In order to increase the number of women for political offices Nigerian women converged in Abuja to make demands as the election year is around the corner. ENE OSHABA reports.
Tagged the ‘Progressive Women Conference 2022,’ its organisers said it was aimed at bringing women together to dialogue and come up with solutions on issues affecting women and to strengthen the positioning of women in matters of national importance, party progress and economic growth.
Delegates were drawn from across the 36 states and FCT, including women groups, collectives, civil society organisations, entrepreneurs, professionals, social media influencers, and the labour work force, among others.
The national women conference brought together progressive women from all over the country who are current and aspiring members of the APC interested in uniting for progress.
The convener and member, Caretaker/Extra-ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Stella Erhuvwu Okotete, said theme of the conference ‘One Voice, Women Uniting For Progress’ was adopted to create awareness on the need for women to unite in order to win more elective positions.
She stressed the need for closing existing gaps hindering women’s progress, more inclusiveness in the polity, assuring that the digital women academy would serve as a veritable platform to empower them economically and politically.
She also urged the party and all stakeholders to keep supporting and empowering women in order to enable them have their pride of place, noting that President Muhammadu Buhari and Aisha Buhari have prioritised concerns of women making them ready for the general election next year.
“The Progressive Women Academy, the first ever Official Digital Learning Platform for the Nigerian Woman to acquire skills and knowledge they need to transform their lives, improve businesses and prepare for future leadership positions. This Digital Academy will train over 20 million women, directly and indirectly, in the next two years,” she said.
Okotete said further that the Progressive Women Conference was the gathering of women from across the 36 states in Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory to discuss the role of Women in matters of national importance, party progress and economic growth.
“The Conference offered an opportunity to bring women together for visibility, leadership development, and strategic positioning for future political office, with party leaders, as well as speakers from across the broad spectrum of life focusing on positioning women for greater achievements within and outside the party.”
Aisha Buhari tasks leaders
The wife of the president while speaking during the conference in Abuja said women had been denied positions of leadership for so long expressing disappointment that contributions of women were not considered in terms of leadership roles especially in the government.
She said governors would be held responsible if women did not get the 35 percent affirmative action in political appointments and administration come 2023 elections.
“This is the first time the national women conference of the APC is being held to establish our commitment to setting the position of women in matters of national importance, especially in increasing the visibility of women, positioning women for future political offices, and encouraging them to aspire more towards the progress of our great party.
“Since 2015, I’ve had the privilege of engaging Nigerian women across the entire country; my conviction is that Nigeria’s future is entirely dependent on actually using the potential of our women. It is no mere coincidence that parties that have grown strong, prosperous and influential have prioritised women’s participation in national building. I, therefore, wish to call upon the APC to double its efforts in promoting women. This, I believe, will serve as one of the objectives of this conference.
“As Nigeria races towards another election, we must go beyond paying lip service to putting women in vital offices within our party and the government. We must put in place workable strategies to ensure that this actually happens; charity begins at home.”
Mrs. Buhari also called on Nigerian women to continue the struggle by showing greater influence, commitment and unity in the decision-making process of the country, adding that “our vintage pride lies in our shared numerical strength.”
To prevent repeating the same mistakes of the past, the conference brought on the stage leading women politicians to share their experiences as a means of teaching current aspirants and candidates of various positions ahead of the elections.
The first and only female member of the Niger state House of Assembly, Binta Maman, recalled how she got the position, saying that her constituency nominated her father and he gave her the slot knowing her capabilities.
She, however, expressed displeasure at the challenges she passed through as she sought to return for the second tenure as most of the other members do, saying that though her constituency wanted her as she had performed well, some persons didn’t want her to be in that position any more.
“When I assumed office I worked so hard that my people were satisfied and wanted me back for a second tenure, but some people didn’t like my face and felt I shouldn’t be in that position.
“I was not discouraged, I went to the state courts and also proceeded to the high court, I didn’t allow myself to be intimidated out of my position and that is one quality I want all of us to have,” she said.
