Forum Decries Low Women Representation in Public Service, Politics

Wale Igbintade

A group, Nigerian Feminist Forum (NFF) has decried the low female representation and participation in the public service and politics in Nigeria, warning that the country will not achieve meaningful development and progress towards gender equality if women’s agency and voice continued to be excluded.

NFF  also called on the federal government to adopt public policies and implement  treaties that promote, and enhance the rights of women and girls in country.

Speaking yesterday at a press conference held in Lagos, Focal Person of the forum, Chinonso Okechukwu, said that the national average of women’s political participation has remained at 6.7 per cent  in elective and appointive positions, which is far below the global average of 22.5 per cent, Africa’s regional average of 23.4 per cent, and West African sub-regional average of 15 per cent.

She said government, as a matter of urgency, must take action towards building a responsive and equitable society for all to thrive.

Okechukwu stated that women in Nigeria have paid heavy price in the conflicts that have been ravaging the country in the past two decades.

Speaking on the Theme: “Promoting the feminist agenda towards a more responsive, accountable and equitable society,” she stated that women have endured unprecedented levels of sexual violence, increased food insecurity, and internal displacement.

She added that women and girls have been particularly affected by these conflicts, because of its devastating impact on economic activities.

According to her, despite being signatories to various legal frameworks that seek to advance women’s rights, there is still a lack of political will and interest and an inadequate accountability mechanism on the side of the Nigerian Government to enforce the implementation of laws and treaties, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women (The Maputo Protocol).

The forum said Nigeria’s National Gender Policy (2006) encourages the government to be proactive in its commitment to gender equality by addressing issues of inequality affecting women in the areas of education, health, employment, agriculture, legal reform, legislative protection, and decision-making.

However, this has not translated into any meaningful change for Nigerian women, as they have continued to experience dire consequences of unequal power relations in all spheres of life.

“Gender-based violence (GBV) has continued to be pervasive in the country. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (2018 NDHS) shows that 30% of females between 15 and 49 years have experienced sexual violence. During the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, cases of violence against women and girls (VAWG) soared, which goes further to show that VAWG is not only a shocking reality for many women and girls but also a health emergency requiring more attention than it is currently getting.

“Nigeria is currently at a critical juncture with the unique opportunity of the 2023 elections to challenge and reimagine the oppressive systems that have held women back from participating meaningfully in public life for the longest time, including the long-elusive goal of achieving gender equality and justice.

“This point in Nigeria’s history provides an opportunity to envision and build a country where patriarchy and the systems that are rooted in it become a thing of the past. Therefore, adopting a feminist agenda as a vital approach to addressing the inequalities in our society is imperative.

“A feminist agenda will ensure that systemic and cultural conditions that allow inequalities to persist cease to exist. It will provide the pathway for women, men, and gender non-conforming people to thrive and have control over their lives and communities. There can be no meaningful prosperity and development if the government is not willing to take concrete and adequate actions to address the root causes as of gender inequality and find a lasting solution to it.

“The feminist movement and women groups including local women’s rights organizations across the six geo-political zones have played a critical role in advancing the rights of women in the country by constantly interrogating patriarchal systems and structures that entrench inequalities in our society. They have continued to provide the space to deconstruct negative power relations that foster inequalities while creating equal opportunity for all to thrive.

“Through feminist knowledge creation, the movement has continued to analyze, educate and proffer solutions to the issues of gender inequalities through discourses and activities that confront and question norms and age-long practices that reinforce patriarchy,” she said.

The group also demanded that government should adopt public policies and implement frameworks and treaties that they have signed on to, to promote, protect, advance, and enhance the rights of women and girls, to enable for a more developed society, whilst ending violence against women and girls in Nigeria.

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