Culture, religion forbid women to contest for leadership positions – Mariam Alexander

Mariam Alexander is the Founder, Women Development Monitoring Initiative and a Politician. She contested election into the Bauchi State House of Assembly in 2019, and the zonal women leader election under the All Progressives Party (APC) in 2022. In this interview she shares her experience in politics among others.

What motivated you to set up Women Development Monitoring Initiative?

My journey leading up to the founding of the Women Development Monitoring Initiative has been deeply rooted in my passion for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed first-hand the challenges and barriers that women face in accessing education, healthcare, economic opportunities, and leadership roles.

These experiences fueled my determination to take action and create meaningful change. Through extensive research, collaboration with like-minded individuals, and drawing inspiration from successful initiatives around the world, I founded the Women Development Monitoring Initiative.

The inspiration to establish this initiative, especially in Bauchi state, stemmed from recognizing the unique challenges faced by women in this specific region. Having engaged closely with the community and witnessed the disparities in access to education, healthcare, economic resources, and political representation, I felt compelled to take action.

My passion for grassroots activism, coupled with a deep commitment to addressing local needs, drove me to establish this initiative. By focusing our efforts within the community, we aim to tailor our programs and interventions to directly address the pressing issues facing women in this area, ultimately striving for tangible and sustainable improvements in their lives.

What does the initiative do?

Our organisation is dedicated to advocating for gender-sensitive policies, monitoring progress towards gender equality, and empowering women to fulfill their potential. Together, we strive to create a more inclusive and equitable society where every woman and girl has the opportunity to thrive.

What the is role of your initiative in promoting women’s development in your constituency?

Our initiative envisions a multifaceted role in promoting women’s development within our constituency.

Firstly, we aim to serve as advocates for gender-sensitive policies and programs that address the unique needs and challenges faced by women in our community. By engaging with local government officials, community leaders, and other stakeholders, we seek to influence policy decisions that promote gender equality and empower women economically, socially, and politically.

Secondly, our initiative focuses on providing practical support and resources to women, including access to education and skills training, healthcare services, microfinance opportunities, and leadership development programs.

By equipping women with the necessary tools and knowledge, we empower them to become active participants in their own development and decision-making processes.

Additionally, we prioritise community outreach and awareness campaigns to challenge harmful gender norms and stereotypes, promote women’s rights, and encourage the active involvement of men and boys in advancing gender equality.

Overall, our initiative aims to create a supportive environment where women can thrive and contribute meaningfully to the social, economic, and political development of our constituency. Through collaborative efforts and strategic partnerships, we are committed to making tangible and sustainable progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in our community.

Can you share you experience during your campaign? Has it been valuable for your current work?

Contesting for the House of Assembly in 2019 and the position of APC zonal women leader n 2022 provided invaluable experiences and lessons that have greatly informed my current work.

Firstly, those campaigns allowed me to develop a deep understanding of the political landscape and the needs of my constituents. Through direct engagement with community members, I gained insights into the pressing issues facing our constituency, particularly those affecting women and marginalised groups.

It has been a bad experience for me as a woman in the North, and there hasn’t been any success story on this political race for me this is because since I contested till date I don’t have a mentor in a woman politician just like men have godfathers to guide me through these process. It is not easy being a northern female politician, a wife and mother unlike our sisters from the South.

Where I come from culture and religion “forbids” women to contest for leadership positions so the moment you come out for political positions you become a threat to your family, friends, society, and you will be looked at as someone who is wayward, who is too outspoken not reserved because in the North women are expected to be seen and not heard and so you are looked at as someone competing with men and instead of being inside the house you are looked at as someone who is in the midst of men which has a kind of derogatory connotations.

However, the experience in politics has taught me the importance of building grassroots support and establishing strong networks within the community. I learned that genuine connections and relationships with constituents are essential for effective advocacy and meaningful change.

Though I lost the position I contested for, the campaigns highlighted the significance of resilience and perseverance in the face of challenges and setbacks.

Despite the obstacles encountered, I remain steadfast in my commitment to serving the people and advocating for their interests.

