Women constitute an expansive block of the electorate in Nigeria. They often take the lead in voting in elections. In the 2015 general election, 45,888,984 registered voters were women, while 22,944,984 were men. Despite being the larger block of the electorate, women occupy less than 7 percent of positions in government (elective and appointive).
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) statistical representation of women in elective positions in 2015, women have only 6.1 percent representation in the State House of Assembly; 3.89 percent in the House of Representatives and 7.34 percent in the Senate. And in the executive, women are also not well represented.
Although there are some women breaking the barriers to successfully participate in politics, most women are encumbered by socio-cultural and religious practices, inadequate financial resources, volatile political environment, political party discrimination, absence of support from family and the media.
Some socio-cultural and religious practices act as a wedge to women’s participation in politics and inclusion in government. In certain cultures, women are not be heard or even seen. And they are not allowed to own property. This naturally shuts out most women with leadership potential.
Legislation is imperative in freeing women from socio-cultural shackles. This is why Stella Oduah, Senator representing Anambra North, has been sponsoring bills deliberately aimed at improving the plight of women economically and politically. These bills when they become law will prohibit discrimination against women by political parties and engender their protection from political violence.
Some of these bills include, the Independent Candidacy bill which will give women who may be shut out by political parties a chance to run for elective office without the encumbrances of party politics.
Others are the Protection of Children from Sexual Oﬀences Bill 2019; Marriage Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2019; Marital Right of Spouses Bill 2019; Property Rights of Spouses Bill, 2015;
An Act to Amend the Prison Act P.29 Laws of The Federation of Nigeria, 2004 To Provide for A Mother and Baby Unit for The Care of Female Prisoners Who Are Pregnant, Nursing Mothers and Their Babies and For Related Matters; and a Bill for The Establishment of Technology Hubs and Skill Acquisition Centres Across the Geopolitical Zones of The Federation.
All these bills are aimed at protecting women and empowering them in a society where there is a disequilibrium in opportunities between the genders.
Politics in Nigeria is capital intensive, and many women lack the means to foot campaign bills. Without economic power, political power is difficult to attain. Senator Stella Oduah believes women should be empowered economically to participate in politics – this could be by giving their businesses and pursuit necessary incentives for growth, including indiscriminate access to low interest loans; capital bonds for development, and certainly 50 percent participation in government skills acquisition and enhancement programs.
“The empowerment of women is the empowerment of the nation,” Senator Stella Oduah often says.
There is no doubt that our society will be a better one if more women are empowered to participate in politics. In fact, Nigeria will be in good stead of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) if there is a deliberate policy and action in including women in government. Women are natural leaders, and their inclusion in government must be intentional and sustained.
Senator Stella Oduah is the PDP candidate for Anambra North senatorial election.