The maiden edition of IFUMSA’s Women in Politics 1.0 was held virtually on the 28th of October 2022. The programme which was aimed at fostering female participation in mainstream and grassroots politics couldn’t have come at a better time. Especially in the wake of increasing advocacy for women as a response to the distressing statistics that, in 2022, we still have less than 10% of women vying for political offices in Nigeria. In addition, the quality of the invited guest speakers and their robust portfolios in this field made the program nothing short of a graceful event.
At 4.00 pm precisely, the moderator, Amarachi Godswill-Nwankwo welcomed and appreciated all who had joined the call, particularly the female guest speakers and female IFUMSA executives present. The Ifumsa President, Kolade Adegoke was present and gave the opening remarks. Amarachi then called Akinyemi Favour to read the citation for the first speaker, a notable Nigerian broadcast journalist, news anchor, and women’s rights activist with nearly two decades of experience; Mary-Ann Okon.
The First Speaker- Miss Mary-Ann Okon
Miss Mary-Ann appreciated IFUMSA for the opportunity to speak at this event. She gave a background on advocacy for women’s participation through time citing Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the former First ladies of the United States as an example.
She then talked about some of the ways society has silenced women from having political ambitions. A common saying to back up such is a false notion that “women are to be seen not heard.”
She further illustrated other societal notions that have also caused many women to abort their political careers; that society has built women to only be supporters of their husbands. So even on a large scale, most women would rather support a man’s ambition to be the governor than fuel their aspirations for that same seat. This is also why many have relegated a woman’s greatest influence in politics to being “women leaders” of political parties and in other cases, deputies.
“Where are women when the juicy political offices are being displayed, aside being women leaders of political parties? “
Again, she stated that sadly, a lot of women don’t even encourage or support their fellow women. In her words
“It starts from when your friend tells you she wants to be the next SUG president. Throw your weight behind her as a woman”
“Although I’m not here to bash men, the boys club would always be the boys club. They know how to line up for themselves. So why not support your fellow woman too? If a woman has the capacity for a post, give her the chance. This goes beyond politics. Whether we are talking about women in business or women in tech or even women in medicine, we need to trust women more with the responsibility of leadership.”
She also debunked a popular myth used against women vying for political posts. “Some say women can’t handle top political offices because of the emotional stress involved. But they forget that one of the most emotionally tasking offices a woman already manages is her home.”
Finally, she encouraged the male attendees to encourage their spouses by being ready and supportive. “In party politics, for instance, some men intentionally, fix meetings at late hours like 2 am. If you have a spouse in the political space, don’t restrict her by preventing her from such meetings.”
After her insightful session, Amarachi appreciated her once again, commended her impressive portfolio, and announced that there would be a question and answer session later on.
The Second Speaker- Mrs Damilola Agbalajobi
The second speaker, Mrs Damilola Agbalajobi is a senior lecturer and an Acting Head of the Political science department here in OAU. As an avid researcher in this field, she shared the statistics of female political participation in Nigeria, Africa, and the world. She also taught from a slide she prepared on the topic: Female participation in politics, effects, challenges, and the way forward.
Mrs. Damilola explained what female participation in politics fully entails. In her words “Political participation is beyond voting! It involves the freedom to speak out assemble, take part in political and public affairs, register as a candidate, and hold offices at all levels of government”
Here are the highlights of her very comprehensive lecture.
What we gain if women participate in politics
- Greater responsiveness to citizens’ needs
- A balance of power between both genders, which is an indicator of balance in any society
- It’s essential to building strong and vibrant democracies where the people rule ( in this case women)
- It helps to bring attention to issues that uniquely affect women
Challenges to women in politics
- Cultural, religious and societal norms
- Inadequate finances
- Political parties structure
- The media painting female politicians poorly and asking the wrong questions like “has she been able to sustain her home first? who is her husband?
- Gender-related electoral violence
- Hate speeches and other forms of harassment, etc.
The Way Out
- Appropriate training
- Networking and mentorship
- Financial support and sponsorship
- Legislative changes to make the quota system lower for women and encourage more participation.
The Third speaker- Rinu Oduala
Miss Rinu delivered a captivating session with many nuggets from her experience and her insight into this societal issue.
“History has been timelessly unkind to women although they’ve always been at the forefront of activism“, she said. “This is why for instance, they only told us that the late Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was the first woman to ride a car in Nigeria. But was that the most remarkable thing she did?
“Women have always been interested in leadership and politics but the environment itself is limiting and preventing their participation”
She advised that the media must change their negative way of portraying female activists and politicians. In Nigeria today, the media portrays such women as being stubborn, wayward, prostitutes, etc. And in other cases, they just assume that she can’t win. “The country as a whole must thus enable political women as much as possible”.
She rounded off with this statement “We keep saying the older generation has failed us! Yet we forget that we the girls of yesterday are already the leaders of today”
The Fourth Speaker- Nander Esmeralda Ndam
The fourth speaker, Nanda Esmeralda Ndam, is an attorney and a former Special Assistant to the Governor of Plateau State. She is also an ardent advocate for the inclusion of youths and women in politics.
She started by explaining the bicameral structure of the Nigerian legislative system. Then she talked about the role of these bodies in influencing women in politics. For instance, having a quota system that accommodates more Female representatives in The House.
“The implications of women being well represented in our Legislative bodies cannot be over emphasized. In some countries there are no taxes on sanitary towels, for instance. But here in Nigeria, you’ll find that sanitary pads are quite expensive, which shouldn’t be because it’s not a woman’s fault she has to bleed. It would have been difficult for laws like this to be in place if women were well represented in the first place.”
She ended with this powerful statement. “You have to sit at the table to have a say in what’s being said. And if it means you must sit at the bar table, then by all means do so!“
Questions and Answers
After this, Amarachi read the questions and invited the guest speakers to answer them.
Q- How do we ensure women have the capacity for good governance?
A-First off, why should the bar for women be higher? That she’s a woman shouldn’t mean she must have some extra powers. Everyone learns on the job. However, I would advise that you build yourself and start early. It should be the case that when you want to go for a top post like Presidency, no one knows you or can vouch for your capabilities.
Q- How should you handle sexual harassment and bullying when people try to bring you down with such?
A- First, take note that harassment can happen at any level but you must always let people know your stand as a woman of integrity. Don’t shy away from politics because of this fear and where necessary report to the appropriate authorities.
Q-What criteria should a woman meet to go into politics?
A-If you feel you have something to offer, please go for it. Anyone can venture into politics but the question is what do you bring to the table?
After this, the moderator thanked the speakers for their time and invited the Vice president, Evelyn Atoyebi for the vote of thanks.
Hope you got a brief of all you missed out on last Friday? For more of such events MediVoice has covered, please click here. And don’t be informed alone, share the link with your friends too. See you next time.