We cannot underscore the importance of collaboration and coalition-building in advancing our goals. I learned the power of working together with like-minded individuals and organisations to amplify our voices and mobilise support for important causes.

Overall, the experiences and lessons gained from my past campaigns have equipped me with the skills, insights, and determination necessary to effectively lead and drive positive change through my current work in promoting women’s development and gender equality within our constituency.

As zonal woman leader candidate, what strategies did you employ to mobilise women?

As a candidate for the APC zonal woman leader, I employed several strategies to mobilise and empower women within my party.

In terms of community engagement, I prioritised direct engagement with women at the grassroots level, attending community meetings, and listening to their concerns and aspirations. This allowed me to build trust and rapport with women across different communities within the party’s zone.

I used the platform of my foundation to organise capacity building workshops and training sessions focused on building the capacity of women within the party on leadership development, political participation, and advocacy skills, empowering women to take on active roles within the party structure.

I understand the importance of networking and collaboration so I fostered alliances with other women leaders and organisations within the party, as well as external stakeholders, to leverage resources and support for women’s empowerment initiatives. By collaborating with like-minded individuals and groups, we were able to amplify our efforts and reach a wider audience.

I emphasized the importance of women’s visibility and representation within the party, advocating for the inclusion of more women in leadership positions and decision-making bodies. By showcasing the diverse talents and perspectives of women, we worked towards creating a more inclusive and representative party structure.

I actively advocated for gender-sensitive policies and initiatives within the party, highlighting the importance of addressing the specific needs and concerns of women in party platforms and agendas.

Overall, my strategies focused on empowering women within the party by providing them with the necessary skills, resources, and opportunities to actively participate in party activities and decision-making processes.

Through these efforts, we aimed to create a more inclusive and gender-balanced party structure that reflects the diversity and voices of all members.

What are the most pressing issues facing women in Bauchi and how do you plan to address them through your initiative?

In my opinion, there are pressing issues facing women in Bauchi state including limited access to education where so many women in the constituency face barriers to accessing quality education, which limits their opportunities for personal and economic development.

Access to adequate healthcare services, especially maternal and reproductive healthcare, remains a challenge for women in the constituency, leading to higher maternal mortality rates and poorer health outcomes.

Also, Women in Tafawa Balewa federal constituency often lack access to economic opportunities and face barriers to entrepreneurship and employment, which perpetuates poverty and inequality.

Gender-based violence, including domestic violence and harmful cultural practices, poses a significant threat to the well-being and safety of women in the constituency.

Despite progress in recent years, women continue to be underrepresented in political leadership and decision-making processes, limiting their ability to influence policies that directly affect them.

How do you think these issues can be addressed?

We cannot over emphasise the importance of education and skills training. We should work to improve access to education for women and girls through scholarship programs, school infrastructure development, and initiatives to promote girls’ enrollment and retention in schools. There is need to provide skills training and vocational education to equip women with the tools they need to succeed in various fields.

There should be adequate healthcare services for women and children so my initiative will advocate for increased access to affordable and quality healthcare services for women, including maternal and reproductive health services.

We will collaborate with healthcare providers and community organizations to expand healthcare facilities and ensure that women receive the care they need as well as advocate for the Implementation of economic empowerment programs, such as microfinance initiatives, business training, and access to markets, to enable women to generate income and become financially independent.

There is also the need for pushing for the Implementation of laws that prohibits Gender-Based Violence so we need to raise more awareness about gender-based violence, provide support services for survivors, and advocate for stronger laws and policies to prevent and address violence against women.

Most importantly, there is the need for increased representation of women in political leadership roles and support women’s participation in decision-making processes at all levels of government. This includes providing training and mentorship programs for aspiring women leaders and advocating for gender-sensitive policies within political parties and government institutions the country will be better than it is now in terms of development.

By empowering women to take control of their lives, we aim to create a more equitable and inclusive society in Tafawa Balewa federal constituency and the country at large.

