What Does the Recent Election Tell Us About Women's Political Representation in Nigeria?

22 June 2023
22 June 2023

Since the advent of electoral democracy in Nigeria in 1999, the representation of women in the National Assembly has been significantly low. Thus far, only 157 women have been elected to this august assembly in 24 years. This number includes 38 Senators and 119 Members of the House of Representatives. In contrast, during the same period, 2,657 men were elected to these positions, with 616 serving as Senators and 2,041 as Representatives.

Moving on to the recent 2023 general elections in Nigeria, a total of 18 political parties fielded 15,307 candidates contending for various political positions. However, the representation of women on the ballot was strikingly insufficient, with only 1,552 women standing as candidates. This figure represents a mere 9.8% of the total number of candidates. Unfortunately, the outcome was equally disheartening, as only 78 women emerged victorious, constituting a meagre 5.2% of the total women who participated in the elections.

Furthermore, when focusing specifically on the Senate and House of Representatives races, out of the 378 women who ran for these seats, 17 women were successful in securing victory. This low success rate highlights the numerous challenges and barriers that women face in the political arena, hindering their path to elected office and substantive representation in Nigeria's legislative bodies.

Globally, women make up more than half of the world's population and contribute significantly to societal growth in general. Women are known to be resilient and to make very substantial contributions to the economy of nations, particularly in the informal sector. However, their participation and representation in politics have been confronted with several obstacles, such as limited access to election financing, mental and physical abuse, novice candidacy, and political party gatekeeping, among others. The significance of women's participation in this field is recognised in international agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is also highlighted in the Maputo Protocol which calls on states to promote women’s equal participation in political life, specifically in aspiring for elective positions and at all levels of the electoral process.

It is regrettable that women have been underrepresented in both elective and appointive offices in Nigeria.  Many Nigerians are becoming increasingly concerned about this widening vacuum in representation. However, government and non-governmental organizations are making concerted efforts to boost women's political involvement in accordance with the Beijing Declaration, which pushed for a benchmark of 30% affirmative action. In Nigeria, the current National Gender Policy (NGP) proposed 35% affirmative action instead, with at least 35% of both elective political and appointive public sector positions reserved for women.

The underrepresentation of women in political involvement became entrenched because of the deep-rooted cultural and social structures that continue to obstruct women's representation and empowerment in Nigerian politics. It is widely known in Nigeria for instance that patriarchal structures, gender stereotypes, traditional and religious practices remain the major hindrances of women's access to resources, decision-making processes, and leadership opportunities. To tackle these dangerous and debilitating practices require a combination of conscious efforts, including but not limited to building partnerships and collaboration, creating awareness campaigns, pushing for legislative reforms, and undertaking community engagements. 

In Nigeria, while none of the incumbent female senators are returning to their seats after the 2023 elections, seven of the thirteen female members of the House in the Ninth National Assembly also lost their re-election bids. Barring last minute changes by court pronouncement, only 3 women will be in the senate representing a meagre 3.27% of the 109 Senators elected to the office, and 14 in the 360-member House of Representatives

This result means women represent only a pitiable 3.8% in the parliament as presently constituted. Impliedly, these tiny numbers of women would be representing half of the population, half of registered voters and half of the labour force in Nigeria, reputed as the most populated black nation and the strongest and fastest growing economy in West Africa. Furthermore, a total of 25 women contested for the governorship elections out of the 28 states where elections were conducted, constituting for only 6% of the total candidates who contested. Sadly, none of them were elected to office.  

Additionally, of the 102 females forming 24.34% of the number of people who ran for deputy governors alongside the male candidates, only 7 were elected to office. In the 19 states of Northern Nigeria, Plateau, Adamawa, and Kaduna have female deputy governors elect. Akwa Ibom and Rivers in the South-south region of Nigeria also has females as their deputy governor elect. While Ogun state in the South-west region and Ebonyi state in the South-east have females elected as their deputy governor.

In Africa’s 54 countries, Nigeria ranks the lowest, coming 54th with a 3.8% female representation in the upper and lower chambers, while Rwanda ranks first with 47.95 per cent. On the list of five worst-performing countries, Algeria came second after Nigeria with 6.20%; Benin Republic, 7.40%, while the Gambia and Liberia followed with 8.60 and 11.00 % respectively. This statistic shows that Nigeria is far from attaining the 30% affirmative action as prescribed by the Beijing Platform of Action.

The poor representation of women in the just inaugurated 10th senate, could result in unbalanced representation in such a manner their unique perspectives, concerns, and priorities may well be overlooked or marginalize. This could further lead to lopsided policies and decisions that do not adequately address the needs of women, particularly with regards to reproductive health, gender-based violence, and economic empowerment issues. Without women's voices at the table, there is a risk of perpetuating gender inequalities and failing to achieve sustainable development. Also, Women's underrepresentation in the political process can result in a lack of emphasis on gender-responsive policies and initiatives. Gender-responsive policies are crucial for addressing gender disparities, promoting women's rights, and ensuring equal opportunities. 

The appointment of 4 women out of 10 as special advisers on health, Energy, policy coordination, culture and entertainment economy by the Nigerian president signifies a positive step towards increasing women's representation in politics. This move demonstrates a recognition of the importance of gender equality and the valuable contributions that women can bring in decision-making roles. However, it is important to note that women's representation in politics should not be limited to advisory roles alone. Achieving true gender parity requires increased representation of women in elected positions, such as parliamentarians, ministers, and heads of state. 

Thus, we await the ministerial list to see how women would be represented in this administration because, without sufficient representation, gender-related issues may receive insufficient attention, leading to a lack of progress in achieving gender equality goals. Low women representation in governance can limit the visibility of female leaders and role models. Seeing women in positions of power and influence is important for inspiring and empowering other women and girls to pursue leadership roles. When women are underrepresented, it can perpetuate gender stereotypes and discourage women from actively participating in politics and decision-making processes. Democracy thrives when all segments of society have equal opportunities to participate in decision-making processes. Low women representation can undermine the democratic principles of inclusiveness and equal representation. It can lead to a democratic deficit where a significant portion of the population is excluded from decision-making, creating a legitimacy crisis, and eroding public trust in governance institutions.

Lastly, addressing the underrepresentation of women in decision-making and governance in Nigeria requires concerted and intentional efforts to promote gender equality and create an enabling environment for women's participation. This can be achieved through gender mainstreaming, implementing gender quotas, promoting women's leadership development, strengthening women's political parties and networks, providing support and resources for women candidates, and creating a culture that values and respects women's voices and contributions t national development.

Hadiza Lemo is an Assistant Programmes Officer at the Centre for Democracy and Development

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