Ellen Johnson Sirleaf secured herself a choice spot in African history when she was sworn in as the President of Liberia on 16th January 2006, becoming Africa’s first female president. Her two-term administration put an end to the siege of coups in the country, made elementary education free, ensured that Liberia’s $4.9 billion debt was cleared while pursuing a debt-free economy. Her administration was so successful that The Economist called her “arguably the best president Liberia has ever had,” while Newsweek listed her among the ten best leaders in the world.

Now, that’s a woman!

This is valid proof that involving women in politics holds great promises and could be the much-needed change in the political space we all crave in Nigeria and Africa.

Benefits of women in politics

Studies have proved that countries with greater involvement of women in their politics tend to fair better; this fact cuts across even the corporate space. A report by McKinsey Global Institute reveals that advancing gender parity could contribute $28 trillion at full potential, higher than the economic growth of China and India combined.

Women are natural-born managers. They are empathic, peaceful (not prone to war) and compassionate. These qualities considered weak in the medieval past are now the bedrock of 21st-century leadership. And true to character, women tend to bring these traits to their politics to evade war and foster peace while focusing their energy on solving people’s core needs. So, in a woman-led government, you get to see policies and initiatives to improve education, healthcare etc., and less investment in the military.

It is also common knowledge that when women are involved in peace talks, there is more likelihood to reach a compromise by the conflicting sides for sustainable peace. That is to say, if we had more women in power, maybe, just maybe, the wars happening around the globe would have been avoided, and people wouldn’t live in fear of bombshells and firepower from stronger powers.

Maybe what Nigeria needs is not another man who would promise ‘heaven on earth’ during campaigns and deliver ‘hell’ when elected into office. That has been the trajectory for the longest time in the history of Nigeria, and in extension, Africa.

A woman with a proven track record of effective leadership in public service and humane values could be what Nigeria needs to move into her promised land where all established systems are functional, the economy is thriving, and there are fewer talks of insurgency, killings and human rights abuse.

However, that is a long stretch because women still don’t have a voice in how things are run in Nigeria. In the last national election, women only held 7% of elected positions, one of the lowest in the world. The closest we have gotten is two acting female governors, not even elected. And that is grossly unfair, given that women constitute almost 50% of the total population of Nigeria.

Indeed, we no longer live in the dark ages when women did not have the right to vote and be voted into office. And yes, there has been an increase in the number of women in politics over the years. However, the positions they occupy are mostly ceremonial with no real power. More importantly, the major recipients of such offices are usually friends and allies of the powers that be, and as such, cannot drive the much-needed change or at least be relevant (a story for another day).

How come there are few women in Nigeria’s political terrain despite the overwhelmingly favourable prospects of having women in politics?

What is the real issue?

It is all traceable to the deep-seethed cultural and religious beliefs that a woman’s place is in the kitchen and the ‘other room.’ So, when a woman tries to raise her head and reach for more, she is confronted by this institutionalised mindset. This is why women who venture into politics find it hard to access robust funds as their male counterparts. The same is why women are not considered competent to hold strategic leadership positions even by their fellow women.

The matter is further worsened by the portrayal of women by the mainstream media as weak, indecisive, vain, frivolous and extravagant; this cripples the credibility of the prospects women in politics afford.

To crown it all, the cut-throat antics employed by men in politics to boycott and manipulate elections to their favour, are just so impregnable. Female politicians will need to play dirty or enter into despicable political fraternity to rise.

What can be done?

It’s important to recognise that achieving gender parity cannot be done overnight. There is a need for a concerted effort at the grassroots level by social, religious and political leaders to overcome culturally shaped mindsets that span generations. We need to galvanise parents, teachers, community leaders, employers, and others with social capital with the clear understanding that gender parity is not only the right thing but that it leads to greater social, economic and political success for Nigeria.

Another intervention that will ensure due representation of the female folk in Nigerian politics is to introduce a quota system at all levels of government, involving and engaging relevant stakeholders such as Independent National Electoral Commission and political parties to ensure strict adherence to it.

There should be a deployment of the national gender policy at all levels of government to ensure that at all times, the voices of women are heard where and when it matters. Even in the corporate space, employers should adopt laws, policies, and social norms that enable women’s social, economic, and political participation and provide equal opportunities for women and girls.

It is also important to recognise the institutional barriers that prevent women’s participation in politics, like lack of access to formal education, which is a precursor to accessing positions of power and decision-making. It will amount to a fundamental error to solely pursue the inclusion of women in politics without first addressing their educational access.

There should also be a coalition of women support and advocacy groups using NGOs and grassroots women associations to coordinate support and advocacy and provide capacity building for young women aspirants to enhance and develop them ahead of subsequent elections.

Finally, the mindset problem does not only affect the men-folk; it affects women too. Therefore, there is a need to deploy grassroots initiatives that will shift the mindset of women about how they see themselves and their abilities. NGOs and INGOs should organise leadership bootcamps in schools, religious organisations and social institutions to inform, train, equip, and inspire the girl-child to vie for leadership positions.

Here at DO, we have a leadership project targeted at enlightening communities on the benefits of women in leadership. She is a Leader Project is a one-day sensitisation workshop centred on holding discussions on the impact of women in politics and economic development and encouraging the active participation of young women in grassroots politics.

Join DO-Take Action and become a Grassroots Development Champion (GDC) to carry out She is a Leader workshop in your community and communities around you.

To become a GDC, click here.

You can also partner with us to sponsor the She is a Leader project. To become a DO partner, click here.

Join us as “we break the bias against women.”

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Email: hq@dotakeaction.org

Email: hq@dotakeaction.org

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