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Imperatives for gender inclusion in governance in 2023: Righting the wrongs, By Aisha Waziri Umar

Hajia Aisha Waziri Umar

Our great nation, Nigeria, is at a cross road. We are confronted and bedeviled with the hydra-headed monsters of banditry, terrorism, kidnapping, unprovoked, gruesome and wanton killings across the country especially in the northern regions. This I strongly believe could be reasonably checked if we make sacrifices and adjustments to our style of selection of leaders at all levels of government to include women in government. With gender inclusion comes economic empowerment. There is no gain saying the fact that Nigeria is greatly wasting a precious resource in the gross under utilisation and poor representation of women in governance and politics. What that means in real terms is that as a nation we are playing with half team, when we have the capacity of playing a star studded full team.
As the 2023 elections approach, Nigeria must therefore address the sizable gender gaps that undermine women’s inclusion in governance. There is sufficient and ever increasing evidence that women inclusiveness in governance and political decision making processes help nation building. For example, research on local councils in Nigeria revealed that the number of potable drinking water projects in local government councils that were led by women was 62% higher than those led by men. It can also be safely said that there exists a strong relationship between the presence of women in area councils and child care coverage.
Current statistics has it that we have a paltry 11.2 per cent of women membership in both chambers of the 9th Assembly (seven females in the Senate and eleven in the House of Representatives). This, in my opinion is very poor juxtaposing it with 479 members of the federal parliament because women participation in governance leads to higher responsiveness to the yearnings of citizens. When there is gender balance in governance and leadership, the quality of lives amongst the populace is greatly improved. Upon the involvement of women in governance, they succinctly capture the needs of respective families and will ensure that policies are developed to suit the needs of their respective communities. When women are in governance, minority ethnic groups are less likely to be relegated to the background, rather, they will be given their rightful place in the affairs of the nation. Women in power can be counted upon to mention issues others over look, to support a cause or an idea that other persons stoutly, vehemently oppose and make concerted efforts in a bid to putting to an end abuses that others accept.
The necessity for women participation in politics and governance is undeniable. Studies all over the world have shown that there is no instrument more effective in promoting good governance than adequate empowerment of women. No other policy has the potential to reduce child and maternal mortality rate, which is a major cause of death amongst women in Nigeria and a bane in our society than conscious women inclusiveness. Statistics show that Nigeria has a maternal mortality rate of 576 per cent.
Several factors restrain women from actively participating in governance and politics in Nigeria. These include, but are not limited to the following: insufficient resources, ack of viable information, disproportionate access to quality education, cultural barriers, diversities, and discrimination against rural women. These are among the essential factors contributing to the passive involvement of women in governance and politics. A woman that has no quality education will naturally shy away from the political turf, hence this has continually kept intelligent and dynamic women from active participation in politics. This has in turn made these women docile and more malleable and easy to manipulate. Government has a great role to play in reversing these retrogressive practices and this can be achieved by implementing the right mechanisms, providing incentives to these women, encouraging them, reserving some elective political positions only for the female gender and lastly, we must endeavour to make the political space less violent. These steps, I strongly believe, will encourage massive participation and inclusion of women in politics.
It goes without saying that when women are accorded their deserved, appropriate and acceptable position in governance, it will enable them formulate and implement robust educational policies that will benefit the entire citizenry most especially the less fortunate ones in our society. When these children are versed with requisite knowledge, the society becomes saner and more habitable for all of us. The alarming rate of out of school children in our country is worrisome, no wonder why we are ignominiously leading the pack around the world. This has unwittingly led to the myriad and avalanche of challenges and upheavals that we are battling as a nation. As an uneducated mind is susceptible to all manner of deceit and delusion, we need to reverse the trend for the good of all of us!
Increasing numbers of women in public decision-making will act as an incentive for policy-makers to respond to women’s interests. A new report by the World Bank has lent credence to this view and concluded that closing this gender disparity gap will be of immense benefit to the Nigerian economy. The report titled: ‘Closing Gaps, Increasing Opportunities: A Diagnostic on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Nigeria,’ was launched in Abuja by the World Bank Country Office in Nigeria. The report seeks to establish that women’s empowerment in the economic sector should take a centre stage as a policy agenda if the nation intends to increase its domestic earnings which it projected should yield additional gains of US9.3 billion dollars or up to US22.9 billion dollars simply by closing this gender disparity.
Having more women in our nation’s governance process and political landscape will tremendously boost our socio-economic development. Conversely, the continued under representation and under utilisation of women has been our greatest undoing as a nation and fledgling democracy. This has kept us lying prostrate, despite our enormous economic potentials as a country. When women are properly main streamed in governance and politics, it absolutely rubs off on their household, community and ultimately on the nation.
How do we achieve this? Simply by systematic and representative inclusion of women in governance and politics. Research has it that when women are involved in peace processes and conflict resolution, the resulting agreement always stand the test of time and this agreement is well implemented to the letter. Higher levels of gender equality and inclusion engenders peace in the nation. An International Peace Institute study of 182 signed peace agreements found that when women are involved in peace processes, there is 35 per cent possibility that such peace agreement will last for over 20 years.
History is replete and filled with outstanding, distinguished and accomplished female political leaders around the world that have proven their mettle and sagacity in governance.  They include:
•Angela Merkel, the first woman to be elected as Chancellor in Germany and the third longest Chancellor in Germany;
•Jacinda Arden, New Zealand’s current prime minister, who is widely credited with formulating policies that helped to promptly and drastically reduce the spread of corona virus in her country;
•Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the longest serving prime minister in the history of Bangladesh, who graciously opened the door of her country to Rohingya refugees fleeing the onslaught, massacre and genocide in Myanmar;
•Kamala Harris, currently serving as the first female Vice President in the history of the United States of America;
•Magdalene Anderson, the prime minister of Sweden;
•Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Liberian and the first woman to be elected president of an African country. She led Liberia through a laudable and enduring reconciliation, following the nation’s long, and tortuous civil war;
•Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
Indeed, the list is endless. We can also replicate this giant strides in our clime as our democracy is still young, and fledging; hence it is necessary, expedient, politically healthy and correct that every segment and entirety of our populace is given equal representation in both elective and appointive positions. Sufficient women representation in politics will increase creativity, originality and will help to diversify the pool of talents, skills and abilities.
In conclusion, I make bold to restate that in order to build strong, robust and virile governance, women must not only be encouraged but empowered and supported in becoming strong political amazons. Consequently, my call with a very loud voice is for all hands (the political parties, the executive and legislative arms of government, the clergy, the NGOs and the women themselves) to be on deck to make this a reality.

Aisha Umar, LLB, LL.M, PGD (Oxford), is a barrister, solicitor and notary public and Founder/CEO Inara Foundation as well as a 2023 contestant for House of Representatives, Jere Federal Constituency of Borno State.

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