The lot of Nigerian women in the workplace has not always been pleasant. It is even more brutish in the political arena. Gender activists and other stakeholders gathered in Abuja recently to ponder their lot.
MRs. Rifkatu Samson Dannahn the only female member of the Bauchi State House of Assembly, suspended for about one year from the House by her male colleagues, was the cynosure of many eyes at the Women in Parliament summit in Abuja penultimate week.
Her circumstances were reflective of what many at the summit bewailed as the discrimination that has been the lot of many women in the political arena.
Dannahn was suspended from the Bauchi State House of Assembly after she protested that her male colleagues reached an agreement to transfer the headquarters of the Tafawa Balewa Local council from the constitutionally stipulated location to another part of the local government at a secret meeting.
Even more vexatious is that Mrs. Dannahn is the one representing Tafawa Balewa and her protest that her head was shaved in her absence earned her suspension. A court ruling voiding the suspension has been waived away by the male-dominated Bauchi House. Mrs. Dannahn’s woes are only a tip of the iceberg in the narratives of women in politics.
Arguably, the most brutal assault on the female gender is the case of Mrs. Patricia Etteh who was chased out as speaker of the House of Representatives by a male dominated coalition garbed in the shape of an anti-corruption group in the House in 2007.
Etteh spent just about six months before the coalition with the name Integrity Group led by Hon. Farouk Lawan forged unity with conservative groups in the House to force her out on the allegation of initiating a contract which the Integrity Group led the public to believe had been awarded at a scandalous amount. Remarkably only months after Etteh resigned, the contract was awarded at a higher figure!
After Etteh, a plan pushed by her party to have another woman occupy the office of speaker was spurned, albeit in a less controversial manner after majority of the House members mobilized in favour of the obviously more likeable candidate, Aminu Tambuwal.
Besides gender inequality, domestic violence was another matter that engaged the attention of many of the participants at the two-day summit.
Female assault: The seeming assault against the female gender is also reflected at the entry rate of women in the legislature.
According to a 2012 World Bank report on the percentage of women in parliament, the proportion of Nigerian women in parliament stands at 7 per cent; well below many other African countries such as Angola 34per cent, Malawi 22per cent, Eritrea 22per cent, Cape Verde 21per cent. All of Nigeria’s neighbours even fare better. Benin is 8per cent, Chad 15per cent, Cameroun 14per cent and Niger 13per cent.
The meeting which was the 3rd National Women in Parliament Summit, organized by the House of Representatives Committee on Women in Parliament in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, WARD-C.
The summit was sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme’s UNDP’s Democratic Governance for Development, DGD, Project, which has been actively involved in building capacity of the country’s democratic institutions.
The summit was attended by stakeholders including Hon. Binta Maigari Bello, Chair, Women in Parliament Committee, Hon Nkiruka Onyejeocha, former Chair, WIP and now chair Aviation Committee in the House of Representatives, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Executive Director, WARDC and Senator Helen Esuene, Chair, Senate Committee on Women Affairs.
Others were, Hon Mulikat Adeola Majority Leader, House of Rep, Hon Christiana Alaaga, Chair, Women Affairs Committee, Hajia Zainab Maina, Minister for Women Affairs, Senator Joy Emodi, Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters and Prof. Olabisi Aina, Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.
Also present were Senator Nkechi Nwogu, Chair, Senate Committee on Gas, Hon Saudatu Sanni, Special Asst to the President n National Assembly Matters, Hauwa Shekarau, National President FIDA, Prof. Patricia Donli, Hon Nkoyo Toyo, Dr. Lydia Umar, Hon Peace Nnaji, Hajia Hafsat Mohammed, Chief Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi, Ayisa Osori, Amy Oyekunle, Hon Uche Ekwunife, Hon Abike Dabiri Erewa, Hon Ayo Omidiran, Oby Nwankwo and Hon Mohammed Alli.
The Deputy Speaker, House of Reps Hon Emeka Ihedioha, Chairman House Committee on Education Hon Aminu Suleiman, Women in Parliament in some African countries and women in States House of Assembly also attended the summit.
Declaring the occasion open, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal said it was thoughtful of the organizers in making sure gender issues remain on the front burner of national discourse.
Tambuwal noted that gender equality is guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution, which clearly states that no one must be discriminated against on the basis of sex, ethnicity, religious or political affiliation, adding that the unequal treatment of people on the basis of their gender is therefore illegal.
He said that there is growing evidence that gender inequality and discrimination contribute to the increase in poverty and does not only deny a large part of our citizens their rights to achieve their potentials, but it also denies the nation the benefits of the contribution of these people.
He said, “The legislature, which represents the interest of every Nigerian has a duty to defend anyone against discrimination. We are determined to make sure that there are no second class citizens in this country and we shall do everything possible to protect the rights of women.
“It is a good thing that we many a committed women in the National Assembly who have shown great concern not only to the plight of women but to the plight of every Nigerian. Working with them has shown me how much we need to have more women in politics and in the parliament where they can help promote issues of gender.
The Project Director of United Nations Development Programme, UNDP/DGD, Dr. Mourtada Deme in a paper on “Agenda Setting: Gender and Nation Building” noted that in some parts of the country, women are denied certain rights in the community and are subjected to all forms of ill-treatment and in some cases excluded from holding certain political positions.
Dr. Deme expressed optimism that the summit would make contribution to identifying some of the obstacles that block women from realizing their considerable potential as key agents of economic development, democratization and nation building in Nigeria, and considering some of the strategies that can help overcome those obstacles.
In the communiqué issued after the summit, they called for increased mentoring of emerging female politicians by women within the political space and the strengthening of law and policy regime for increasing women’s access to the political space through the passage of relevant bills into laws.