Since 1975, International Women’s Day has been observed on March 8 – It is a day where the spotlight is cast on the experiences, strides and challenges of women. It has assumed more importance and media attention in recent years, and rightly so.
Issues such as equal pay, violence against women and women’s reproductive health are constantly on the front burner. While they are faced by every country, each country has its unique combination of issues plaguing the well-being of women.
The Nigerian Situation
Following the April 2020 lockdown in Nigeria, multiple cases of rape and sexual harassment ranked high in that regard. There were nationwide protests, but the government’s response to the issues left a lot to be mulled.
Barely a week to International Women’s Day 2022, the Nigerian Senate went up against the allocation of special sits for women.
The timing of the Senate’s refusal to allocate special seats to Nigerian women is even more disturbing. In less than a year, Nigerians would be taking to the polls. Polls aside, the decision is simply baffling in the year 2022.
Women constitute roughly half of every population and Nigeria, the most populous black nation, is no exception. For the 2019 general elections in Nigeria, 47% of the voters were women. Taking such a stance against Nigerian women is another piece in a destructive puzzle. There is the long-standing puzzle piece in the form of political apathy. There is also the desire of many Nigerians to emigrate (Not Too Young To Run Away, if you may).
Alienating women in social, economic and political decisions is simply a recipe for disaster.
For full context, the Senate also pushed back on citizenship being granted to non-Nigerian men who marry Nigerian women. This is unlike the existing framework where non-Nigerian women who marry Nigerian men are granted citizenship. This is contained in Section 26(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). A proposal for 35% of appointed posts to be reserved for women was also rejected in favour of 20%.
Anyone familiar with the Nigerian legislative process knows that this state of affairs will not be overturned anytime soon. Realistically speaking, only a modicum of progress can be recorded by next year’s elections.
Notwithstanding, the gender disparity in Nigerian governance is a sore thumb which needs to be addressed.
The Role Of Nigerian Men
A horde of patriarchal norms have plagued and continue to plague the Nigerian society, with politics inextricably tied to them. It is imperative for many Nigerian men to understand the value of equal representation in governance in modern society.
Widespread calls for people to obtain their permanent voter’s cards (PVCs) cannot be faulted. At the same time, there is a lot of learning, unlearning and relearning to be done—especially for Nigerian men.
The Way Forward
The energy devoted towards gender wars on Twitter can be channeled towards support for increased female representation in Nigerian governance. In political parties and at the grassroots of governance, women should be given more agencies and opportunities to lead. After all, that is where it all starts. The myriad of issues plaguing Nigerian women are best understood by women and they would proffer the best solutions.
The Senate’s recent actions have been met by criticisms and a physical protest, but that is just the beginning. Non-governmental organisations and civil society groups can incorporate the cause for increased female representation into the ‘Get Your PVC’ campaign. To commemorate International Women’s Day 2022 in Nigeria, symposia and Twitter Spaces can be hosted in this regard.
Combatting gender disparity in Nigeria has always been a long game. All the same, baby steps are better than backward steps. Or no steps at all.