By; SEGUN OLATUNJI
This is no time to lament the preclusion of our women from having proportionate representation in elected offices because it has been the staple of our elections since 1960. Rather, this is the time to sensitize and corral the populace on female’s plights, aspirations, and opportunities with the goal of altering this heart-wrenching feature of our democracy. No matter how much any man can sympathize with the womanhood, he cannot empathize with them. No man can feel their pains or deputize for their aspirations.
Any female political participation that fails to run the gamut of voting, decision-making process, awareness, activism and empowerment of women is an incomplete metamorphosis injurious to the goal of gender equality. Female political participation must culminate in female political empowerment: anything short of spawning female political empowerment is an exertion in futility. It is through women’s engagement in the three arms of government that the pains and yearns of womanhood can be promptly heard, processed and resolved. Only women can chauffer their unique needs, aspirations, values and goals to safe destination.
The era of rendering epistles on the uniqueness of female’s plights is gone: this is the time to aggressively whack the electoral glass ceilings into pieces through broaching of radical, proactive, actionable and female-centric measures to enthrone women in large number in elective offices by 2023. Creation of enabling conditions spurring both genders to freely explore and develop their abilities and make options free of cultural constraints compels the attention and activities of both genders for the conception of opportunities to satisfy both sexes’ aspirations and exigencies.
If the negligible representation of the women in the past elections could not spark women and radical males into smashing the prevailing female-unfriendly electoral process at the party, legislative, executive and civil society levels, nothing would. These deplorable showing of women at party and electoral levels should be a national disaster to every avowed democrat and believer of gender-parity; more so, when the female are needed in large number to articulate separate-but-equitable female-problem-solving policies and galvanize support from the executive, the legislature and the citizenry to wither these problems.
First thing first, without exorcizing the brainwashing of womenfolk through ingrained self-fulfilling prophecy that caused and perpetuates the retreat of women from political terrain en mass into glorified domestic serfdom, which is predicated on their physical and reproductive endowments, the anticipated gender parity in the political sphere would continue to be elusive.
Men cannot claim exclusivity of anything besides libidinal masculinity. There are female breadwinners, surgeons, soccer players, astronauts, combat soldiers, mechanics, guerrilla fighters, billionaires, boxers and mathematicians in addition to their onerous maternal obligations. The difference in genders’ exigencies mandates the urgency of leveling the political field for all genders in political arena.
Women political empowerment bequeaths novelty to solving female-related issues. Women in politics amplify concerns hitherto snubbed, pass laws once discarded, fund programs previously rejected, expend efforts formerly avoided, and initiate and sustain gigantic female political consciousness, activism, participation and electability.
Most Nigerians, both males and females, pay lip service to gender-equality as a goal ensuring that the aspirations and needs of women and men are valued and pursued equally through gender-equity programs binding on public officials and private enterprises. Unlike in Nigeria where both sexes predominantly subscribe to hegemonic male-chauvinism at the expense of gender-parity integral to nation-building, other parts of the universe are enthusiastically committed to female empowerment helping to corrode barricades to female actualization and development.
Every faith, race, economic system, continent, cultural typology has produced female presidents or prime misters except Arab of North Africa and Middle East cultural classification.
Mongoloids in Asia have produced Gloria Arroyo, Philippines; Park Geun-hye, South Korea; Hispanics in South America have bred Michelle Bachclet, Chile; Dilma Rouseff, Brazil; Blacks in Central America and sub-Sahara Africa have begotten Sirleaf, Sierra Leone; Joyce Banda, Malawi; Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica; Indian subcontinent, Asia has borne Pratibha Palit, India; Chandria Kumaraturgq, Sri Lanka; and Whites, Europe and Oceanic have engendered Margaret Thatcher, Britain; Tara Halonen, Finland; and Jancinda Adern, New Zealand,
Nor has any major faith decreed female-sacrilegious doctrine against women empowerment which our female-intolerant-laden country is modeled after. Buddhism blessed us with Sirimaro Bandaranaike, Sri Lanka; Bidya Devi Biandaar, Nepal; Judaism, Golda Meir, Israel; Hinduism, Indira Gandhi, India; Islam, Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan; Megawati Sukanoputn, Indonesia; Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh; Hahman Yacob, Singapore; Christianity, Angel Merkel, Germany; Theresa May, Britain; Catherine Samba-Panza, Central African Republic; Costina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina.
Obviously, no major religion is adverse to female political empowerment. There is no race that is female-empowerment intolerant. The fact that no state in Nigeria has produced female executive, and since independence we can not boast of a female president or a female vice president underscores that our problem is cultural and not racial or religious, unless we want to distort religion for pervasive strand of masculine hegemony in our public space. Sunni Islam dominates in all the Muslim countries that have blessed humanity with female presidents or prime ministers. Why is Nigeria an aberration? Protestant and Catholic Christianity has bestowed mankind with female presidents and prime ministers. Why is Nigeria an outlier? There is no religious or racial pretext for denial of female empowerment.
