Female Participation and our Electoral Process
Women constitute more than half of the human race and play a crucial role in all spheres of life. The reality check of growth of any nation lies not only in its economic growth but crucially in the status of its women and their rights to good governance, healthcare, child care, civil rights and safety.
Nigerian women have always had the opportunity to vote since we gained independence in 1960. Our women have always played a prominent role in politics, even though we are yet to elect a female governor or Head of State. However, other African countries like Liberia and recently Ethiopia have beaten us to it and elected female Presidents.
The 2006 census puts Nigerian women at about half the population of the entire country (Channels TV, 2012 August 2). Despite this numerical advantage and the massive participation in voting, less than 20% of political offices are held by women. For all intents and purposes, it appears that the Nigerian situations seem to defy the political theory that political power derives from political participation because women participate fully in elections in Nigeria but without full representation, rather they have about the lowest representation of 5.9% in the national legislature when compared to most other African countries. For example, Uganda has 34.6%, South Africa (43.2%), Ethiopia (27.7%), Cameroun (20%), Niger (12.3%) and DR Congo (8.0%) (Daily Times, May 18, 2012). For Nigeria women, particularly in areas of political representation in governance the percentage is 7%, the lowest in the world (Vanguard Newspaper, January 21, 2013).
Non-involvement of women in democratic governance has been a recurrent phenomena in the Nigeria despite their numerical advantage and the massive participation in the electoral process. As our democracy continues to evolve and develop, the need for an appraisal of the role of women in governance and decision-making processes becomes imperative. It can be decently argued that the non-involvement of women in public decision-making in contemporary Nigeria has its roots in the colonial experience which arguably secluded women and disempowered them.
Prior to colonial rule, our women founded cities, led migrations and even conquered kingdoms, prominent of which was the Abia women riot of 1929, Queen Amina, the Dahomey Amazons etc.
Women have actually proved their strength and competence in the society in all spheres even in male dominated professions but women involvement in public decision making processes in Nigeria has been characterized by low representation.
Instructively, women have particularly demanded the implementation of affirmative actions towards the integration of at least 35% of women in all elective positions and in fulfillment of United Nations agenda for gender mainstreaming Women political empowerment and development as enshrined in Nigeria’s National Gender Policy should be adopted. It is useful to mention that globally, women representation has increased from 13% to 18% (Igbuzor, 2014:77).
The right for women to vote has always been contentious, even in the Western world, which sets the standard, in terms of modern democracy. Women had a much harder time, getting eligibility to participate in the electoral process.
Let's take a look at the first five countries which granted women the right to vote:
On September 19, 1893, the governor Lord Glasgow, signed a new Electoral Act into law. As a result of this landmark legislation, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections
After nearly a 100 years, in 1997, Jenny Shipley became New Zealand’s first female prime minister
Since then, women have held each of the country’s key constitutional positions: the prime minister, governor-general, speaker of the House of Representatives, attorney-general, and chief justice
Nine years later, Australia followed suit and also passed a suffrage act for women, after independence from Great Britain
This act took effect in 1902, and though it did apply to all women in the new country, aboriginal women were left out
Aborigines, male and female, Aboriginal women are indigenous people that were descended from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands before British colonization did not have the right to vote until 1962
Finland was the first European country to join the league of more progressive nations in 1906
But what was unique about the 1906 ruling was that while Finland granted women's suffrage, it became the first country in the world to also grant women the right to stand for parliament.
Norway granted suffrage to women in 1913, though the men in the nation were voting since 1898
However, the requirements were that these women must have paid a certain amount of taxes or be married to a man who paid that same amount
Parliament in Denmark began discussing women’s suffrage in 1886 although the right was limited to tax-paying women living in Copenhagen
This led to the formation of Women’s Suffrage Association, which held public meetings to challenge the status-quo
Denmark finally granted women suffrage in 1915.
Saudi Arabia, in 2011, became the most recent country in 21st century to grant women's suffrage and also lifted the ban on women's driving in June 2018, which was a much-needed step.
But, did you know that Saudi Arabia is not the last country to grant women's suffrage?
There is only one country left in the world who still has not granted women the right to vote.
Vatican City, in Rome, is the last place in the world that still prevents women from voting
The centre of the Roman Catholic Church allows only cardinals to vote when a new Pope is elected
While this also means not all men have the right to vote, women are unable to hold any executive or legislative positions in Vatican City elections whereas men can become cardinals.
There's still a long way to go:
Multiple international initiatives, including the United Nations programme on women’s political participation, focus on removing barriers so that women can vote. Such barriers are complex and multi-dimensional but include illiteracy (nearly two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women) and childcare responsibilities which prevent women from leaving the home.
The right to vote, though we didn’t have to fight as hard as our predecessors to get it in Nigeria, is not one that should be taken for granted. As women, we are more likely to consider how leadership affects family life, healthcare, food prices, education and child welfare and care.
Today, IWS ladies joined millions of other women from all parts of Nigeria to exercise their rights and fulfill their civic duties by voting in the Presidential and Federal House of Assembly elections. This is important because we have a duty to protect the rights and welfare of women and children, which we can only do by first ensuring that we have the right kind of leadership, which puts these issues and our needs on the front burner.
Azinge, E. (1994). The Right to Vote in Nigeria: A Critical Commentary on the Open Ballot System. Journal of African Law, 38(2), 173-180. doi:10.1017/S0021855300005507