What collaborative efforts have you engaged in with local authorities or organisations to further the objectives of the Initiative?

We have engaged in several collaborative efforts with local authorities and organizations to further the objectives of the Women Development Monitoring Initiative.

We have forged partnerships with local government authorities to advocate for gender-sensitive policies and programs and to ensure the effective implementation of initiatives aimed at promoting women’s development.

This includes collaborating on projects related to education, healthcare, economic empowerment, and gender-based violence prevention.

We have partnered with local NGOs and civil society organizations working on women’s rights and empowerment to leverage resources, share expertise, and amplify our impact.

These collaborations have enabled us to reach a broader audience and implement more comprehensive interventions to address the needs of women in the community.

We have actively engaged with community leaders, including traditional rulers and religious leaders, to garner support for our initiatives and mobilize community resources. By working closely with local leaders, we ensure that our efforts are culturally sensitive and responsive to the needs and priorities of the community.

We hope to collaborate with local organizations and authorities on specific projects and programs aimed at advancing women’s development, such as organizing health camps, vocational training workshops, and awareness campaigns on gender-based violence.

We are establishing partnerships with local authorities to access data and information relevant to our monitoring and evaluation efforts. This collaboration will enable us to track progress on key indicators related to women’s development and advocate for evidence-based policies and interventions.

Overall, our collaborative efforts with local authorities and organisations have been instrumental in advancing the objectives of the Initiative and promoting positive change for women in the community. By working together, we can more effectively address the complex challenges facing women and girls and create lasting solutions for their empowerment and well-being.

Do you think gender stereotypes can ever be curbed?

Yes, it is possible if the relevant authority is committed to achieving that. Currently in my local government women are getting more enlightened. We have some women elected into the state House of assembly but this is majorly aappointive positions we are hoping to win elective positions

However, most women don’t understand how politics is played this is because they don’t start early enough and the lack of funding. This is why you see that they come out when election is close by and that is why they don’t win but we are hoping we will get better chances at elective positions even though gender stereotypes has remained a major reason for the lack of women’s political participation in my state.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your initiative on women’s development, and what indicators will you use to assess success?

To measure the impact of our initiative on women’s development in our constituency, we plan to employ a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, focusing on key indicators of progress like conducting baseline surveys to assess the current status of women’s development indicators in the constituency, including access to education, healthcare, economic opportunities, and political participation.

Developing a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework to track the implementation and outcomes of our initiatives over time.

This framework will include specific indicators related to women’s empowerment and well-being, such as literacy rates, maternal health outcomes, economic participation, and political representation.

We would engage in collecting relevant data through surveys, interviews, focus group discussions, and other methods to gather information on the experiences and perspectives of women in the constituency. We will analyze this data to identify trends, challenges, and areas for improvement.

We would be Seeking feedback from women beneficiaries, community leaders, local authorities, and other stakeholders to assess the perceived impact of our initiatives and identify areas where adjustments may be needed.

Overall, our goal is to use a participatory and evidence-based approach to measure the impact of our initiative on women’s development in the constituency. By tracking progress against key indicators and continuously learning from our experiences, we can adapt our strategies and interventions to maximize our effectiveness and contribute to positive change for women and girls in our community.

What advuise do you have for women politicians, especially the younger women aspiring for elective positions?

I am trying to groom women and let them not have my kind of experience. So, I have started training some secondary school girls and I am seeing a difference. I see women now jostle for party positions and I also encourage the girls to join politics in the school and ward levels.

I don’t give up, I’m more determined even though the odds are against female politicians I rather channel my energy to mentoring younger females to be interested in politics by teaching them the rudiments so they will not have same bad experience I had and I’m happy that they are showing interest and participating.

I don’t think the system protects women and it is disheartening that recently the few women in leadership are been threatened out of office, tagged corrupt and their pictures are all over the Internet whereas men who are the most corrupt do not get image tarnishing in this manner and these are deliberately to push women ou.

This is a traumatic situation because it also discourages other women and the numbers keep reducing, we need more women involved in positions because the poor representation of women is a serious challenge.