The worst kept secret in our homes is the fact that, in perilous times, it is the women that steady the ship. They oftentimes seem unfazed by the turmoil around the home. This makes you wonder why our women do not bring this stoic character to bear on the affairs of the nation.
Getting a woman elected to a political office in Nigeria can be compared to a Carmel passing through the eye of a needle. While there is no constitutional or legal barrier to a woman aspiring to any political office in the country, there seems to be institutional, social and cultural barriers against them contesting and actually winning. Politics in our clime is associated with violence, thuggery and murder. These traits are alien to the women folk but our men thrive on them. Ironically, for us to have clean politics, we need our women to be actively involved. Women need to be involved at the highest level of governance in Nigeria on an elective basis. Their participation to date as heads of ministries, departments and parastatals (MDA) can only pass as mere tokenism. They hold these offices at the pleasure of those who appoint them and are therefore not directly accountable to the public. As a result, they are often compelled to act according to the dictates of the appointing executive.
Yet, all over the world, a discernible change is firmly taking place. Women are slowly but steadily competing with, and in most cases, replacing men as political leaders of their countries. This is true in Europe, Asia, America and Africa.
On Wednesday July 13, 2016, Theresa May, a former Home Secretary, succeeded David Cameron as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister of Great Britain. She thus becomes the second female British Prime Minister after late Margareth Thatcher who held the reigns between 1978 and 1990. On continental Europe, European giant, Germany has had Angela Merkel as Chancellor for over a decade from 2005 to date. Under her leadership, Germany has grown stronger and richer than ever before. She has since become the defacto leader of Europe. In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a landslide win in the first openly contested election in 25 years in November 2015. Similarly, in South Korea, Park Geun-Hye became the president and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of South Korea on February 2013. Prior to now, Gloria Arroyo (2001-2010) and Corazon Aquino (1986-1992) had been presidents of The Phillipines. We must not also forget the indomitable Michelle Bachelet, the two-time president of Chile. In Argentina, between 2007 and 2015, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner reigned supreme as the president. She was the second Argentine female president. Across the border in Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, a true amazon has just been suspended as president while the Parliament conducts impeachment proceedings against her. In North America, specifically the United States, Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party is on course to become her country’s first female president and leader of the free world come November 2016.
Africa is not left out in this emerging trend. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has held sway in Liberia as president from 2006 to this day. We also had President Joyce Banda (2012-2014) of Malawi. Both women have not disappointed their countries. This trend lends credence to the Beijing Declarations of 1995.
In 1995, the United Nation organized the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China otherwise called the Beijing Conference. That conference is considered a turning point for the global agenda for gender equality. The Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action, adopted unanimously by 189 countries, is an agenda for women’s empowerment and considered the key global policy document on gender equality. The Beijing Declaration recognized that “the status of women has advanced in some important respects in the past decade but that progress has been uneven, inequalities between women and men have persisted and major obstacles remain, with serious consequences for the well-being of all people”. The declarants were convinced that “Women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace”.
The Beijing Declaration is as true today as it was in 1995. While some countries have achieved near gender equality in all spheres, others, like Nigeria are still far too backward in this regard. This has no doubt deprived Nigeria of much needed development and peace. In the corporate world and the academia, Nigerian women have excelled. In the civil service and professional callings, they have been outstanding. Regrettably, it would seem that their equal participation in the decision making process and access to power have been severely limited.
It is a sad commentary on gender equality that after fifty-six years of independence as a country, Nigeria is yet to have a female governor for any of her thirty-six states. A handful of women are present in the National Assembly and states houses of Assembly. Surely Nigerian women can do better than this. As 2019 approaches, we need credible and accomplished women to throw their hats in the ring. And we need the political parties and our men to support them. As Nigeria is currently buffeted by all manner of crises, we need the calming influence of our women in state affairs more than ever before. Nigeria is indeed ripe for our own Angela Merkels and Hillary Clintons.