SOUTH AFRICA: The President's Promise on Female Appointees

Thursday, May 26, 2011
Southern Africa
Southern Africa
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By next week, Goodluck Jonathan would have assumed a fresh presidency that is completely his, and one of his first jobs would be to pick the men and women that will work with him to actualise the programmes of his administration.

Naturally, much mention has been made of the need to ensure that the nation's first 11 are chosen to lead the campaign. But, going by the reported lists of party members for consideration for appointment by the president that have been compiled by state and national officials of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it is apparent that the president must be reminded of another consideration he needs to bear in mind when picking the final list. The next line-up of federal appointees has to be considerably more gender-balanced than the outgoing one.

A quick look at the PDP list shows that one of the five current female ministers made it onto the list, although a gaggle of new names showed up. The president was reported to have been alarmed that the list sent from his own Bayelsa State was so packed with male politicians that even the current minister of petroleum, Diezani Allison-Maduekwe could not be accommodated. That has been swiftly corrected; but it is a pointer to the challenges faced by female politicians and technocrats to get appointments into public offices.

Nigerians expect that things will be different this time - and not least because of the several promises made to them by Mr Jonathan that he will involve more women in his administration. Speaking at different points during his presidential campaign, Mr Jonathan made special care to assure that he will ensure a full 35 percent of his appointments (ministerial, ambassadorial and others) are filled by Nigerian women if he is elected into office.

The president, in a particularly involving speech at the Rwang Pam stadium, Jos, Plateau State, said he was determined to actualise the national affirmative action goal. "I promise you that we will work with the party to make sure that we give you 35 percent affirmative action," he said. "I promise that we will give the women 35 percent of ministerial and ambassadorial positions."

He added that if countries such as South Africa and Rwanda could do it, then Nigeria too can do it.

His wife, who contributed in no small measure to the president's victory by her vigorous campaigns across the country, also affirmed this. In fact, Mrs Jonathan promised to act as guarantor that her husband meets this self-imposed target.

"The president has promised to carry us along in every appointment if we vote the government into power," she repeatedly said. "PDP has the highest number of candidates who have promised better deal for Nigerian women."

To be sure, Mr Jonathan would have enacted a quiet revolution if he was able to pull this through. He is not the first government to have vocalised a need to involve a greater number of women in governance.

Indeed, efforts to increase the level of female participation in politics have been on a while. But, the most cogent step in this direction was probably the adoption of the National Policy on Women in July 2000 by the federal government. The policy provides for empowerment of women, including elimination of policies that push them to the margins when it comes to making decisions. The policy, which also stipulates actions that would bring about around 30 percent women representation in the legislative and executive arms of government, gingerly states a need to ensure ‘an equitable sharing in the acquisition of resources, information, opportunities and benefits of development for men and women.'

But the policy has been largely observed in the breach. All the parties talk of the need to ensure at least 30 percent representation by women in party organs and institutions, as well as the government they run. But this has been mere wishful thinking.

After the 2007 election, Nigeria had about 11 percent of women political office holders, as against 89 percent of men. Nigeria thus ranks a lowly 102 on the international gender equality index. This puts our country among the laggards, with countries such as Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia ranked much higher. A total of 48 percent of lawmakers in Rwanda are female. In South Africa, it is 32.8 while the outgoing Nigerian parliament has a lowly 6.4 percent female representation. Mr Jonathan can start closing this gap by the spread of his next appointments.