Joy Onyesoh, a gender and development consultant, is the national coordinator of Women Situation Room Nigeria (WSRN).In this interview with ENE OSANG, she discusses the importance of election monitoring and steps being taken to checkmate election-based violence against women (VAW) in Nigeria.
What informed the creation of Women Situation Room Nigeria?
The Women Situation Room Nigeria was created in 2015 just before the general elections with the support of UN Women. The primary goal was to prevent violence against women during the elections and to observe the elections from a gender perspective.
How beneficial has the WSRN been to women in general, particularly those seeking elective positions?
The Women’s Situation Room was restructured and expanded to include pre-election activities geared towards increasing women’s participation and representation in leadership and decision making process.
The primaries dealt a big blow to women aspirants; is this idea of a Situation Room not coming late considering that not many women are in the race?
We had consultations with the women within four major political parties mid last year, looking at long term strategies for improving and strengthening women’s political participation. This was also supported by UN Women.
We do admit that women representation suffered a major setback during the concluded party primaries, especially within the big political parties. It, however, created opportunities for women to explore options within the smaller parties.
There has been some shift in dynamics and even though we may not see the increase in representation in the forthcoming elections, this process has opened up other options for us.
WSRN is also having discussions with some women who contested the last party primaries to have a nuanced understanding of the challenges they faced and collaboratively come up with innovative solutions. We are also working at improving our strategic partnerships with the political parties who are the primary vehicles for main stream political participation as one of the ways of increasing women’s emergence as candidates within the parties.
Definitely, after the elections we would evaluate our strategies and collaborate with other women’s movements to forge a forward-looking agenda.
Shouldn’t women rather strategise on how to break the debacle of money politics as most female politicians cite this as a great barrier to their growth in politics?
I do agree that funding is s major barrier to women’s participation in mainstream politics. However, from our consultations with women groups across four major parties, there are also entrenched barriers within political parties and the society that hinder women’s political leadership.
For example, the constitutions of most political parties have masculine ideologies that restrict the role of women. Don’t forget that political parties are a microcosm of the larger society. Nigerian women would need to collaboratively forge a new agenda for our political inclusion and empowerment.
What exactly would be the Situation Room function during the February 16 elections?
The WSRN will be deploying short term all female observers across the 36 states of Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). We would be focusing more on 12 flash points states across the six geopolitical zones of the country. We would be observing the election process and providing the general public a toll free number 0800- DIAL-WSRN 0800-3425-9776 to call into our national observatory to report election incidents and violence against women. We also have an election incident interactive site https://wsrn.nationbuilder.com where you can get real time data on incidents reported during the election. We would be working closely with the gender department of INEC and also following up with the police to resolve incidents as they are reported.
Do you think women are being used to advertise new political parties which most times tend to drop them when they get recognised?
The political parties in Nigeria are skewed in favour of male candidates for a number of reasons some of which I have mentioned earlier. My opinion is that if the new political parties are giving the women opportunities they should definitely take it while we work on long-term strategy of transforming the bias towards female politicians.
The election is here, how do you foresee its conduct; do you think it would be free and fair considering that most Nigerians have been complaining of INEC’s independence?
INEC is an umpire in this election with constitutional backing to ensure that it conducts free and fair elections. We are observing the processes and would comment on the elections after the elections. WSRN urges INEC to keep within its mandate and remain committed to delivering a free and fair election. Our duty is to observe and ensure that they are accountable to the Nigerian citizens.
What is your take on the absence of both APC and PDP presidential candidates at the recent presidential debate?
While the presidential debate is an important aspect of the campaign process that is supposed to facilitate engagement with the populace, I believe that we are over rating this debate. What is the percentage of Nigeria population that has access to televisions to watch the debate? For those that do have, what percentage had power to watch the debate? How has the debate in the past elections translated into meaningful engagement or accountability on the part of the candidates?
The developed countries use this as a means of engaging their citizens because a large percentage of the populace has access to televisions and power.
We adopted the process. We need to ask ourselves critical questions as to how this debate is serving or disfranchising the masses.