Four years after Beinjing, twenty years after the Convention for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and fifty one years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, women still remain on the margins of decision making and leadership all over the world. Despite widespread movements towards democracy, all over the world, in some countries like Afghanistan and Algeria, it appears that all recent gains have been lost by regimes that seek to remove women from the face of public life. In other countries like the United Kingdom, an unprecedented 120 women were elected into parliament in 1997, a seemingly large number that still only represents 18% of parliament (Ketangaza and Matenjwa, 1998). In Africa and other non-industrialised nations, according to Kolawole (1995), about 6% of government posts are held by women, while industrialized nations have a record of 5 – 11%. Only the Scadinavian countries seem to have many women in high political positions. The recent U.N.O. Publication, “Women: Challenge to 2000A.D” has furnished statistics which indicate that this is a world wide occurrence both within the developing countries. Although women constitute 50% or more of the world’s population, female’s representation in the highest circles of government is less than 10%.
According to the publication, in 1990, only 3.5% of the world’s cabinet ministers are women. Women held no ministerial positions in 93 countries. Women are completely absent from the four highest levels of government in 50 countries five (5) in the group of Western European and other states), six (6) in Latin America and Caribbean, 23 in African and 16 in Asia and Pacific. What can we say about Nigeria?
The situation in Nigeria is not different. The statistical extract on women in Government by the Division for the Advancement of Women in March 1992 according to Awe (1995) showed that women still play a minor role in the high level political and economic decision making in most countries including Nigeria. They are marginalized and grossly under represented in those areas of public life where important decisions which affect their lives are taken. Awe (1995) opined that the experience of 1993 in Nigeria confirms this statement. Women in Nigeria have not achieved much political empowerment through electoral process. 330 candidates vied for governorship position, 7 were women and none won their party ticket. There were 30 male governors, no woman governor; there were 28 male deputy governors, 2 female deputy governors, 28 male secretaries to Government, 2 female secretaries. 584 male members of House of Representatives, 12 female members, 1172 male members of the Houses of Assembly, 27 female members. 170 male senators, 1 female senator. Over 300 male Presidential Aspirants 4 female President Aspirants, (Awe; 1995). Although, there are more women now than before who are actively engaged in politics in Nigeria, the percentage is still low, compared with that of men. Even then, for the few women in politics, the belief is that their political power and position was acquired through a male kin of the family. It is ethnics through their father, husband or a male relative.
So, why are women’s participation in politics limited? There are various reasons for this. To play politics ‘good’ money is needed, so a major obstacle for most women, who would have loved to play politics could be finance. This is because women find it more difficult raising campaign funds. They will rather spend their money on their children, to maintain their homes and some on their extended family especially their parents. Women are said to be amongst the poorest people in the world and a poor person cannot play significant role in politics. If political participation does not involve money, the story would have been different and their would have been properly more women in politics (Fadako, 1995).
The Desirability of Participation of Women in Governance
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country. Achieving the goal of equal participation of women in decision making will provide a balance and it will promote the proper functioning of democracy. Women’s equal participation in decision making is not only a demand for simple justice but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interest to be taken into account.
Researchers, policy makers and implementers according to Afonja (1996), are now paying attention to women’s participation in politics due to two important advances in the area of development. She opined that firstly, several global initiatives since the UN Decade for women are promoting women’s participation in development to improve the global agenda for development. Secondly, development analysts have adopted the participatory approach and are mobilizing the grassroots, including women to plan, monitor and implement their own programmes of development in order to ensure adequate coverage, efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability.
Democracy, as pointed out by Olowu in Afonja (1996) is about popular governance. The masses must constitute the focus of the new political culture and every effort must be made to integrate both formal and informal political structures. Women are an important part of the masses. Their development in other sectors depends on their involvement in the policy making processes for their interest to be represented. But then what is it about the structures and organizations that wield power and authority that prevents women from achieving political equality with men?
Mama (1988) gave some helpful suggestions concerning what women need to do and be in order to take active part in politics, to reach and remain in top level positions in Nigeria. These include the need for women to be highly educated and highly qualified to have access to economic power. These call for economic and educational empowerment.
The Importance of Educational and Economic Empowerment of Nigerian Women:
Women constitute half of Nigeria’s population. They make an essential and largely unacknowledged contribution to economic life and play a crucial role in all spheres of society. Established restrictive practices and constraints however, have not allowed them to take advantage of their numbers and position in order to significantly influence the decision making processes. As a result, the potential of half of the Nigerian population remains unexplored and the scope of labour, energy and human resources available for national development is restricted. Nigerian women have been marginalized in the formal political systems owing to traditional belief and practices which inhibit their advancement and participation in public life.
