Goodwill message from the Democratic Governance for Development Project Director at the Launch of the Guidelines/Strategic Framework for Implementation of Affirmative Action by Political Parties in NigeriaSep 16, 2013
Speech delivered at the Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja
May I warmly welcome all of you to this event to launch the strategic framework and guidelines for the implementation of affirmative action by political parties in Nigeria.
In my remarks this morning, I want to explore the question of why, in 2013, more than a century on from the initial struggle of women to be accorded voting rights at all, there remains a need to assert the right of women’s participation, and why we still need to strategize on measures to ensure this right is not only protected and promoted, but the dividends - in the form of women active, visible and heard in political and public life - are manifest.
Ladies and Gentleman,
We meet today on the cusp of another period in Nigeria’s political and democratic process. A mere glance at the daily headlines is enough to recognize the criticality of this period. Encouragingly, some electoral reforms planning and restructuring have progressed and the respected Chairman Attahiru Jega is assuming great leadership of one of the difficult but significant of Nigeria’s national institutions - and I am sure you join with me in wishing him fortitude and wisdom as he guides the country through the forthcoming elections.
Our common objective is to try as much as possible ensure that women have a voice in elections and should have a greater voice in the governance of this nation. After all, these are rights enshrined in a multitude of instruments to which the Federal Government of Nigeria is a signatory. In ratifying these various international agreements, the Federal Government of Nigeria has implied a promise to achieve the standards they proclaim.
Article 18 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights obliges states to ensure that all discrimination against women is eliminated. This principle is also enshrined in the Charter of Women’s Rights in Africa, which was approved in Maputo in 2003 and been in effect since November 2005. The African Union Declaration on Gender Equality is another modern instrument approved in July 2004 by Heads of State and Government. This declaration requires governments to undertake actions to speed up the agendas for political measures related to women’s issues.
The international convention specifically addressing women’s rights is the Convention on the Elimination of all form of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW). The Convention states Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right:
• To vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies;
• To participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government;
How representative is a democracy when the present national assembly in Nigeria has an appallingly low average of 7.2%. The challenge is to turn those aspirations into reality. Nigeria, despite its considerable natural resources and accumulating wealth, continues to face significant challenges in engaging the full potential of women to build a stronger, healthier, wealthier, and politically unified Nigerian nation.
Limited compliance with the affirmative action guidelines of the National Gender Policy are among some of these deterrents that keep women away from politics are difficult to address, but the experiences of Eastern and Southern Africa show that political and legal reforms are possible that can dramatically increase the presence and influence of women in politics.
A prime example of this is the Women’s National Coalition in South Africa, a coalition of more than seventy women’s organizations formed in response to the negotiations over the transition from apartheid. Realizing that women were being excluded from the political processes establishing the future of the new South Africa, the organizations united women from across racial, ethnic, class, political and religious differences to build a common ground based on ensuring that gender injustices were eliminated in the new South Africa. To develop a Women’s Charter that accurately reflected the diversity of women’s experiences and policy concerns in South Africa, the WNC carried out extensive consultation, resulting in a document that could effectively capture the range of South African women’s experiences.
The contributions of the Women’s Charter led to a South African Constitution that is globally one of the most responsive to gender concerns. The Women’s Charter also helped establish the framework for women’s participation in politics, under which the Parliament is composed of 41% women, and the Commission for Gender Equality, which has extensive powers to promote gender equality in all spheres of South African life (Mavuso-Mda 2009). While the WNC built a more gender-responsive nation, it also succeeded in generating a national movement based on gender concerns that overcame threats to national unity stemming from ethnic, racial, religious, class or political differences.
On the economic front, the benefits are also great. As the World Bank writes, “Gender equality is a longer-term driver of competitiveness and equity that is even more important in an era of increasingly globalized economies. No country can afford to fall behind because it is failing to enable women and men to participate equally in the economy and society.” According to the UNDP’s HDR 2013, “To accelerate and sustain development progress, countries need to adopt ambitious policies that expand women’s education and that have cross-cutting benefits for human development."
In this light, the launch of these guidelines and the strategic framework signals an important step in the path toward greater female participation in Nigerian politics. I am pleased to note that the major political parties in this country have been involved in this process, and I encourage them to use this framework within their organizations. For women’s rights to be truly incorporated into the political space, Nigerian parties cannot simply cast this framework aside; they must consider how it will help them to obtain a strong representation of women in their structures, and how that can flow on to enacting gender responsive policies moving forward.
I applaud the work of INEC, UN Women and the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development for the development of this framework. Please know that the Democratic Governance for Development project and its partners fully support this endeavor and pledge our support moving forward
Dedicated and inspirational women are bringing schools, clean water, and health care to their communities. They are working together to protect children, provide care for the elderly, and build a peaceful nation. They are making life better for the people they serve …and inspiring a new generation of women to follow in their footsteps. We should therefore speed up the reforms, invest in women-this investment will reap significant dividends down the road in building a stronger, more prosperous, more equitable, more unified and more resilient Nigeria for the years to come.