Dismantling barriers to women’s political engagement: WARDC, WfWI’s perspectives

This piece captures the highlights of a survey conducted by the Women Advocates and Research Documentation Centre (WARDC) and the Women For Women International (WfWI) on the barriers to women’s political participation in Plateau state. The research underscores the urgent need for concerted efforts to dismantle these barriers and promote women’s meaningful inclusion; ENE OSHABA writes .

Women’s political participation 

In every corner of the globe, women continue to face obstacles in their journey towards equal representation and participation in decision-making processes. Despite fundamental rights to engage in public life, women encounter formal and informal barriers across various spheres, from civic engagement to economic empowerment. 

This disparity is even more pronounced in conflict-affected regions, where women confront unique challenges hindering their involvement in public discourse and leadership roles. Recognising the pivotal role of women in advancing sustainable development and fostering peace, it becomes imperative to dismantle these barriers and foster an environment conducive to women’s full participation in decision-making. 

According to the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) in partnership with the Women For Women International (WfWI)  it is imperative to dismantle barriers hindering women’s freedom of speech, adequate contribution to the nation’s democracy and foster an environment conducive to women’s full and meaningful participation in the polity.

The challenge

Women’s participation in public life serves as a litmus test for societal equality and stability, particularly in conflict-ridden regions. Through extensive research and engagement with women in Nigeria, it becomes evident that achieving gender parity in decision-making processes necessitates comprehensive efforts addressing multifaceted barriers. 

These barriers range from cultural norms reinforcing gender stereotypes to systemic inequalities perpetuating women’s marginalisation. The threshold for meaningful participation demands not just inclusion but the creation of conditions where women can exert tangible influence on outcomes.

It is in the quest to ending these barriers that the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), and Women for Women International (WfWI) embarked on a comprehensive research on women’s participation in Plateau State, shedding light on the multifaceted barriers hindering women’s engagement across economic and political spheres. 

The two organisations employed a multifaceted approach encompassing desk research, surveys, focus group discussions, and interviews; engaging with 249 women across Plateau state which enabled the organisations to glean insights into Plateau State women’s experiences, challenges, and aspirations. 

“Through key informant interviews and validation workshops, we validated our findings and recommendations, ensuring the voices of Nigerian women remained central to our discourse.”


Navigating Nigeria’s legal and policy landscape reveals a tapestry of progress intertwined with persistent challenges. Despite commendable initiatives such as the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act and National Action Plans on Women, Peace, and Security, implementation hurdles persist, impeding the translation of legal frameworks into tangible outcomes. Cultural norms and patriarchal systems continue to thwart women’s political aspirations, reflected in the stark underrepresentation of women in decision-making bodies.

The founding director of WARDC, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, noted that the prevalence of socio-cultural norms still affected the ability of women to participate in peace processes in their communities and states.

Akiyode-Afolabi expressed worry that women who have information and could support peace processes are being denied the opportunity to participate in spite of the fact that the country has signed the UN security council resolution.

“The peace security architecture in the state is not allowing women and accepting women to be part of it. The project is called Listen to Women: Identifying the barriers Against Women’s Freedom of Speech and Participation in Democracy. It’s a project that focuses specifically on the Plateau state, but has national coverage.”

She explained that one of the recommendations of the research was for the government to engender its security architecture to ensure that more women participate in the security architecture, especially in Plateau state, where the research was carried out.

“Plateau state has signed the Gender and Equal Opportunity bill into law, which allows for women’s equal.participation so we are calling on the government to ensure that the law becomes activated,” she said.

Political landscape

Despite constitutional guarantees of equal political rights, Nigerian women grapple with systemic barriers hindering their political participation. The underwhelming representation of women in parliament underscores the urgency of transformative reforms to bridge the gender gap in political leadership. 

“In Plateau state, the intersection of politics and conflict exacerbates tensions, necessitating localised efforts to foster inclusive governance and peace-building.

“Despite the legal and policy frameworks and processes that exist across Nigeria and in Plateau state specifically, many women still find themselves excluded from a range of decision-making spaces, including the political arena,” the survey noted. 

The survey noted further that there are no formal bans on women taking office and the Nigerian Constitution (1999), technically, guarantees equal political rights. Nigeria’s National Gender Policy (2006) recommended a benchmark of 35% of seats in parliament to be filled by women. Sadly, this recommended benchmark is still far from being realised in practice. 

“In fact, the proportion of women holding seats in national parliament in Nigeria has gradually decreased since 2010, with women holding just 3.6% of seats in national parliament in 2022.”

It added, “In Plateau state specifically, the administrative structure consists of the state cabinet, the House of Assembly and local government areas. Plateau state is divided into 17 local government areas (LGAs) with different ethnic geographies. Political moments such as election periods have led to heightened conflict and insecurity across Plateau State.

“The 2011 elections were the country’s most violent. Jos was among several cities in Nigeria that experienced religion-based post-election violence, and more than 800 people were killed and 65, 000 people were displaced.” 

