Need to review women’s political rights



Nigerian women have stressed the need for a review of the constitution to be more inclusive of women’s needs, especially as it concerns their political rights. ENE OSHABA writes.

Constitution

“Under chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution, the founding values of the democratic state of the federal republic of Nigeria include human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.

“Again, Section 17(2) (a), section 14(3) and in particular section 14 (2)(c) of the constitution reinforce the argument and support the need for women’s participation/affirmative action law in Nigeria.

Section 1 of the constitution provides that obligations imposed by the constitution as the supreme law of the republic must be fulfilled.’’

The above were as explained by Professor Joy Ezeilo at the National CSO consultation on Women’s Political Rights in the 1999 Constitution, organised by the Women in Politics Forum on Tuesday in Abuja.

Presenting a paper titled “Gender Analysis of the 1999 Constitution – A presentation on brief Analysis of the constitution and constitutional amendment recommendations for promoting women’s political participation and electoral reform process,’’ Prof. Ezeilo argued that women continue to be underrepresented in Nigeria in elective and appointive positions.

According to her, the underrepresentation of women in political participation gained root due to the patriarchal practice inherent in the society from pre-colonial era till date.

Percentage of women representation

Analysis has shown that the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria has remained 6.7% in elective and appointive positions, which is far below the global average of 24.9%, Africa regional average of 23.4% and west African sub-regional average of 15%.

Prof. Ezeilo maintained that in view of the continued inequalities and poverty faced by women, and governance challenges in mainstreaming gender, it is necessary to initiate a legislative framework to promote women’s participation in Politics in Nigeria.

Similarly, the Dean and Professor of Public Law, at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Prof. Ayodele Atsenuwa, while giving a comparative analysis of the constitutional provisions promoting women’s political participation and representation in Africa, stressed the need for a review of the constitution if affirmative action must be achieved.

Atsenuwa pointed out that countries such as Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Senegal, Tanzania, Ghana, Malawi are all African countries that have tweaked their constitution and electoral laws to enable increased number of women representation, calling on Nigeria to use these countries as models to achieving Affirmative Action.

Legal, policy framework

Gender equality, including the equal participation of women and men in all aspects of political and public life, is a cornerstone principle to which Nigeria has subscribed as a member state of the United Nations, African and ECOWAS.

Ezeilo noted several other documents that shape the legal and policy environment in terms of the proposed introduction of gender quota in the Nigerian electoral process.

She noted firstly, Article 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which stipulates that “States shall ensure that women have equal rights with men to vote, hold public office and participate in civil society.

“Secondly, Article 8(3) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights obligates states to ensure the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and also censure the protection of the rights of the woman and child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.

Continuing, she said the African Charter has been ratified and domesticated in Nigeria by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, regretting, however, that till date, it is only the African Charter that has been domesticated as a treaty of relevance to women.

She added that the protocol to the African Charter is equally part of Nigeria’s domestic law by virtue of the said ratification and domestication of the charter.

“Article 9 of the protocol of the African Charter states that “states parties shall take specific positive action to promote participative governance and the equal participation of women in the Political life of their countries through affirmative action, enabling national legislation and other measures to ensure’’ amongst other things,’’ that women are represented equally at all levels with men in all electoral process.’’

Need for constitution review

Stressing the need for a tweak of the constitution, convener of the CSO’s consultation meeting and national president of WiPF Ebere Ifendu, said, “The 1999 Nigerian Constitution which supposedly speaks to the rights of women and men is filled with male ideologies.’’

She said, “Looking at other countries that have achieved a quota system, one would see that those countries got it through a legal document which supported gender inclusion.

“It is, therefore, imperative to come up with an amendment of the constitution to include gender. Few days ago, the Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, supported the amendment of the constitution to change the laws of the federal character to include gender, persons with disabilities, and age class.

“This is a very good move and there is no better time to work towards constitutional amendment than now.’’

Gender quota

Explaining further, Ezeilo said to easily achieve affirmative action there should be gender quotas in such easier actions to more challenging ones to be defined by the electoral systems.

“For example, in determining the constituencies to field female candidates or to be designated women-only in any general election, INEC may use the order of population in each senatorial zone, federal or state constituency in each state to select the ones to field female candidates in the general election.

“INEC should make gender equality/quota mandatory prerequisites for the registration of new political parties. INEC should also regularly evaluate the implementation of gender quotas and introduce sanctions for non-compliance and/or incentives for political parties voluntarily adopting a higher gender quota than the one prescribed by law.

