By Yemi Adeleye
Lagos – The Deputy British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ms Laure Beaufils on Tuesday urged Nigerian women to organise and vote for themselves in the 2019 elections to increase their participation in governance.
Beaufils gave the advice at One Day Stakeholders Workshop on “Enhancing Women Participation in the Electoral Process’’ organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in collaboration with Lagos State Gender Advocacy Team (LASGAT) in Lagos.
The deputy high commissioner, who spoke on a topic “Mobilising Women for Active Participation in Electoral Process’’ urged Nigerian women to support themselves during elections.
“It is actually central to have more women in politics, more women in government, because women bring a different perspective and a different history and experience of life.
“It is also fair; having women in government leads to changes in legislation and in policy here and in the world all over.
“Women need to be get organised, believe in themselves to vote for themselves and to make a change — and it’s not going to be easy; it’s going to take time, but it can happen.
“We see in Rwanda, we have 68 per cent of women in politics. Women have to vote for themselves and make sure they express their voices in the political parties and decision making processes and make their voice to be reckoned with.
“We want women to get organised, to want it, to never give up and to show leadership,’’ she said.
According to her, as the 2019 elections approach, it is fundamental for women to start now by getting involved and developing themselves.
Beaufils said that several factors threatened participation of women in politics such as discrimination, harassment and violence among others.
The envoy urged women to put pressure on their representatives and political parties and demand their rights of representation.
She, however, said that men’s support was also fundamental in ensuring quality representation for women in governance.
The deputy high commissioner said that the World Economic Forum in a report, stated that Nigeria was ranked 118 out of 144 under gender equality index, which looked at education, health, economic and politics.
Another speaker, Dr Abiola Akiode-Afolabi of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) described gender equally in Nigeria as “a marathon and not a race’’.
Akiode-Afolabi, delivering a speech on “Women Participation in Elections – the Nigeria Experience’’, called for solidarity among women for both appointive and elective positions.
She noted that Nigerian women’s participation in the electoral process had been marked by discrimination and exclusionary practices.
“An emerging democracy such as Nigeria ought to provide a level playing field for all citizens, irrespective of sex and economic class, either as a member of a political party or as independent candidate.
“We need to activate gender policy of INEC and political parties. We need to begin to look at the structure of political parties to change things.
“We need to encourage more women to join political parties; we need to build alliance among ourselves, insist on internal party democracy,’’ Akiode-Afolabi said.
In his opening remark, the Resident Electoral Commissioner of INEC, Mr Sam Olumekun, said the workshop would help the commission appraise the role of the Gender Focal Civil Society Organisations toward enhancing the participation of women in the electoral process.
Olumekun, who was represented by INEC Acting Administrative Secretary, Mrs Ijeoma Okey-Igbokwe said: “Eliminating gender disparity in politics and political leadership positions is a universal goal for democratic nations.
“Gender mainstreaming in the electoral process in Nigeria has been on the front burner of the commission’s engagement since 2006.’’
He said that the commitment engendered the establishment of Gender Desks in INEC office across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to achieve gender balance democracy in line with international best practices and applicable conventions.
Olumekun said that the commission, before the 2015 election, embarked on multi-dimensional pre-election activities geared toward improving women’s participation in the general elections.
“As we prepare for 2019 general elections, it has become necessary for us to deliberate on how to improve the statistics of women in elective positions.
“The commission understands that any degree of gender imbalance in politics undermines the definitive essence of representative democracy, which by all standards must be inclusive and substantially represent all segments of the society,’’ he said.
The REC, who called for all hands to be on deck to ensure equal participation for women in electoral process, said that the commission would provide necessary support within the limit of its statutory functions and resources in future elections.