The only culture, besides Nigerian culture, that is averse to women political empowerment is the Arab’s and not Islam. We share similar strand of female-impervious megalomaniac patriarchy with the Arab. Although, most of the cultures that have endowed homo -sapiens with women presidents or prime ministers are also patriarchal, none is as air-tight and female-intolerant as Nigerian culture that wants women to be seen but not heard or be in charge. I wittingly used Nigerian culture in singular form to underscore the homogeneity of Nigerian men’s hatred for feminine participation in public space irrespective of tribe, religion and culture.
So, the festering self-fulfilling prophecy among Nigerian women is a deceptive contrivance of the manipulative and misogynistic patriarchy to sedate females into socio-political inertia on issues afflicting the very essence of their being. Such misconstruction of constraining notion of physical and reproductive endowments targets the instructive existence of gender equity in political space, necessitating different but equitable needs and opportunities for women to attain self-actualization and gender-parity.
Separate-but-equitable policies en route to gender parity are too life-defining to be entrusted to men, and they are beyond the comprehension of space-suffocating acquisitive patriarchy and cultural bigotry. Needless to assert that the reductionism philosophy based on physical and reproductive differences is a paradigmatic circular reasoning and a prototypical begging-the- question fallacy that cannot hold up to an insightful scrutiny; hence, the urgent imperative to take harmers to the repressive political glass ceilings. No more patience for piece-meal inducements.
We are still mentally and behaviorally locked in stone-age mentality that degrades women to child-bearing function and domestic thralldom. Or, how else can we explain 5.6 per cent female representation in National Assembly or the paltry 4.6 per cent of elected offices across the nation? Outrage! Dawn right! Leadership traits are not gender-biased. With the despicable and deplorable roles of men in the public domain, it is time to give women the reins of leadership; after all, they cannot do worse than what the men have done. Obasanjo, Atiku and Ibori are national disasters as much as Mrs. Johnathan, Ms. Diezani Madueke: they looted the treasury with panache daring us to arrest them.
Mrs. Aisha Buhari’s and Mrs. Amina Mohammed’s personalities have debunked and demystified the misconceived notion of Islam’s abhorrence for women empowerment. Mrs. Jane Mohammed has come out to clamour for a female president in 2023, and the first lady has borne her mind on several national issues without opprobrium from Mr. President, and the Caliphate is not castigating them for Islamic infractions. Without hesitation, both of them are formidable electoral assets for any office. They have so far come with inspirational messages to shatter the yoke of women’s second-class citizenship.
Pope is yet to disavow of female presidency or prime ministership in Ireland and South America; therefore, the plausible culprit is the raging testosterone-fraught pestilence running amok in our society with imprimatur of our atrophied patriarchal culture foreclosing the actualization of female aspirations, needs, values, concerns and opportunities. Under this impermissible and ruthless cultural heterodoxy, which belies global trend, women cannot trust the men to voluntarily share the public space with them: they have to yank the space sharing right from the men by any means necessary.
The conspiratorial reactionary pulverization of womanhood to property status must be challenged, combated and reversed by all lovers of inclusiveness, egalitarianism, responsiveness, democracy and gender equity. This typological equivalence of the misogynic Arab cultural strand must be confronted with all the might the female and the progressives can summon.
The struggle must be unleashed for the emergence of female presidents, chairmen and co-chairmen of civil society organizations and democratic institutions– NLC, ASUU, NUJ, NMA, NBA, NUT and so on– so as to sensitize Nigerians for eventual enthronement of a female president in the mode of ex-finance minister Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala or late Ms. Akunyuli in 2023.
The political parties should be made to have vibrant women’s wings, and quota of not less than 35 percent of party’s offices and elective positions for the women. The Indian example is instructional to our political parties where the three major political parties, Indian National Congress, Bharatya Janata Party and Communist party have adopted 33 percent female quota for both party and elective offices.
The National Assembly should enact a legislation or force constitutional amendment providing for not less than 35 percent of all elective and appointed offices for women. INEC should set aside for women, as a test for registration, at least 35 per cent of party’s primary candidates. The pressure on the political parties and the legislatures to adopt gender-equity policies should be applied in earnest now, not until 2023. Registration for party primary should be made free for women candidates in addition to provision of financial assistance for women who desire to contest for public or elective openings.
In as much as there had been consensus among political parties to concede presidential candidates to certain parts of the country, in 1999 to the Yorubas and in 2019 to the Fulani Muslims, the parties can voluntarily allot presidential or vice presidential candidates to the women in 2023. Needless to opine that such allotment will astronomically improve female political participation with enduring consequential social transformation of the country. Such a concession will not materialize without continual nation-wide advocacy and agitation spear-headed by the women and the liberals.
