“We need more women leaders! When women lead side by side with men, it is good for equality and democracy. It is good for peace and stability. It is good for business. When women and men make decisions together, the decisions better reflect and respond to the diverse needs and rights of the entire population.” UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the launch of Women Leading Africa Programme in Namibia on 24 October, 2013.
Women have contested for different positions in the four elections held by the country since its return to democratic rule in 1999 but have had poor results, minimal gains and slow progress. For instance in 2003, women made up only three percent of elected officials, in 2007 they made seven percent and in 2011 they make up about five percent.
For development of any kind to be achieved, women should be involved in decision making and be given a voice that is why it began with the struggles for the right to vote or franchise and now increased participation in politics.
This makes it necessary for the creation of an enabling environment and adoption of measures or improved strategies as a panacea to change the status quo and increase the number and quality of women representation in politics in Nigeria.
The 2015 elections is yet another opportunity by all stakeholders to pursue the implementation of the National Gender Policy based affirmative action and create possible entry points for enhanced women's political participation.
One of the key thematic areas of The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UNWomen) is expanding women's voice, leadership and participation .
Advocacy and lobbying the seat of power at state level to get strong political will to enact and implement this policy and make the ordinary people to understand the issue is one of the ways of promoting affirmative action.
UN Women's representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Dr. Grace Ongile with support from the Democratic Governance for Development (DGD) programme led a strategic delegation on a two day advocacy visit to Cross River State this week with the goal of increasing women's participation and representation in elective and appointive positions in the state and Nigeria.
The visit was geared toward sensitizing and advocating that the state's government machineries support women's participation in political activities, and to discuss how to break gender based inequality barriers and motivate more women to actively participate in governance in the state.
The delegation comprised key staff of UN Women Nigeria, heads of the gender and civil society unit of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), representatives of civil society organizations, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, and the media.
They visited the state governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, the paramount ruler of Calabar Municipality, His Royal Majesty, Ndidem Dr Thomas Ika Ika Oqua, the Chairman of Cross River's state traditional rulers council and paramount ruler of Bakassi, His Royal Majesty, Edet Okon, the state's House of Assembly, the wife of the governor, Mrs Obioma liyel-Imoke and also held a meeting with women politicians and groups in the state.
At the government house, Calabar on Monday, Dr. Grace Ongile said it is their desire to have working strategies that would result to increased women's participation and representation come 2015 general elections and beyond. “We strive to have qualified, credible and result-oriented women to occupy leadership positions and cause the positive changes that will translate into sustainable development. This can be achieved at local, state and national levels.” She said.
She commended the state government for spearheading gender development and the performance of women in the recent local government election and called on the governor, to support the institutionalization of 35% Affirmative Action in Cross-River State, and increase funding for women's programmes particularly on economic empowerment, among others.
In response, Senator Liyel Imoke said the state is very committed to women empowerment and participation in politics and also ready to strengthen all it has achieved on gender. He said four women emerged as chairmen in the local government elections, 15 as vice chairmen and 56 as councilors in addition to the conscious appointment of 144 women with eight from each local government council area of the state.
Imoke who was represented by his Deputy, Efiok Cobham suggested the following ways of improving women's participation in politics; educating the girl child, empowering and enlightening grassroots women and changing advocacy model to reach them as not many of them can afford radio or television, stepping up advocacy on women's rights, and also urged UN Women to help change the psychology of women themselves as some of them don't believe in women being leaders, and also urge more women to come out and participate.
At the palace of the Ndidem and council of Cross River's state traditional rulers, Ongile called on them to give more blessing and support to women as candidates and aspirants saying some traditional beliefs have contributed significantly to the marginalization of women in leadership and decision-making and in some cases, it is considered a cultural taboo for women to assume leadership positions over men
The traditional rulers assured the delegation of their commitment and support, with the chairman of the traditional rulers council, His Royal Majesty, Edet Okon, calling on women to ensure they are qualified and be voted for on merit and not just because they are women.
On Tuesday, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Otelemaba Amachree said the house is working towards improving its number of women as against only one which it has at moment.
Other members of the house like member representing Boki II constituency, Jake Otu Enyia and Chairperson House Committee on Health, Women Affairs and Social Welfare said they are willing to give legal framework for women's participation in decision making and urged women in position to be mindful that eyes are on them and do their best in order to make it easier for other women to aspire.
At the meeting with women and civil society groups, various women spoke on their challenges and proffered solutions.
Veteran women politician in Cross River State, Mrs Minika James said women politicians should learn to listen to advise from others, try to gain experience in politics from the lower rungs before aspiring for higher levels, there should be continuous voter registration not until close to elections, and the voter's card should be translated in away it can be understood by grassroots women and market women.
President of the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) Cross River State, Mrs Grace Ekanem said women of the state are prepared to participate well in the 2015 elections. “We only have one woman in the State House of Assembly, but with the last Local government elections and also taking advantage of the gender friendliness of the state government will encourage more women to vie for positions at the state house of assembly. We are embarking on advocacy and sensitization of women in the state down to the grassroots to ensure our participation is increased come 2015.”
The state's Commissioner for Women Affairs, Edak Iwuchukwu called for the de-emphasization of money in politics as realistically no amount of fund raising will legally give women the money to campaign for office nor has given men the kind of money they throw around during elections.
Newly elected Chairman of Bakassi Local Government Area, Edisua Usang Iso suggested continuous sensitization and enlightenment in areas where culture poses hindrance to women's participation , women should support fellow women and honesty and transparency should be seen amongst them.
Other women spoken called for capacity building, internal democracies in parties among others.
First lady of the state, Mrs Obioma liyel-Imoke during the visit to her, said state government support is crucial in attaining women empowerment and participation in politics as she was able to do all she achieved on women empowerment in the state with her non-governmental organizations, partnerships opportunities for Women Empowerment Realization(POWER) through the support of Senator Liyel Imoke's government. She said more women are also appointed into positions even at the local government levels because the state government also insisted on 35% affirmative action.
Also speaking, Senator Liyel Imoke called for more efforts on women empowerment and the implementation of an affirmative action policy across the country.
Just as Dr Ongile said it has been argued that women's participation and leadership is not only an essential prerequisite for poverty alleviation and gender inequality but also a basic human rights condition.