It stated further that, “Amidst this heightened insecurity and conflict in the political landscape of Plateau, LGAs across the state have taken part in substantive action to build a more inclusive environment for women in politics. 

“For example, Jos North, Mangu, Risom and Wase LGAs have all developed local National Action Plans for WPS that aim to include women as participants in formal and informal peace-building processes.” 

Conflict landscape

Plateau state’s fraught landscape bears witness to the complex interplay of land disputes, religious tensions, and farmer-herder conflicts. These conflicts, rooted in competing interests over land resources, underscore the urgent need for sustainable peace-building efforts anchored in gender-responsive approaches. Addressing the underlying drivers of conflict requires inclusive strategies that amplify women’s voices and agency.

As contained in the survey, women in conflict-affected communities and contexts such as Plateau state face unique and interconnected barriers to their participation and leadership, and their underrepresentation in public life and in decision-making can have detrimental ripple effects within their communities. 

This, the report noted, is because, in addition to being key for upholding women’s fundamental rights, ensuring that women have equal ability and access to participate in society is also critical for upholding broader human rights and democratic values, advancing sustainable development, and achieving peace and security.

Also, Adebayo Benjamins-Laniyi, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) mandate secretary, said the direction of the present administration was geared towards promoting the well-being of women, increasing their political participation and empowerment.

Bemjamins-Laniyi, while speaking on domestic violence and early child marriage, said “forming coalitions, working with traditional councils and working with male champions have yielded a lot of results and I think that is a very good approach.”

Findings: Unveiling interconnected barriers

Survey responses, focus group discussions (FGDs), and interviews conducted among women in Plateau state illuminated a web of interconnected barriers hindering their participation. 

Zainab Gbobaniyi, the advocacy coordinator, Women for Women (WfWI), said the research being an evidence based and carried out in five communities in Plateau state cutting across three local governments of Jos East, Riyom and Pankshin, tells the stories directly from the women themselves.

These barriers encompass personal awareness and confidence, community attitudes and norms, economic vulnerability, and institutional constraints, underscoring the complex landscape women navigate in pursuit of equal participation and leadership.

The report further revealed that women encounter both formal and informal barriers to their participation, with a significant disparity observed between political and economic domains. While 64 per cent of women felt hindered in political participation, 39 per cent cited barriers in economic engagement. These barriers encompassed factors such as lack of education, gender discrimination, economic vulnerability, and institutional constraints.

“Women’s awareness of their rights to participate varied, with some exhibiting limited knowledge, particularly in rural areas. While concepts like freedom of speech and political participation were universally recognised, awareness of specific legislation guaranteeing these rights varied. 

“Notably, 75% of surveyed women were aware of state laws ensuring equal rights for women in politics, with 73% acknowledging provisions for women to contest elections and hold public office.

 “However, informal barriers, compounded by patriarchal structures, undermine the efficacy of formal legal frameworks. Sustained sensitisation efforts are imperative to empower women with knowledge and assert their rights effectively.”

The women cited personal barriers impeding their full participation in the report, including feelings of social anxiety, fear, and the lack of confidence exacerbated by limited education pose significant hurdles. 

It showed that Illiteracy, in particular, undermines women’s confidence to engage in public discourse and advocate for their rights. While women express willingness to speak up, they often grapple with social stigma and discrimination, hindering their active participation in decision-making spheres.

Also, patriarchal norms perpetuated by communities and traditional leaders present formidable obstacles to women’s participation. Gender discrimination, cultural norms, and stigma impede women’s integration into decision-making processes. Illiteracy further exacerbates these barriers, limiting women’s qualifications and relegating them to the margins of

Questioning gender roles

Contrary to prevailing norms dictating women’s subservience, the majority of women surveyed reject the notion that a wife should unquestioningly defer to her husband’s decisions.

 Similarly, a significant proportion disagrees with the idea that women’s primary role should be confined to caregiving within the home. However, women’s perceptions of their own capabilities are tempered by the reality of community attitudes, where entrenched patriarchal values persist.

The challenge of women’s participation extends beyond overt gender discrimination to encompass structural inequalities and power dynamics. Women’s aspirations for leadership roles are often thwarted by entrenched beliefs in male superiority, perpetuated by both men and women. Traditional customs, which prioritise male leadership within the family and community, further marginalize women, reinforcing the notion that their voices are subordinate.

Charting a path forward

Addressing gender disparities necessitates a multifaceted approach encompassing legal reforms, community mobilisation, and advocacy for gender-sensitive policies. Empowering women to challenge traditional norms and assert their rights requires sustained efforts to promote gender equality education and sensitisation campaigns. 

By fostering an inclusive environment that values women’s contributions and amplifies their voices, Nigeria can harness the full potential of its diverse population, paving the way for a more equitable and prosperous future.

In essence, the journey towards gender equality demands collective action to dismantle the structural barriers and cultural norms that perpetuate gender disparities.