretary.

NBS report also indicated that there were no female Central Bank governors (of four positions). The role with the highest percentage of women at 28 percent were Special Assistants. Data is not available for lower levels of the civil service.

The political party system has done little to encourage women’s participation, with women only making up a small percentage of nominees for governors and deputies and both legislative houses in the 2015 election. In 2015, of 760 candidates for the positions of governor and deputy, only 87 were women (11.45 percent). Of the 747 candidates for senator, only 122 were women (16.33 percent). Of the 1,774 candidates for the House of Representatives, only 269 were women (15.16 percent).

Despite a number of barriers identified by think tanks, journalists and NGOs to women’s political participation using surveys, interviews, analysis of laws and the party system, and anecdotal evidence, government has been reluctant to implement laws to improve gender equality in politics, despite a formal support for it.

There are no formal bars on women taking office and the Nigerian constitution (1999) guarantees equal political rights. The National Gender Policy (2006) recommended a benchmark of 35percent of seats in parliament to be filled by women.

The country is also a signatory to international agreements. The government ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1985 and endorsed the 2005 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Advocacy groups are also pushing for more government action. In 2014, the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) and the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) drafted a ‘Nigerian Women Charter of Demand’.

It demanded a reform of electoral law to provide for affirmative action as a criterion for registration of political parties as well as the establishment of a system of gender mainstreaming which incorporates 35 percent of women in all sectors of government.

However, legislators have resisted implementing gender equality measures such as binding quotas. Several bills have been rejected on the grounds that they compromise traditional Christian or Islamic beliefs, such as the 2016 gender and equalities bill.

The Constitution does not specify a right to freedom from discrimination. Electoral law does not also reserve any percentage of seats of offices for women and political parties are not subject to quotas.

Professor Frank Nwankwo presenting a paper during the CODE and OXFAMs colloquium on gender inclusion in CDCs gave amazing numbers that showed the sustainable development goals report, he also alluded to the fact that threat to women welfare and dignity are still far from being adequately addressed.

He recommended that looking forward, it is obvious that much of gender challenges in Africa have their roots in cultural and religious practices of people.

He added: “It appears that solutions can only come through frontal engagement with institutions that promote such culture with the aim of reducing or eliminating its influence. “

Also, Ojonwa Miachi highlighted the implications of a gender inclusive extractive industry on socio-economic development.


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