“All political parties should also institutionalise gender quota and make gender equality and representation an integral part of their constitutions, ensure that party resources are equitably distributed among both female and male candidates and measures should be instituted to enhance internal party democracy.’’

INEC

In his keynote address at the consultative meeting INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said there is no doubt that to ensure sustainable democracy and good governance, it is imperative that women have fair, equal and unrestricted access to participate in elections and political decision-making.

Represented by an INEC national commissioner, Prof. Taiye Okoosi-Simbine, Yakubu affirmed that Nigeria has made limited progress in achieving this goal, despite the concerted efforts of government, the electoral management body, international organisations, civil society and women’s groups.

“As of 2019, and using the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)’s 2017 data, Nigeria was ranked 181st out of 188 countries in terms of female representation in Parliament, with 20 (5.6%) women members of Parliament in the House of Representatives and seven (6.5%) in the Senate. Compared to other countries in Africa, Nigeria trails behind her peers.

A parliament that responds to the needs and interests of both men and women in its structures, operations, methods and its work is gender responsive. Few women in political decision-making authority will not be able to influence policy especially those that have gender implications.

Gender-sensitive parliaments remove the barriers to women’s full participation and offer a positive example to society at large.

“The Commission aligns with the belief that the rights of women to participate fully and on an equal basis with men in a country’s political and electoral processes are basic human rights.

These rights are recognised in an extensive body of global legal instruments. Complementing these global instruments are several regional instruments such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

This is aside other treaties that apply to countries that are members of particular regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and which contain important provisions relating to gender equality and civil and political rights, attitudinal and social change for socially inclusive development through the critical element of the participation of all and sundry in political and public life.

At home too, legal and policy regimes exist in the Constitution of the Federal Republic, Electoral Act and National Gender Policy among others. But what is the situation of women regarding political participation?’’

Way forward

The INEC Chairman enumerated efforts it is making to include gender saying in February 2020, an electoral and constitutional review was officially announced in the country and two parliamentary committees were established.

It is worth noting that the Election Review Committee at the House of Representatives (HoR) is chaired by a female parliamentarian (Hon Aishatu Dukku) and all the 21 female members of the HoR and Senate are members of the Constitution Review Committee (CRC).

“This is another opportunity for all stakeholders to make submissions to the Committees for relevant amendments that will help the political participation of women in the electoral process.

The international instruments and frameworks earlier referred to provide a solid foundation from which Nigeria as a country can strengthen legislation, policies and practices to help achieve increased participation of women in political and electoral processes and will ensure that the electoral legal framework and processes comply with international standards.

“Targeting the adoption of special measures, quotas and mechanisms for achieving the minimum critical threshold of women in political offices is not unusual, neither is it patronising or compromising. Studies have shown that electoral gender quotas have led to rapid increases in women’s representation in many countries where constitutional and legal measures have been taken to increase women’s representation in elective posts.

“Furthermore, civil society organisations have been constantly engaged in charting the course of democracy for decades and were strong voices for the improvements that have happened in the electoral process as well as the establishment of the few national organs for women in the country.

They continue to occupy advantaged positions to give visibility and credence to advocacy for needed actions to bring about desirable changes. CSOs should exploit their vantage positions and quickly too, to push for desired change.

“As a responsible and gender responsive EMB that seeks to meet the aspirations of all Nigerian people, the INEC, headed by an indefatigable “He-for-She,” in the person of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, is not relenting in its efforts especially in interrogating factors mitigating women’s substantive political participation in the electoral process.

INEC gives its commitment to continue to welcome and consider strategies to closing the gender gaps in political participation and urges all stakeholders to collaborate with the Commission as we work together to improve the lot of women in future elections in Nigeria.’’

Recommendations

In a document on gender analysis of the legal framework to women’s participation in politics by Prof. Ezeilo, she recommended that the government should implement an international and regional treaties ratified by Nigeria through domestication of laws to enable the national application of affirmative action in favour of women.

She also called on INEC to strengthen its monitoring capacities in respect of political parties’ compliance with extant laws and guidelines on nominations and conduct of a primary election, including imposed limitations on campaign financing amongst others.

Moving forward she stated that the prescription of electoral and executive council appointment gender quotas at states and national levels will essentially support the implementation of obligations relating to gender balance incumbent on Nigeria.

“In this case, it constitutes a part of a broader policy framework aiming at gender equality and fairness and having a legal framework is considered an overriding factor driving an effective implementation of quotas,’’ she said.

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