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Women in government: Still a long way to go

The number of women representatives, both in appointive and elective positions, at the federal, state and local government levels curiously declined in the present dispensation, ENE OSANG, recently took up Hon Nkoyo Toyo representing Calabar/Odukpani federal constituency of Cross River state, and former Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Mulikat Akande, on the development and the way forward as the 2019 elections draw nearer.

It is no longer news the low percentage of women in leadership positions in Nigeria, in fact Nigeria has been rated very low in women representation from different quarters leaving one wondering what the future holds for women in the country.

In spite high level advocacy from different quarters on the need for an inclusive government where women and men have equally opportunity to leadership, the situation is yet to improve.

Hon Nkoyo Toyo representing Calabar/Odukpani federal constituency of Cross River state, and former Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Mulikat Akande, share their experiences and proffer solutions.

Hon Nkoyo Toyo

For Hon Nkoyo Toyo, the decline in women’s representation in leadership position, particularly in the parliament, can be blamed on the change movement.

She said under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) women fared better, noting that:  “Women were no longer threatened as they were and had begun to find a certain comfort level within the party but going to the new party, they did not have enough time to begin to bring that culture in the party.

“I mean, for women who have been there contesting, some of us were strong enough to stand that’s why in Rivers state for example they still have women, who are able to push.

“Coming from civil society, I was seen as strong and independent minded. However, the numbers that get elected is a function of what the party put up.”

Speaking further she said: “I’m pretty disappointed with the APC party and the women, because I thought they would have organized by now to make demands on the structures. You cannot get anything by complaining.

“You have to come up, you have to demand, you have to seek until you get something out of it, but I think the APC is not politically smart enough because in the long-run it will come around to hurt them.”

On the way forward, Hon. Nkoyo encouraged women to keep up the struggle, just as she noted that in Cross River State women won leadership positions following their resilience.

She said, “We’ve been particularly successful, we have actually impacted on the national statistics. We won election and all it took was political will. The women did not need to talk about money, but then money came in, but it was tangential to make decision.

“In Cross River state we took up the Zebra; so that every Chairman of a local government has a woman as the vice or vice versa so, the women came in through the strength of the policy as already adopted by the state.

“Then in the case of the party positions, the constitution of the PDP has already said 35 per cent, though often times many people don’t insist on its implementation.”

Speaking further, she said, “I think we need to begin to deal with the policy issues better because, aside affirmative action, there are many other forms of action we need to begin to think of.

“We have to negotiate positions. Can you make sure that your deputy is female? Women can say ‘our group will not join until you give us a certain percentage.’

“We have better bargaining power when a woman leader sits in the room with the men and leverages on numbers. We must know how to use the power of our numbers.”

The lawmaker further advised, “We must return to the women’s wing and use the women’s wing to engage the party and thus begin to change the character of the party.”

She further advised women to double up efforts to lobby the gatekeepers in politics, and make it difficult for them to ignore the women’s question, stressing that the more women talk about it, the more they will be taken seriously because it makes the party look ugly if they don’t consider women.

Hon Mulikat Akanda

Speaking on the retrogression, former Majority Leader of the House of Representative Hon. Mulikat Akande said the political terrain, especially what obtains during the primaries, is not conducive for women and is the major factor responsible for women falling by the wayside.

“After the strategy conference that I organized, while I was in office, a lot of women were inspired to contest elections but the system did not aid them in any way.

“For a number of years now, we have been talking about affirmative action, about quotas and about the national gender policy, which I expected that before the 2015 elections, parties should have agreed on a quota for women and put this in their various constitutions; but they did not.

“In the actual sense, primaries did not take place; they just selected candidates, so the women were marginalized. But I would say that once you are in it, you are in it, and you have to keep trying until you get there,” she said.

According to her, other factors inhibiting women’s political progress include funding, which has always been a challenge to women’s progress politically.

“I will not want women to apply funds the same way men do. You don’t have to buy people’s votes, you don’t have to buy their conscience. It is about you being known in your constituency, your reputation and what you have done in the past and also your sincerity of purpose.

“So, you see, women stand a better chance when the system is right, when there are processes and they are adhered to. There are processes, we have the law, we have policies but people do not comply with it. And what happens to those who break these laws? Nothing,” she said.

On the way forward, she emphasized that women should understand the importance of issue based politics, saying they can win the hearts of electorates if they show they are capable of occupying leadership positions.

“When you know your constituency in and out, and the issues you strive to address, you identify the key influencers and let them know exactly who you are.

“You don’t have to start changing your attitude because you want to go to the house of representatives and then by the time you get there, you go back to your real personality.

“Let them know you for who you are, let them know that you are going there to represent them adequately and not just going there because of selfish interests, I think it’s a matter of trust, trust can never be undermined.”

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