-Sokoto 2019: Will the narrative change for women? By Rakiya Muhammad
Over the last decade, there has been a virtual absence of women in elective positions in Sokoto State. Will the narrative change with the forthcoming general elections in a country with a female population of about 49 per cent representing the critical mass of voters?
This poser seems difficult to answer as Nigeria has the lowest female representation in elective positions in West Africa with 7 per cent women’s participation in politics since the 2015 elections. According to the ECOWAS Female Parliamentarians Association (ECOFEPA), women have only 6.1 per cent representation in State Houses of Assembly, 3.9 per cent in the House of Representatives, 7.34 per cent in the Senate and almost zero per cent in the executive arm of government.
In Sokoto, the situation is even more dismal than the broader Nigerian picture. At present, Sokoto has no woman at the local government level; and the zero representation remains same at the State House of Assembly, the House of Representatives and Senate.
Since the last five general elections in Nigeria, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015, there has been little or no difference in the narrative as there has been no female Senator, House of Representatives’ member, local government chairman /councillor. It was only in 2003 that a female won one out of the 30 seats at the State House of Assembly and in 2007, when women won three out of 165 councillorship seats.
Yet, achieving women’s equality and empowerment is noted to be central to the attainment of the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
But what is responsible for the absence of women representation in mainstream politics and decision making positions?
In a cross-sectional analyses of women political participation for development in the North-west geo-political zone, Sanusi Abdulwasiu, Department of Social Studies, Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, and the Department of Sociology, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, notes gender inequality that characterizes the political system in Nigeria as a reflection of the under representation of women in decision making positions, a situation which, he observed, has affected Nigeria’s political process. Abdulwasiu identifies women in the North-west as among the most marginalized and underrepresented both at the national and local levels in terms of them getting access to political offices.
“There is large-scale discrimination from the men folk, both in voting for candidates and in allocating political offices. The advocated ideal of parity between men and women in national legislature is still a distant goal. Women in the North have always been grossly underrepresented in party memberships as well as in the decision making structure of the party.
“The prevailing intra-party politics make it difficult for women to get party nomination to contest for posts because there are few women party members; even the few party women are unable to capture significant party offices. Consequently, the low level of representation at the party executive level impacts negatively on them as decisions, and shadow elections are made at the level,” he added.
As majority of women in the North-west are Muslims, religion is often noted as a key factor in the participation of female in politics. However, highlighting the Islamic perspective of women in politics, Prof. Ja’afar M. Kaura, Department of Islamic Studies, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, points out that Islam does not discriminate against women in an Islamic political setup.
“Islamic history is replete with many examples of women who participated actively in the administration of Islamic states. They were, for example, consulted on appointment of the leader of the Islamic state, and also on critical issues affecting the state. They criticized people in authority and influenced appointment of competent people to leadership positions.
“The only area where Muslim jurists differ is whether a Muslim woman can occupy the apex position of the Caliph. This does not, however, question the ability and capacity of woman to execute activities of the office of the Caliph.
“The areas in which she can participate without restrictions, and having taken into consideration Islamic ethos, include nomination, campaign, voting and standing election for national, state and local legislatures. As for the office of the chief executive at the three tiers of government, a position needs to be made by the Muslim jurists,” Kaura said.
Comrade Ubaidah Muhammad Bello, one of the women aspiring for a seat at the Sokoto House of Assembly, speaks on the challenges.
“I am aspiring to represent Sokoto North I constituency. That is the real Sokoto, inside Sokoto city, where the controversial issues are really affecting us because you will see that people use personal ideologies to discourage people from voting a woman or discouraging a woman from participating in politics.
“We are facing a lot of challenges politically because we all know the traditions of Sokoto State; the way they value their culture and norm. They feel as if it is a taboo for a woman to contest for a political position,” Ubaidah said.
As part of moves towards strengthening women political participation in Sokoto, USAID, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and European Union recently held a forum that provided a platform for exchange of ideas among the women in politics, representatives of political parties, civil societies and other stakeholders.
The IRI Resident Programme Director-Somalia, Bojan Ristic, said the goal is “To change the narratives by enhancing women participation in politics and elective positions. We are embarking on a strategic frontier crusade to strengthen the participation of women in Nigeria’s politics.”
The EU Minister Councillor, Head of Politics, Press and Information, Pauline Torehall, speaking at the forum, said “Women must see their political aspirations as an obligation with strong urgency to ensure equality in Nigeria’s political activities. Your voices need to be heard otherwise, your aspiration cannot be driven to success. “If truly you have to change the trend, you must be prime actors through strong awareness on gender equality and human rights,” Torehall told the women.
As a way to encourage women in Sokoto to vie for elective positions, some political parties such as the APC and PDP in the state have offered free nomination forms to all women aspirants in all categories of elective positions. But beyond this, analysts have called for more pragmatic measures towards boosting women participation in politics.
Abdulwasiu of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, suggests that government, community leaders, women advocates and other relevant stakeholders need to address social, economic and cultural factors that limit women’s choices and decision making abilities.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in 2014 launched its gender policy aimed at contributing to meeting the National Gender Policy goal of providing enabling environment for the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The Desk Officer, Gender and Civil Society, INEC Sokoto Office, Aishatu Abdullahi, underscores the commission’s commitment to achieving the gender policy which, she said, was to ensure that the interests of women are well promoted and protected.
She notes that if gender balance is upheld, it would improve women’s political representation in elective positions and encourage more female participation.
She also harps on the need for political parties and electoral stakeholders to eliminate gender barriers and pave way for fair representation of women. However, as another general poll is approaching, some women have started indicating interest in State and National Assemblies’ seats. For instance, information from three of the political parties in the state showed 14 women have so far indicated interest to contest on their platforms.
The APC has one female aspiring for a State House of Assembly seat; PDP has three female aspirants for House of Assembly and House of Representatives; NCP has 11 female aspirants – two for Senate, one for deputy governor, three contenders for House of Representatives’ seats, and five for State House of Assembly. The question however is how many of them will clinch the seats?
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