Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Affirmative Action For Women In Politics!

About 50 years ago when the late Nigerian female politician Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti called for ‘at least 50 percent representation of women in politics’ people especially the male politicians took her very unserious. But little did they know that same issue would be a hot political issue about 50 years later.

In a Special Session of the UN General Assembly held in June 2000 to review the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, governments all over the world made a commitment to "set and encourage the use of explicit short and long-term time-bound targets or measureable goals, including where appropriate, quotas to promote progress towards gender balance, including women's equal access to and full participation on a basis of equality with men in all areas and at all levels of public life especially in decision-making positions, in political participation and political activities in all government ministries and at key policy-making institutions as well as in local development bodies and authorities".

Today all over the world women representation in politics has become an issue that generates a lot of controversy and hotly debated about. Nigeria is not an exception. In fact today in Nigeria a good number of non-governmental organisations devotes much of their time to pursuing equal representation of men and women in politics. Even though the Nigerian National Policy on Women called for at least 30 percent representation of women in public offices, the Nigerian government has not deemed it necessary to put necessary machineries in place to implement and actualise that. This is despite efforts being made by our sister African countries to bridge the gap between men and women in politics.

For instance while Rwanda has 48.8 percent of women in their national parliament, Nigeria has only 6.7 percent. Tanzania has 22.3 percent, Uganda 24.7 percent, South Africa 29.8 percent and Mozambique 30.0 percent. From these five examples there is no doubt then that Nigeria is ranking very low in terms of women representation in the parliament and obviously has a hard work to do to reach the 35 percent recommended by the United Nations. A closer look at the present republic may expatiate the scenario well. After the 2003 elections three women made it to the 109 member upper house while 21 were elected in 320 member lower house. Six women ministers were appointed with only three as full ministers. This is not too good for a nation like Nigeria who is supposed to be a role model for others especially in Africa.

On the wider world the Nordic and Scandinavian countries are reputable for their record of having a good number of women representatives in their parliament and public offices. According to Berit Lindeman, a Scandinavian and consultant to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, "the truth is the success was gained through hard labour from courageous women during a time-span of 80 years and during this period of time, a change in the traditional patriarchal attitude took place. There is not really any magic formula related to the Scandinavian success of around 40 percent representation in parliament. It is true that measures like quotas have been introduced, but only voluntary ones introduced by the political parties themselves and only after the main battles of representation had been won in the 1970s".

Here in Nigeria a lot of factors are responsible for hindering women's political participation. These include cultural, party barriers, socio-economic, religious, violence and many others. The more traditional a society is the more difficult it would be for women representation in the system. In patriarchal societies men are traditionally expected and favoured to be the dominant rulers not only by men themselves but also by women who believe that power and decisions are matters meant for men to tackle. In fact this group of women belong to the school of thought that strongly agrees that men are better equipped mentally, emotionally and physically to make decisions and tackle problems. Due to this majority of women lack confidence in themselves necessitating the men not considering them at all for any elective post because she is more likely to fail.

Berit Lindeman quoted earlier also opined that, "unemployment and economic instability tend to affect women harder than men. In turn it influences the women's mobilisation in a negative way as there is a connection between women's unemployment and political activity. Women have on the hand twice the share of unpaid work than men most significantly of course domestic work, child care and other social care. In Nigeria women work in average more than 16 hours a day according to the Nigerian CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) implementation report. How can they possibly find time for going into politics?”

Even though a lot of international conventions have been ratified for women inclusion in politics, women are still not being listed on the political parties' ballots and one mechanism which has been a stumbling block to women's representation in politics is the type of electoral system on ground. Unfortunately this is taken for granted in Nigeria. If a study of last 50 years of statistics concerning women's representation by type of electoral system is analysed, it seems clear that the choice of electoral system is highly relevant for the share of seats being won by women.

A woman is twice as likely to be elected under a Proportional Representation System compared to the First-Past-The-Post System currently in use in Nigeria. As Nigeria practices the First-Past-The-Post System, only one candidate is almost always elected from each district which makes it necessary for the party to find the single one candidate that is most likely to win the seat. Because there is a tendency for the candidate to be a man, the system works to the disadvantage of the women. But in Proportional Representative System the reverse becomes the case as there is always an opportunity to elect a candidate from a disadvantaged group. With this system it would be a lot easier to elect women.

The rational underpinning all Proportional Representative System is to consciously reduce the disparity between a party's share of the national votes and its share of the parliamentary seats. For example if a party wins 40 percent of the votes, it should win approximately 40 percent of the seats. Proportionality is often seen as being best achieved by the use of party lists, where political parties present lists of candidates to the voters on a national or sub-national basis and where there are many members to be elected from each constituency thus enabling the representation of even small minorities.

According to Nkoyo Toyo, the founder of Gender and Action Development, a non-governmental organisation involved with gender equality in politics, "many factors favour the election of women in Proportional Representation System. The more candidates from each district, the more women have a chance of taking a seat because the party will search for different types of candidates to nominate in order to attract different voter groups. The parties have a chance of competing for several seats allowing them to go further down on the list where women normally are".

Alternatively the government could codify into law the reservation of some seats for women who are interested in politics. By election law several countries have a certain number of seats reserved for women. Some of these countries include Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The new Iraqi and Afghanistan constitutions both have considerations for women. These reservation options ensure that women are not isolated in political life. Nigeria can borrow a leaf from these countries.

On a realistic point of view, how would this system work for women who are obviously in the minority? This is where the Principle of Affirmative Action comes in. What is the principle all about? According to a report of the National Forum on Affirmative Action for Nigerian Women in Politics, "It can be summarised to mean the creation of representativeness as a means of achieving equality in participation, with major emphasis on the need to create an environment for its existence and be acceptable rather than imposed. This will mean that to ensure the increased participation of women in politics certain representations should be preserved for women, the environment within which this could strive could be in form of legislation, policies or laws as well as constitutional provisions that stipulates these".

To achieve this we have to begin with the amendment of our electoral system to accommodate the plight of these women. That means that we have to retouch the Section 77 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria and Section 60 of the 2002 Electoral Act of Nigeria to reflect the Proportional Representation System which is the only method that would be able to accommodate the interest of women.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in a paper he personally delivered at an Independent National Electoral Commission/Civil Society Organisations Forum lent credence to this idea when he said, "it is a wise decision to start by examining the very foundation of our electoral system which determines winners and losers as well as their respective fate. Those who framed our Constitution and the Electoral Act must have had their reasons for adopting the First-Past-The-Post system which bestows on the winner by even the narrowest of margin of vote’s victory and the loser virtually nothing".

"I believe it will be right to examine the advantages and drawbacks of the current system in the context of our own experiences. I believe it is possible to identify a system which spreads the benefits of winning elections and limits the damage to looser so that the political system itself can grow from each successive election", he concluded.

1 comment:

  1. The original of this article with same title was first published by the Guardian Newspapers of Nigeria on Monday June 21, 2004.