Gender inequality is a socio-cultural, legal, political, and global issue that manifests itself in different forms and can be found in almost every society but is more pervasive in some nations.
A Nigerian woman is strong, brave, smart, intelligent, and hardworking but still faces the peculiar challenges of hunger, poverty, health, and poor representation compared to her male counterparts and women in some other countries. The point here is not to state that men are responsible for such inequalities or that women should be put above men or should be elevated to positions they haven’t worked for and haven’t earned.
I am not advocating for gender-blind policies and not saying that there shouldn’t be a place for men and women in society, the focus is to join the dialogue with a different voice to end itself. Although in recent times, progress is been made in terms of achieving gender equality. However, in comparison to other aforementioned countries, Nigeria is still at the takeoff point and seems not to be ready anytime soon in dealing with the monstrous issue. For example; The -Bill for Affirmative Action for women in political administration 2022 was rejected. The reasons put forward in explaining the justification for the failed bills are nothing short of traditional, cultural, and religious considerations.
Even though there are overwhelming documentaries and oral traditional evidence of surviving religious cults, and indigenous political cultures in different parts of the country that support the view that the current inequalities in the Nigerian political landscape did not exist until the advent of colonialism.
Viewing things from the historical lens, amongst the Igbo of the southeastern part of Nigeria, the functions of the Obi (male monarch) were parallel to, and complementary to, those of the Omu (female monarch). And each monarch within this system manages its own affairs, and women’s interests were represented at all levels, In Yoruba land, women occupied positions of great influence, both by merit and aristocratic connections, and served as priests of local deities, a position which imbued them with considerable spiritual and political powers.
Again, many of the tribal groups that were incorporated by the colonial administrators into the geopolitical entity called Nigeria were founded by women. Among the women who founded communities in Nigerian history were Inkpi of Igalaland, Moremi (Yorubaland in the southwest), and Daura (Hausa of northern Nigeria). Furthermore, Cambausa is said to have been in charge of the Bonny in the 13th century while Queen Amina held the reins of political leadership in the Zazzau emirate in the 14th century. In other places, women, such as Omu Okwei, Nana Asma’u, and Iyolade Efaunsetan, were notable political figures who advised and supported male leaders.“
All of these confirm that women were not passive subjects in pre-colonial politics, rather they were active participants with meaningful and enduring contributions like their male counterparts. political marginalization of women in Nigeria became very effective during the colonial period.
The consequence was that it deepened the fissures of gender inequalities by eroding women’s power and autonomy and pushing them to the bottom of the social structure table. In Igboland for example, shows that the British colonial rule only recognized the male Obi, and even paid him a monthly salary, but totally ignored the female Omu. This accounts for the absence of women from meaningful and active political representation in independence. the Nigerian women did not simply fold their arms and watch. in reaction to the discriminatory colonial policies, Nigerian women of the Ibibio and Igbo extractions rose up against the colonial authorities in the famous ‘women’s war’ known as the Aba women’s riot’. These protests witnessed the uprising of women in defiance challenging the socio-cultural and political marginalization and systematic suppression. The fierceness and momentum of the Aba women’s riots are evidence of the severity of injustices that women were subjected to during colonial rule. They were trying to renegotiate their role in the socio-political structures. Unfortunately, the battle was not won and it’s yet to be won because, even after several years of independence, all the efforts to achieve full female political participation by successive governments are nothing but mere lip service.
In the 2003 general elections, the country witnessed an increase in women’s participation in political activities all over the country. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, more women contested for elective positions. During this period, 3 women were elected senators out of 109, and 21 women were elected House of Representative members out of 360, only 2 women succeeded as deputy governors and in state Houses of Assembly, we had only 2 women as Speakers out of 36. There was a significant improvement in the 2007 general elections compared to the past. 6 women succeeded as deputy governors, and 9 were elected as Senators, in the House of Representatives we had 28 and 42 made it to the State Houses of Assembly.
There is no doubt that the muffled voice of women in public life and low participation in politics is a result of unequal power relations and discriminatory attitudes toward women and Nigeria ranks among the lowest in this regard. In the last election in Nigeria, only one female ran for the office of the President, and of course, the President is not a female. The effect of the non-involvement of women in politics at decision-making levels is that women’s gender-specific concerns remain unaddressed and the benefit of their perspective on mainstream issues is lost, and thus equality and consequently national development remains an illusion.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Knowledge is power and access to knowledge is empowerment, therefore, it is critical to empower women through functional and qualitative education and concomitantly, equip them for productive and constructive engagement.
A lot of men and women in Nigeria, especially in rural areas, are ignorant of women’s rights. Therefore, workshops and training should be organized especially in rural areas in order to create more awareness of the issue. This can be done by the Government, women-based NGOs, human organizations, and influential individuals like celebrities, traditional rulers, etc.
Gender equality laws like the aforementioned rejected bills should be re-enacted at both state and state Federal levels. Achieving gender balance does not stop at enacting gender equality laws only, the authorities should in addition to laws, make policies and such policies should establish agencies and bodies that would be responsible for implementation and the monitoring of such implementation processes.
Written by: Barr. Freedom Bassey