Inspite of constitutional guarantee of equal access to education for all, nation-wide campaigns for the enrolment of all school age children and programmes for mass adult and non-formal education, women’s political empowerment continues to be impeded by traditional obstacles to female education. The choice of the path of educational training made early in life by young girls under the strong influence of families, peer groups etc. often closes many opportunities to women and propels them towards the direction of traditionally socially-approved “female” careers. This has profound consequences for women’s role in politics because it dictates not only their presence, but also the type of role they can actively play. This is the most pervasive type of barrier facing Nigerian Women.
Tessa Blackstone commented in Oakley (1976) that “Better educated women are more likely to be politically active, to be employed, and likely to avoid situation of conflict”.
Women and other marginalized social groups in any country in the world hinges critically around the question of poverty, power, politics, and control. Onimode (1996) opines that it is the power, policies and system that marginalize, oppress and improverish, while they control over these elements that empower people everywhere. He stressed further that economic empowerment is a major component of women’s total empowerment and liberation. This according to Onimode (1996), is because political, social and cultural empowerment are often wide and incomplete without access and control over resources. It has been established by surveys of poverty profile that some 50% of Nigeria’s rural population that accounts for some 70% of the total population live in poverty and that more than 50% of this crusted poverty is among women, (Onimode, 1996).
Onimode added that National poverty has increased since the mid 1980 and the population of poor women has increased. He added that the number of illiterates in Africa has been rising since the 1980 and most of them are women. For women to be actively involved in politics and governance, then they need to be mobilized for empowerment both educationally and economically.
Nigerian Women and Poverty
Women and the rural population are among the poorest in Nigeria. Women are especially predisposed to poverty because of cultural and environmental factors which work together to keep them poor. According to Amali and Yakubu (1995), when women were asked for characteristics of poor people, their first answer was to use themselves as the first example of poor people. Many specific factors have been identified as being responsible for the high rate of poverty among women. This has resulted in the phenomenon of the feminization of poverty.
First is the low level of education. The low level of education is a cultural phenomenon. Where the family resources are low, they are committed to training male children in the family than females (Muckenheim, 1996). This low level of education results in the second phenomenon, which is the unemployment of women in high paying jobs. Aghejisi, (1996) showed that less than 32% measured labour force in developing countries is made up of women, and most of them are in micro enterprise activities, such as petty trading. Also, a survey of the Plateau State Civil Service by Amali, (1993) showed that 66% of workers in the Clerical, Typists and Secretarial Cadre were women. While only 12% of the levels 14 – 15 workers were women.
A third factor in female poverty is the lack of access of women to productive resources. In the urban area, this translates into bank loans and other government facilities which are needed for production. In the rural areas, it means land for production. Unfortunately, women are always treated as children; in the same way that we group them with children. The problem of feminization of poverty is a very serious one and deserves more attention than it is getting. According to Amali (1996), lack of access to productive resources is as a direct result of lack of access of women to power. Women, because they are very few in the highest decision making bodies, have no say in what affect them. Infact, there is no women in Nigeria’s highest decision making body, the PRC.
Women, in order to develop in Nigeria must have access to political and economic power at higher levels. One way of doing this is to empower women both economically and educationally.
With the population of women exceeding half of national world’s population, one would have thought that they would normally dominate the political scene especially in democratic system of government. But most of them are kept in perpetual abject poverty because they render either unremunerated or poorly remunerated services. It is imperative to note that political powerlessness is a product of other improvished condition of Nigerian women. There is surely no gain saying that women folk are more or less absent from the political scene and solution should be sought to improve their participation through empowerment process.
Though the question of women’s economic empowerment is closely tied up with other aspects of women’s empowerment and liberation, it is nevertheless, essential for policy focus to identify the major dimensions of this issue i.e:
a) Eradication or reduction of poverty among women
b) Eradication of illiteracy through mass adult literacy and schooling for girls.
c) Access to productive resources like land, credit and technology.
d) Democratic and equitable participation in development process through office holding to give control over the allocation of resources.
e) Employment for women, including training for employment.
f) Mobilization and re-education of Nigerian men towards women’s empowerment.
The 21st century is a major period for re-tooling and re-organizing society in all countries including Nigeria. It must be a major opportunity for mobilizing women who constitute 50% or more of the total population for equitable and just democratic participation in the development process. This is the promise of “Women and Beinjing “95”.