Alliance for Africa: Helping Women Attain Leadership Position

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Despite the odds, Alliances for Africa is working with the United Nations to help more women in the South-east get elected and appointed into political offices, writes Tobi Soniyi

Even though it is becoming clearer that women have the ability to ‎do well in leadership positions if given the opportunity, they continue to remain under-represented in politics especially in Africa and the Middle East.

In Nigeria, out of the 109 senators in the National Assembly, only nine are women. The House of Representatives has only 27 members out of 360. Of the 990 members of states’ houses of assembly, only 54 are women.

Many factors are responsible for this. In Nigeria, ‎obstacles to women attaining leadership positions are legion. Among these are cultures that treat women as inferior to men, electoral system skewed against women, men who could not understand why they should allow women to lead them and in some cases, women themselves have turned out to be obstacles to women emancipation.

As it is well known in political circle, democratic space is not usually conceded, women will have to fight for space. Helping women fight for this critical space is Alliances for Africa, a non for profit organisation based in Owerri, the Imo State capital.

Using the five states in the South-east as pilot states, Alliances for Africa is pushing hard to change cultural perception that keeps women in perpetual bondage.

“Taking on these challenges is proving tougher, but we at Alliances for Africa believe that getting more women to hold political offices will not only benefit women but our country as a whole,” said Blessing Duru, the Project Manager of the Alliances for Africa and United Nations Entity for Gender Equality’s progamme in South-eastern states.

The programme aims at supporting a full implementation of the 35 per cent affirmative action for women.
Despite promise by successive Nigerian leaders to ensure women hold 35 per cent of elective and appointive offices, there is no conscious effort to make sure that this lofty pledge becomes a reality. It is now left for women to find ways to break the barriers militating against their ambition.

Abia State’s Commissioner for Special Duties and Vulnerable Groups, Precious Achumba, is one of the few women who have been on the field in a men-dominated race to get elected into public offices. She knows how difficulty this can be for women.

Speaking with THISDAY, she said: “Women have a lot of challenges. In this our area, our culture seriously dealt with women in that the women must be under the supervision of a man. That dealt with us seriously right from the birth.

“Women are finding it very difficult to rise from the family where they are born. From the olden days, they would say women you don’t have any plot and you don’t have any say and that when you get married you would find something to say in your husband’s place. This thing has been happening and it is the cause of one of the biggest challenges women are facing in our society today.”

Confirming some of the prejudices against women she said:”Right from our local government and our wards they don’t see you as someone that can lead them. They don’t see you as somebody they can come and vote for. They believe that women should stay in the kitchen and prepare food for them.”

She however, acknowledged the changes that are taking place with the help of AfA and UN. “They have now found that women can become engineers, electricians, women are also performing very well in elective positions. But that has not been easy,” she added.

As those engaged in helping women get empowered have discovered, women themselves are not helping matters. Many still don’t believe that they have equal rights like men. A whole lot of women are ignorant of the 35 per cent affirmative action. In this regard, education and enlightenment campaign is key. The bad news, however, is that donors, mainly western institutions don’t want to fund this. They simply cannot understand why in this age, many women still don’t know or understand their rights. But that is the reality in Africa. It is tragic but it is the reality.”

Women will also be helping themselves by heeding the advice of the Abia State’s Commissioner for Special Duties and Vulnerable Groups.
According to her, it now lies in the women to stand their ground, to prove to the society that they can perform. That they have the ability and that the only difference is just the gene.

She said: “God created you to be a man and the other person to be a woman. That the capacity, the strength, power and authority that men possess, a woman also possesses it. And as for women who have been put in positions, some of them have performed very well, creditably well. Women are very honest when it comes to performance. They are very honest in what they are doing.”

She also realises that no matter how hard they try, women still need men to help them climb up. “This is why she asked me to give women more chance. They should give them a level playing ground. Let them not have that notion because they are men, women should not go anywhere. No. Let them give the women a sense of belonging in terms of positions,” she added.

In the South-east, Alliance for Africa, through its programmes, has been giving women a big enthusiasm towards getting positions for women and encouraging them to come out, to take their stand in the society. Through its programme, AfA has helped more women to appreciate the necessity for them to be in a position of authority.

The campaign in the South-east has shown early signs that women are getting the message. There is therefore an urgent need not only to deepen the campaign in the five pilot states of Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi states but to extend it to the states in the South-south which share some similarities with the South-eastern states.
But for civil society groups, funding is always a nightmare. AfA will need further help to ensure that women are not confined to ‘the other room’.