Juliana Francis

As this year’s International Women’s Day rolls by, the focal discussion among women-focused groups were the strengthening and increasing of women’s participation and representation in Nigeria.

A comparative analysis of the 2019 and 2023 general elections showed that women’s participation in political positions was dropping.

To ensure more participation and representation, and to keep this conversation on the front burner, the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) and Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) in commemoration of the 2023 International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March, organised a Twitter Space discussion.

The speakers harped on affirmative actions, constitutional provisions, and intentional media coverage crucial to addressing political gender inequality.

The speakers at the discussion titled ‘Nigeria media, political leadership, and women equity’ were Remi Sonaiya, 2015 Kowa past presidential candidate; Victoria Bamas, Editor- International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR); Sadiq Umar Ashafa, Secretary – Women in Politics Forum (WIPF), Kaduna State, and Rommy Mom, President – Lawyers Alert. It was moderated by Kimberly Nwachukwu of Nigeria Info, Abuja.

The discussions fixated on how the media has engaged and reported Nigerian women’s participation in the 2023 elections.

The Deputy Director of the Journalism Program at the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), Busola Ajibola, welcoming speakers and listeners, mentioned that the discussion was important because of the poor women representation in leadership which has remained prevalent in Nigeria.

She said: “The gender disparity is a cause for concern because policies made without adequate representation of women may not address the socio-economic realities of women and children in the country. There was therefore a need for a call to action for all to embrace equity to help achieve gender equality in all spheres.”

Sonaiya, who said that she was getting tired of the repeated cliche of the subject matter, questioned why it was taking too long to see any development in women’s participation in politics.

She said: “I feel there’s going to be fewer women in the national assembly because of the prevailing condition. When merit and capacities become the criteria for governance in Nigeria, I believe women will show up. But this system of rigging, violence and godfatherism is affecting women. Across the world, women are heading important positions. Nigerian women are knowledgeable everywhere, but what is keeping them down? Nigeria women are saying we can’t be part of this and men who are interested in rigging do not even want women there. We must engage our minds on these issues.  We seem to be regressing because those who are supposed to bring their talents are relegated because of the culture of rigging and violence entrenched in the system. Let’s us provide a level playing ground for our women and men.”

Ashafa on his part, thinks that women had been left out because they never get any position. He opined that political participation has become tougher for women because they invest time but end up as women’s leaders.

He added: “There’s no women leader in the constitution, if there was perhaps the men would have taken it. Women are given positions of treasurer because these men also know that women are honest. Women need to have a strong support system.”

Rommy argued that the Nigerian laws were not the problems militating against women in politics, because the laws were almost perfect with regards to no discrimination.

Rommy said: “Women should not be discriminated against, the law protects women all from discrimination, showing that we are all equals, but laws need to be implemented in context. The word equity is important, it’s not about equality. We should continue to look at the word affirmative action, voting and the rights to be voted for, as part of human rights.  If we have constitutional provisions that say women should have certain positions for certain years. It means we are looking at equality, that’s affirmative action. If you go to political rallies, you’ll see women dancing and singing for the men.  They say women are given free tickets, but still asked them to pay certain charges, which the men do not pay. You give them free tickets with one hand and take it with the other hand in the form of charges. Affirmative action should be obligatory.”

Bamas wants such representations to start from the newsroom. She said that as a newsroom manager, she often had to explain to journalists why it was important to emphasis affirmative action.

She recalled that in the 2023 Elections, there were a lot of seminars and workshops to ensure women’s representation, but ironically, “you get to see that it did not relate, this was even the period get to have fewer women in the national assembly. Why didn’t all these seminars and workshops payoff? My belief is that we are doing it at the national level, not at sub-national levels.”

She further maintained that women do not vote or support women, stressing that it has become very vital for journalists to start reporting women at the subnational levels so that women electorates at the subnational levels will know that women can handle such political positions.

Sonaiya also believes that journalists can do more in the reportage of women in politics. “I had more support during my time, I have not seen too many women speaking on tv and radio. Journalists need to be international about reporting women,” added Sonaiya. “I don’t think women would just vote for any woman, but someone who has touched lives in their communities.”

Ashafa noted that there was an increase in women’s participation in politics in the north because of campaigns ran by women’s groups.

He believed that women’s participation spiked because of the group, adding, “ women began to know the importance of the involvement of women in politics. We have a lot of women participating in this 2023 Elections than before.”

The gender activist also said the significant drop in women candidates and elected members in the last National Assembly elections should be a source of concern to all stakeholders.

Rommy in his opinion, thinks that journalists were reporting the issues with passion, rather than with expertise.

Describing Nigeria as a patriarchal society, the President of Lawyers Alert said the century-long suppression of women’s rights on the altar of tradition has made it impossible for women to compete favourably with men. The only way to bridge this inequality gap is to adopt equity in the political process of electing and appointing leaders.

His words: “Women have always been involved in elections. The issue of empowerment is taking too long, the media is doing much, but it’s below the bar. There should be right-based reportage, editorials and opinions. We need to substitute the word equality with equity. If we need to look at the practical, we must talk about equity. It’s about affording women a level playing ground. It’s about equity, not equality.”

Bamas believes journalists can do more to achieve better representation and projection of women.

She added: “If we want to achieve affirmative action, we need the women at the grassroots, media is generally elitist and should start thinking of subnational level. We need to change our narratives.”

Contributing to the conversation, Professor Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika, Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, said: “The voices of women are the least projected in these elections. As journalists, we need to go subnational level. Reportorial style is very important, the narrative that women do not vote for women is not true. We need evidence to back that assertion. The rights-based approach is very important.”

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