Over the years, Nigerian women have been relegated to the background especially in issues of political representation. This is largely due to the fact that the Nigerian political system ( both pre-colonial and post-colonial political system ) is highly patriarchal in nature with men often in the lead of the political affairs and women occupying very insignificant roles.
Factors such as social, cultural and religious factors coupled with the complex nature of the Nigerian political process have been identified to be largely responsible for the marginalization of women especially in the issues of political representation and governance. The results of the various elections held in Nigerian showed that gender equality in political participation still lags behind. For instance, the 2011 general election, women occupied only 9 seats out of the 109 senate seats while out of the 352 seats in the house of representative, only 24 seats are occupied by women.
The way forward
The pace at which the numbers of women participate in politics has not been quite impressive; the percentage of women in active political participation is still below the threshold. This slow speed has led to various wake up calls, awareness campaigns, conferences, increased agitations for a more effective and efficient method of achieving gender balance in politics all over the world- Nigeria is not an exception. Nigeria being a signatory to the African charter on human and people’s rights on the rights of women in Africa (Maputo protocol) and the millennium declaration of September 2000 made a pledge among other things to tackle gender issues and women empowerment with a set –out dead line of 2015.
The introduction of quota system for women represents one of such means of achieving gender balance in electoral process. The rational behind the quota system is to recruit women into political position and ensure that women do not remain at the bottom of the list. Quota system aims at ensuring that women constitute a large minority of 30-40% or even achieve a true gender balance of 50-50%. Quota system proposes that women as a matter of necessity form a certain percentage of the members of parliament.
Political parties in Nigeria should adopt political party quotas or more so ensure that quotas are implemented as reserved seats. In Nigeria, women encounter a lot of hurdles in getting elected at the party primary level, there is always a lot of contentions with the party delegates who are mostly men and quota will go a long way in achieving gender balance. The 2011 PDP party primaries is a pointer to this fact, where only one woman emerged as the only female candidate with only one vote (which was self vote).
Quota system will also address the complex nature of the Nigerian political processes which have been identified as a barrier to women participation in politics. The Nigerian political process is mostly characterized by violence and this puts the women at a disadvantage as they are often times less able to face the violence in politics. Quota system is relatively efficient and has proved to bring about dramatic turnaround in women representation. Countries such as Rwanda and Sweden are examples of countries that use this new trend of electoral gender quota as a fast track to gender balance in politics and Nigeria should strictly toe this line of action.
In addition to adopting the quota system, political parties should adopt gender budgeting to support women in politics. In order to have an improved participation of women in politics, there is a need to improve and strengthen the funding for women politicians. This is mostly due to high cost of political funding in Nigeria. Political parties should mobilize and sponsor media campaign for women.
Though the quota system has come under a lot of criticism as some argue that quotas are discriminatory against men, it remains one of the most effective mechanisms for achieving gender balance in political participation. It represents a “qualitative jump into a policy of exact goals and means”. Quotas for women are a digression from the concept of equal opportunity to equality of result. The classical liberal notion of equal opportunity is no longer considered sufficient.
According to Professor Drude of Stockholm University Sweden “Real equal opportunity does not exit because formal barriers (e.g. giving women voting rights) are removed. There are direct discriminations and hidden barriers that prevent women from getting their fair share of political influence”. The argument for quotas is based on the premises that equality as a goal cannot be achieved by equal treatment as a means, therefore if barriers exit, compensatory measures must be in place as a means to reach equality of result. Quotas are not discrimination against men but are compensation for structural barriers that women encounter in electoral processes.
Prof.Drude Dahlerup, Stockholm University, Sweden
Quotas for women
Written by Nwokedi Uche