Moreover, there must be coordination among various women’s organizations to ensure activities geared toward female empowerment are not only limited to urban centers but also permeated into and visible in rural settings. In fact, the female movements should be inclusive of all strata of Nigerian women in their rank-and- file for easy dissemination of missions, goals and actions. Reliance of the women gunning for public offices on grass root mobilization at all times would be rewarded during electioneering periods.
Efforts must be applied to recruit our traditional rulers as spokesmen for fairness in helping women achieve their goals and vehemently repudiating stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices that reinforce female subjugation. The recruitment of our traditional institutions for promoting gender equity is vital to the cause, and it is easily achievable because it is personal to them. Unlike in the olden days, several traditional leaders are well educated, have professional daughters, well-educated wives, sisters and nieces they would love to see occupy public positions. Artists and musicians should be recruited to popularize female parity into national mantra.
In order to reduce electoral violence, safe and secured digital voting contraptions must be deployed to encourage increase in female participation. There should not be shortage of PVCs, and they should be made accessible to Nigerians on regular basis. In addition, extra security should be given to female candidates throughout electioneering phase. The female groups must learn how to leverage their strength to inform the political parties that they will only vote for political parties that meet their terms of female empowerment. These associations should not be timid in asking women to vote for these parties; for now, the issue of female political empowerment trumps ideological or religious or tribal or gender rigidity.
Brazil has made it a crime for anybody 18 years and above who fails to exercise his or her civil right to vote. Voter apathy is a non-issue, and this has ensued large scale activism and participation in electoral process among the Brazilian women. A law penalizing 18 year-old Nigerian who skirts his or her voting obligation would be a boon to Nigerian women’s causes, political participation and empowerment, which the chauvinistic-oriented male political establishment will be forced to eventually embrace.
A show of force through national demonstrations is a reminder to the male-dominated political elite: “mess with us at your own political peril”. USA President Trump’s misogynistic, racist and Islamphobic attitude has galvanized women that were hitherto apolitical into nation-wide demonstrations from the onset of his presidency and morphed into record number of American women contesting for elective positions and record number of elected women in Congress and across the United States.
For 2020 USA presidential election, Democratic Party boasts record number of women contesting its primary. If women consisting of 5.6 percent of members of the forthcoming national assembly is not the precipice of what should ignite national outrage among women and liberals in this country to stop the downward steeply slope of emasculation and marginalization of womanhood, I do not see what else will. Lest we forget, equal sharing of political space is not a privilege; it is a right. We cannot continue to beg for female-empowerment or equitable representation in all elective fora; we have to snatch this right with the mindset of freedom fighters.
All the first ladies at federal and states should embark on conspicuous and life-impacting projects to uplift womanhood and children materially, physiologically and psychologically. Despite the disgrace of General Babangida from office, Nigerians still nurse nostalgia for his wife’s, Maryam Babangida, efforts to empower rural women economically. Each of these first ladies can avail her visibility to initiate and promote far-reaching programs beneficial to women and children, ranging from eradicating infant mortality, providing free vocational training or education to single women, halting early child marriage, eliminating child-hawking, abolishing marital abuse, mitigating maternal mortality rate to facilitating female self-reliance. For female empowerment, every effort counts, and the first ladies should parlay their position for changing the current negative dynamics of Nigerian women’s apathy.
Needless to reiterate that this is a cause worth fighting for because of its immeasurable benefits to both genders and national development. Our country needs both genders to effectuate development: a bird needs both its wings to soar and fly. Female political empowerment in elective and appointed positions accords preference to issues of maternal and child medical care, highlights female reproductive concerns, confronts the epidemic of female-pant snatching and murdering for rituals, attends to maternal and infant mortalities, and gives credence to free education for children because it prevents early child marriage and reduces poverty and illiteracy among women due to familial preference showered on the education of male children at all costs.
We cannot be running this country the same way for 58 years by the same set of people and expect a different result. Since men have run this country into the ground, it is high time we tried something different: electing women in record number to the helms of affairs. The female political empowerment has the cascading potential of achieving female corporate, commercial, academic, managerial, professional, institutional and societal empowerment for holistic betterment of the country.
The delusional notion that men can assume hermaphroditic roles of collapsing the formulation and discharging of one-size-fit-all-genders’ policies is a hogwash and a flaw-ridden methodology because of the profound differences in the specificity of each gender’s needs, aspirations, priorities, values and opportunities.
Accordingly, the excommunication of the female from the political space says fairness, existentialism, efficiency, liberalism and pragmatism of contrived policies which only the collaborative efforts of the two sexes can guarantee; hence, both the womenfolk and the left must whack the skewed status quo against women into antiquity for the actualization of equitable sharing of the political space and national development.
Segun Olatunji is a journalist and media consultant
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