Similarly, the director-general of the National Centre of Women Development (NCWD), Asabe Vilita, acknowledged that women face lots of challenges in politics. According to her, just because of the gender the men see politics as exclusive to them and so when you contest as a woman you get discriminatory actions against you.
“I started contesting elections in 1997 and I have contested different positions most of which I lost and won some. Women face all kinds of discrimination just to win elections, but I have never been discouraged not to continue.
“If women don’t speak with one voice they cannot penetrate the political system which is dominated by men; we must also build our capacities in order to be able to compete with the men favourably. If we have legal backing we will win more elective positions,” she said.
Re-defining political space
Senator Grace Bent in her remarks during the panel discussion on the topic, “One voice: redefining the role of women in political space,” harped on the need for women to be given principal positions from the ward levels to the highest hierarchy of political parties, assuring that there were capable women for every position.
She encouraged women to be focused on their goals, and know that politics does not start from the top.
“No more ex-officio positions we want principal positions in the party, but we should all know that politics does not start from the top; it is grassroots based; what roles are you playing in the grassroots and how well are you known ?”
On her part, Senator Ita Giwa said to redefine the political space older and more experienced female politicians have a responsibility to encourage the next female generation, show them the way so the achievements so far would not be lost.
She said, “There is a need for continuity and the best way to achieve this is by encouraging and mentoring younger women into politics.
“Those that God has given the opportunity of leading in government should be mentors. Younger women should also see the need to take the bull by the horn by contesting for elections and also desist from clapping hands and singing at political rallies.”
Amplifying women’s voices
A second panel discussion involving all the state first ladies held on the topic, “How to use your voice: Giving voice to women’s visibility.”
Leading the discussion, the chairperson of Governors Wives Forum, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, noted that giving voice to women’s visibility means being their advocate in enabling opportunities that will better women’s lives.
She said it was important for advocates to look for legal and policy frameworks to demand for opportunities, just as she stressed for the first ladies to always be available for women in their states.
“My advocacy has brought five laws to Ekiti state for women, we currently have the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO Bill) in my state and we also ensure that in terms of leadership those who cannot benefit from positions are empowered with other opportunities,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Imo state first lady, Barrister Chioma Uzodima, said the current administration in the state is gender-friendly with the appointment of many female commissioners and Senior Special Assistants (SSAs).
According to her, “There are lots of female representatives and we are working on more positions for women.”
Delegates were drawn from all the wards across the states to ensure that they all get the messages and take them back to their communities to work with.
Victoria Iyawo Ekwo, a delegate from Otukpo/Ohimini constituency, lauded the idea of a national conference, saying there was the need for women to unite in one voice in order to achieve their demands.
She said, “It doesn’t end in the kitchen for women, we are to be recognised and we need our freedom as human beings. Benue state politics is Inclusive of women, but more is needed to enable more women win elections, especially in 2023.
“We will go back home and enlighten more women on active participation in politics because we are dominant in population and we can do a lot with our numerical strength.
“We thank this administration for giving us the freedom to talk, we are happy with the achievements of women in politics so far and we hope for more to come.”
Another delegate, the assistant treasurer of APC in Bayelsa state, Pamela Douglas, said the importance of unity cannot be overemphasised, stressing that Bayelsa women were active politicians and would henceforth work in unity towards a common goal “which is to enable more women to win positions.”
“We are ready to take over in 2023. We have come here to learn more and see benefits of unity, this is my take home and we will drive the message down to the nook and cranny,” she said.
Though the communiqué is yet to be made available, issues that dominated the discussion included the call for Nigeria to domesticate the 35% Affirmative Action for women.
The national conference also harped on the need for a monetary fund to be established to support women aspirants, just as the women sent strong signals of their disapproval of continuously placing them in stereotype positions.
Another strong demand is the need for a legal backing that will enable women to win more elective positions, though there is a National Gender Policy (NGP) for political parties; it is yet to achieve the aim of which it was established.
Leaders and all stakeholders were also stressed the need for empowerment of women to lift them out of poverty, in addition to stopping the discrimination and intimidation of women.