Governance: Women seek equal political representation

TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE reports on this year’s International Women’s Day celebration, which Nigerian women used to call for positive change in the country

March 8 of every year is a special day for women worldwide because the day is regarded as International Women’s Day, which is also celebrated in Nigeria. Nigerian women who joined their counterparts across the world to celebrate this year’s event used the occasion to draw the attention of the federal and state governments to their plight.

In Ikeja, the capital of Lagos State, business activities were disrupted for some hours as thousands of people; both male and female marched for about two hours from Ikeja Roundabout to the Governor’s office and State House of Assembly complex in Alausa, to draw government’s attention to several issues affecting women in the state and Nigeria at large.

The peaceful rally tagged “Women March,” which was led by the Executive Director of Women Advocate and Research Documentation Centre (WARDC), Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi and President of Women Arise for Change Initiative, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, was organised by about 20 different civil society groups, professional organisations and trade associations. Speaking on this year theme of the International Women’s Day, which is ‘Be bold for Change,’ Okei-Odumakin, urged Nigerian women to be bold for change by putting government on its toes in ensuring that they cater for the need of the people and provide immediate solution to the plights of women in the country. She disclosed that about 145 women die daily as a result of maternal mortality.

She therefore called for improved primary health facilities in every local government, including free quality maternal care services as well as good medical care for the people. She also decried violence against women and urged government to put necessary measures in place for strict punishment of offenders to curb violence against women in Nigeria.

Okei-Odumakin also called for “protection and well being of widows, orphans, street kids and other vulnerable groups through targeted policies and programmes.” Akiyode-Afolabi in his address demanded for equal political representation, improved health facilities, economic empowerment and gender representatives in key sectors in Nigeria. She said: “We cannot remain silent in the face of oppression that has continued to affect our daily lives.

The low level of women’s participation and representa tion in governance and political processes in Nigeria accounts for the significant perpetuation of the social conditions of abuse and discrimination that Nigerian women suffer.” She also appealed to government to “invest in welfare of people living with disability particularly women and girls.”

The WARDC Executive Director and other female activists also demanded for speedy passage of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill by the National Assembly, to pave way for increase in female representatives in politics and other elective positions. Also speaking during the rally, former National Secretary of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Comrade Femi Aborisade, commended Nigerian women for trooping out en masse to take part in the rally. He said all hands must be on deck to ensure that Nigerian women are adequately taken care of; adding that government at various levels must put women into consideration while making policy.

He also condemned privatisation of many government agencies and institutions, nothing that the action had prevented many people, especially women from being employed. Aborisade also implored government to focus on education and ensure that over 20 million out of school children return to school. In his solidarity message, a human rights activist, Comrade Abiodun Aremu, called for political liberation and urged Nigerians to take their destiny into their hands by fighting for their rights and the country they want. Addressing the women groups at Lagos State House of Assembly, the Speak- er of the House, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, who was represented by the House Chairman Committee on Information and Strategy, Hon. Tunde Buraimoh, called for development of Nigerian women in all capacities.

He said the state legislative and executive arms of government will continue to work together to protect the interest of women in Lagos State, adding that the state will also support women in achieving gender equality and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). His words: “We must develop our women to build a just and good society. I salute the consistency of the leaders of the Women march, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi and Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin and I am assuring you that the House will give total support to issues affecting women in the state. “The various issues affecting women will be addressed.

The House will do its oversight functions by tabling issues affecting women before the executive. We will support women to achieve Gender Equality and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he said. WARDC in its quest to provide opportunities for Nigerian women to discuss various issues affecting them and provide a way forward, later brought prominent Nigeria women from the public and private sectors together on Thursday March 9 to brainstorm on how to provide solutions to some of the challenges facing Nigerian women.

The event was attended by former Minister of Industry and President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chief (Mrs) Nike Akande; wife of the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Erelu Bisi Fayemi; South-West Women Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief (Mrs) Kemi Nelson; renowned human activist, Ms Yemisi Ransome-Kuti and KOWA Party presidential candidate in 2015 elections, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, among others.

Various speakers at the event identified financial constrain and lack of exposure and boldness as some of the issues that has contributed to poor representation of women in leadership positions in the public and private sectors. Erelu Fayem,i in her address, said increasing the budget of Ministry of Women Affairs at federal and state levels will increase women capacity development and make the ministry more effective in meeting the needs of Nigerian women.

The immediate past Ekiti State first lady, said increasing the budget of the Ministry of Women Affairs at federal and state levels is very important for technical and material resources to empower women and even men in various communities. She also advised women to play active role at the grassroots level for them to be able to position themselves as change agents in their constituencies. Her words: “What I am advocating is that we cannot sit in our cities and complain that our political parties are electing the wrong people to represent us.

We need to go back home and engage with people at grassroots. We need to try as much as possible to empower people in our communities. “If we can be a part of change at community level, then we will see a change in the kind of leadership that we will have. And we ourselves as women when we are advocating for more women in leadership positions, we will be taking seriously because then it would be understood that we have a constituency that we represent and we can truly effect change in the lives of those constituency and community.”

Collaborating Fayemi’s position on the need for increase in the budgetary allocation of the Ministry of Women Affairs, Akande said: “The budget for the Ministry of Women Affairs is usually low compared to other ministries.

So, we are advocating that there should be increment in the allocation of the Ministry of Women Affairs.” Speaking on the need for increase in women participation in politics and other leadership positions, Akande urged women to work hard for them to compete favourably with men in leadership positions. “Whatever you want to do, you must work hard.

I will want more women to be in public and elective leadership positions. But the problem is that men monopolise the system. They will hold political meetings at odd hours when they know that it would not be convenient for more women to be at the meetings. But women must be prepared. It is when we have more women at the helms of affairs that they can help the younger ones,” she said.

Nelson, a former Lagos State Commissioner for Women Affairs also supported the call for increase allocation to the Ministry of Women Affairs. “I sat at the top of the ministry before and allocating poor resources to Ministry of Women Affairs has always been an issue. I strongly believe that there should be increase in the ministry’s allocation,” she said. She also implored women to be actively involved in party politics to be able to position themselves for leadership positions at party and elective levels.

Also speaking, the Executive Director of WARDC, Akiyode-Afolabi, said Nigerian women should be bold in demanding for positive change in the country.

She also charged women to take active part in all forthcoming elections, adding that they should display courage by contesting for elective positions at the state and federal levels to increase the number of women in public offices. “Women should be bold for change. Women should change their orientation and addressed issues. We challenge women to hold government accountable at various levels,” she said.

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